If you’re one of many who still doesn’t have power from the aftermath of Hurricane Zeta, the food in your fridge may be still salvageable.
Carin Booth, family and consumer science University of Georgia extension agent in Hall County, has compiled a list of tips for keeping your frozen and refrigerated goods safe without electricity.
First and foremost, Booth stresses that you should not open your refrigerator. It may be tempting to sneak a peek, but the rush of warmer air will increase the temperature of your food, which Booth said should be kept no higher than 40 degrees.
Without power, she said refrigerators can keep food cool for four to six hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
“Most people know to not open their refrigerator,” Booth said. “If they’ve done that, there’s a decent chance the food in there may still be at the 40-degree mark. The temperature danger zone is 40-140 degrees. Between that zone is where pathogens and bacteria thrive.”
Once your power does come back on, Booth recommends checking each item with a food thermometer to ensure the temperature hasn’t risen above 40 degrees. She advises against using your sense of smell as the only method to determine safeness.
“Especially as we get older, our smell diminishes, so you don’t want to rely just on that,” she said. “Sometimes foods may be starting the process of spoiling, and sometimes that smell doesn’t come until later in the process.”
If someone consumes food that has already started to gather bacteria and mold, Booth said in a worst-case scenario they can be infected with a foodborne illness, which can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death.
For those who know they won’t have power beyond the six-hour mark, Booth said placing dry ice on the refrigerator's bottom shelf can help prolong the food.
“Use caution when handling and be certain of good ventilation in the room,” she said. “Carbon dioxide gas emitted as dry ice melts can accumulate and cause loss of consciousness.”
If your freezer is filled with food and you keep the door closed, Booth said your frozen goods can last for two days. If the freezer is not full, she said the food may only last for a day. She recommends grouping the food together, so the items remain cold longer.
Booth warns against refreezing food, especially meat, if it has already defrosted. To check if your frozen items are still safe, look for ice crystals, she says.
“When in doubt, throw it out,” she said. “If you see a few ice crystals and it’s still 40 degrees, it would be OK. But, closer to zero-degrees is the best option.”