How long does food last after an outage?

Monday - 7/26/2010, 7:03am EDT

Don't keep opening the refrigerator door. (WTOP Photo/Colleen Kelleher)

WASHINGTON - Power outages that last hours -- or days -- mean you will probably need to throw out a lot of food in your refrigerator and freezer.

Foods will stay safely cold 4 to 6 hours in your refrigerator.

Here's the rule of thumb: If the temperature reaches above 40 degrees, throw out what's in your refrigerator and freezer.

Your freezer will stay cold for two days if it's full and one day if it's half full.

If the food is cold or has ice crystals, you can safely refreeze some of it.

Dominion Virginia Power recommends your treat thawed foods this way:

  • Fruits: Refreeze fruits if they taste and smell OK.

  • Frozen Dinners: Do not refreeze frozen dinners.

  • Vegetables: Do not refreeze thawed vegetables, These can be very toxic once the bacteria multiply.

  • Meat and Poultry: Meat and poultry become unsafe to eat when they start to spoil. They will smell. Throw out if the freezer temperature has exceeded 45 degrees F for 2 hours or longer. Discard all stuffed poultry.

  • Fish and Shellfish: They are extremely perishable. Do not re-freeze unless ice crystals remain throughout the package. Seafood that's spoiled doesn't necessarily have an offensive odor.

  • Ice Cream: Do not refreeze melted ice cream.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also offers tips to minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses.

Dry ice is also another way to keep your food cold if you don't have any power. You should never touch dry ice directly. Use insulated gloves, a pot holder or towel to handle the ice.

For each 24-hour period, you should have the following amounts:

    For a freezer on bottom: Use 15-25 pounds

    Freezer on top: Use 20-30 pounds

    Side by Side Freezer: Use 30-40 pounds. Place each slab, starting with the top shelf, on top of the food to be kept frozen. Bottom shelves will be kept frozen by the dry ice above it.

    Chest Freezer: Use 40- 50 pounds. When taking out the frozen food, carefully lift the dry ice slab up with gloves, potholder, towel, etc., without touching the dry ice directly.

Click here to find a dry ice retailer near you.

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