Refrigerated Food and Power Outages – What to Keep and What to Toss

We just got electricity back after four days without it.  A terrible pre-Halloween snow storm hit New England on Saturday, October 29.  Knowing that it was going to be a long haul, I packed everything from my fridge into laundry baskets and carefully buried them in the snow that started to accumulate on day #1.  Still, day temperatures made me worry a little about what to keep and what to toss.  Here are some tips that I found:

A refrigerator will only keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened.  A full freezer will keep its temperature for almost two days and a half-full freezer will last one day if the door stays closed.  Coolers and ice are good to have on hand in case power hasn’t come back after those time frames.

Eat as you go.  You can eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures.  Thoroughly cook what you’re making to the proper temperature so bacteria will be destroyed. Wash fruits and vegetables with water before eating.

If at any point food was above 40 °F for two hours or more — toss it.  Appearance or odor won’t help you figure if food is safe to eat and NEVER taste it “just to check”.  Always discard anything that has come into contact with raw meat juices.  Blech! has a nifty chart/guide to help you so I’ve pasted it below:

Food Categories Specific Foods Held above
40 °F for
over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes Discard
Thawing meat or poultry Discard
Salads: Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad Discard
Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Pizza – with any topping Discard
Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Discard
Canned meats and fish, opened Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard
CHEESE Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco Discard
Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Safe
Processed Cheeses Safe
Shredded Cheeses Discard
Low-fat Cheeses Discard
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination
(in can or jar)
DAIRY Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
EGGS Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard
Custards and puddings, quiche Discard
FRUITS Fresh fruits, cut Discard
Fruit juices, opened Safe
Canned fruits, opened Safe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe
SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if
above 50 °F
for over
8 hrs.
Peanut butter Safe
Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces, oyster sauce Discard
Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe
Opened creamy-based dressings Discard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard
BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas Safe
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough Discard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard
Fresh pasta Discard
Cheesecake Discard
Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe
PIES, PASTRY Pastries, cream filled Discard
Pies – custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche Discard
Pies, fruit Safe
VEGETABLES Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices Safe
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard
Vegetables, raw Safe
Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard
Vegetable juice, opened Discard
Baked potatoes Discard
Commercial garlic in oil Discard
Potato salad Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard