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If a household was not prepared for a power outage, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Connecticut Department of Public Health offer some tips for food safety.
According to the FDA, during power outages, people should check to ensure the freezer temperature is at or below 0° F, and the refrigerator is at or below 40° F. Refrigerator and freezer doors should be kept closed as much as possible. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed, according to its website, fda.gov.
People can also buy blocks of ice or dry ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power will be out for a longer period of time. According to the FDA, 50 pounds of dry ice should keep an 18 cubic foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days. If the refrigerator temperature goes above 40º F for two hours or more or for one hour if temperatures are above 90º F, refrigerated meat, poultry, fish, or eggs should be discarded.
After power is restored, checking the temperature of a freezer can help determine if food is safe to be refrozen. According to the FDA, if the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. Otherwise, people should read each package of food to determine food safety individually. “If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook,” the FDA website reads. “Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that has been at temperatures above 40° F for two hours or more (or one hour if temperatures are above 90º F).”
According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, when the power comes back on, people should clean out their refrigerator and freezer before putting new food away. Both the refrigerator and freezer should also be cleaned with soap and warm water before it is wiped down with a “mild solution of 1/2 tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of water. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors open to air dry. Once dry, close the doors and let it get cold inside the freezer and refrigerator before you fill it with food.”
For those with stored frozen breast milk, the Connecticut Department of Public Health recommends checking for ice crystals. If there are ice crystals, it is safe to re-freeze. If it has defrosted, it should be used within 48 hours for healthy babies or within 24 hours for premature or sick babies.
The FDA says perishable food — like meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs — that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even if thoroughly cooked. Consuming unsafe food will usually cause illness within one to three days. According to the FDA, symptoms of illness from consuming unsafe food may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, and body ache. People with these symptoms are advised to contact their healthcare provider.
More information about preparing for power outages is available on the FDA’s website, fda.gov. For more information from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, see its website, portal.ct.gov/DPH/Communications/Emergency-Preparedness–Response/Power-Outages.