Food Safety

Food Safety During a Power Outage

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Southeast Michigan residents without electricity need to be careful about their food storage, after being hit with the worst power outage in the region in years.

The most important action you can take is to keep the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible, according to Henry Ford registered dietitian nutritionist Bethany Thayer.

“Food is only good in the refrigerator if power is restored within four hours,” says Thayer. “If there are items you’d like to keep, you can put them in a cooler with ice and monitor the temperature with a thermometer.”

Food is safe to eat if it stays refrigerated at a continual 40 degrees, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A full freezer will stay at freezing temperatures for two days, if the door remains closed. A half-full freezer with doors shut will keep food safe for about 24 hours, according to the experts.

Dry ice is another option to keep food cold, Thayer added. Key is to continually monitor the temperature. Inexpensive shelf thermometers are available at drug stores, grocery stores or big box retailers, and typically cost under $5.

Thayer is also experiencing an outage at her house. But she now keeps her food cold with a whole-house natural gas generator installed after multiple power outages at her Oakland County home.

Once power is restored, check the refrigerator temperature again. If it has risen to 45 degrees or above, perishable foods, like meat, milk, dairy and egg products should be discarded, says Thayer. Fruits, vegetables and vinegar-based salad dressings and condiments typically are safe to consume if they have remained cool, she added.

“If in doubt, throw it out,” Thayer said. “It’s just not worth taking a chance on a $10 pot roast or a $3 jar of mayonnaise versus food poisoning. The different types of bacteria that grow in unrefrigerated settings can cause all sorts of ugly gastrointestinal issues you and your family just don’t want.”

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Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, is director of the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and a regular contributor to the Henry Ford LiveWell site.