Some say that April showers bring May flowers. Recently, we've seen that spring and summer storms often have much more serious consequences, such as power outages from wind and water damage.
If your power goes out, knowing what to do with the food in your refrigerator and freezer can help you stay healthy. The last thing you need after a weather emergency is a case of food poisoning!
- Make sure that you have appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer. That’s the best way to be sure that your food is safe after a power outage.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Keep on hand a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling
When the Power Goes Out
The most important thing to remember is: keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed!
- A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed.
- A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an “igloo” to protect each other. Place them to one side or on a tray so that if they begin thawing, their juices won’t get on other foods.
- If the power is going to be out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
When the Power Returns
Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40° F for two hours or more.
You will have to evaluate each item separately. Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch. When in doubt, throw it out! These charts help you evaluate specific foods:
With frozen food, check for ice crystals! The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below.
Never taste a food to determine its safety!
For more information about food safety in an emergency, check out these resources:
On May 24, USDA made some important changes in their recommended cooking temperatures for meats. Here’s what you need to know:
- Cooking Whole Cuts of Pork: USDA has lowered the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 ºF to 145 ºF with the addition of a three-minute rest time. Cook pork, roasts, and chops to 145 ºF as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source, with a three-minute rest time before carving or consuming. This will result in a product that is both safe and at its best quality—juicy and tender.
- Cooking Whole Cuts of Other Meats: For beef, veal, and lamb cuts, the safe temperature remains unchanged at 145 ºF, but the department has added a three-minute rest time as part of its cooking recommendations.
What Cooking Temperatures Didn’t Change?
- Ground Meats: This change does not apply to ground meats, including beef, veal, lamb, and pork, which should be cooked to 160 ºF and do not require a rest time.
- Poultry: The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including ground chicken and turkey, stays the same at 165 ºF.
What Is Rest Time?
“Rest time” is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven or other heat source. During the three minutes after meat is removed the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful bacteria.
Why Did the Recommendations Change?
- It’s just as safe to cook cuts of pork to 145 º F with a three-minute rest time as it is to cook them to 160 ºF, the previously recommended temperature, with no rest time. The new cooking recommendations reflect the same standards that the agency uses for cooked meat products produced in federally inspected meat establishments, which rely on the rest time of three minutes to achieve a safe product.
- Having a single time and temperature combination for all meat will help consumers remember the temperature at which they can be sure the meat is safe to eat.
How Do You Use a Food Thermometer?
Place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food. It should not touch bone, fat, or gristle. Start checking the temperature toward the end of cooking, but before you expect it to be done. Be sure to clean your food thermometer with hot soapy water before and after each use.
To see where to place a food thermometer in different cuts of meat, see Thermometer Placement and Temperatures. For more information on cooking temperatures for all types of food, see the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart.
If you have questions about cooking meat, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English and Spanish) or m.AskKaren.gov (Mobile Ask Karen) on your smartphone.
Taking the handling instructions on food labels seriously can go a long way toward keeping you and your family healthy. By contrast, ignoring the labels can lead to very serious illnesses. Here are some recent examples.
Unrefrigerated Soup Tied to Botulism Cases
Recently, a consumer in the South bought a plastic container of soup from a salad bar in a supermarket. It was sold cold and clearly labeled:
HEAT & SERVE / KEEP REFRIGERATED
The soup sat unrefrigerated for a day or two before it was heated. The consumer tasted it and threw it out because it was “sour.” Despite having eaten very little of the soup, the consumer ended up in the hospital with botulism.
A similar case occurred in the Midwest last February. The consumer bought soup in a pack of two-plastic containers. It also was sold cold, and the labels also said to keep it refrigerated. One container was consumed immediately, with no ill effects. But, the consumer left the other container unrefrigerated for a week. Again, the consumer heated it, tasted it, and threw it out. And, again, that consumer also was hospitalized with botulism.
Botulism is as serious as food poisoning gets. It can result in respiratory failure and death. Even when patients survive, they may be hospitalized and on a ventilator for months, and they may suffer permanent neurological damage. So when a label says KEEP REFRIGERATED, keep the product refrigerated!
Follow the Label to Defeat Bacteria
While botulism is one of the most menacing foodborne illnesses, others are potentially quite serious as well, and product labels can help you avoid them. For example, if you pick up a package of hamburger in the grocery store, you’ll find a label with “Safe Handling Instructions.” It looks something like this:
“Cook thoroughly” means that you need to cook to a safe minimum cooking temperature – 160 F for hamburger. Don’t trust the color of the meat – use a food thermometer to be sure.
What if you don’t follow the label and the food is undercooked? Then you and your family are at risk of food poisoning from bacteria like E. coli. The worst type of E. coli can lead to kidney failure and even death. Children age four and under are particularly susceptible.
Microwave Labels Protect You, Too
Always read and follow the cooking instructions on frozen microwave dinners to kill any dangerous bacteria that may be in the food.
- Cook it thoroughly: Many companies include cooking times for two wattage levels of microwave ovens. Or, they may explain that the cooking time on the package is for 1100-watt ovens, so you must adjust the time for lower wattage ovens. To be safe, use a food thermometer to check the dinner, especially if your microwave oven is less than 1100 watts.
- Don’t skip the standing time: The label may also recommend letting the food stand for a minute or two after cooking. This “standing time” is important to complete the cooking process throughout the food.