How to tell if your food is spoiled after a power outage

Consumer
A refrigerator in Austin Feb. 16, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Kate Winkle)

A refrigerator in Austin Feb. 16, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Kate Winkle)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Millions of people have been without power in Texas, but as more lights come back on, it’ll be important to make sure food in refrigerators and freezers are still safe to eat.

Ideally, refrigerators should be at 40°F or below and freezers should be at 0°F or below. When the power goes out, try not to open doors to keep that temperature stable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, with closed doors, food is safe for four hours in a refrigerator, 48 hours in a full freezer and 24 hours in a half freezer. People can put perishable foods in a cooler with ice, frozen packs or even snow to extend that time.

“When in doubt, throw it out,” the CDC said. Here are some basic tips from the CDC on what to do once the power comes back on:

  • Don’t taste food to determine if it’s safe to eat. Do throw out any food with an unusual smell, color or texture
  • Check temperatures of food (some refrigerators and freezers have thermometers inside). Throw out anything that’s above 40°F in the fridge. If frozen items are still below 40°F, they can safely be refrozen or cooked.

Foodsafety.gov also has a helpful list of what to do with specific food items if they’ve been above 40°F for more than two hours:

Meat, poultry, seafood

  • Discard raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes
  • Discard thawing meat or poultry
  • Discard salads with meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken or eggs
  • Discard gravy, stuffing or broth
  • Discard lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef
  • Discard pizza with any toppings
  • Discard canned hams labeled with “keep refrigerated” or any opened canned meat or fish
  • Discard casseroles, soups or stews

Cheese, dairy and eggs

  • Discard soft cheeses like blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco
  • Keep hard cheeses like Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano
  • Keep processed cheeses
  • Discard shredded or low-fat cheeses
  • Keep grated parmesan or romano
  • Discard milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk
  • Keep butter
  • Discard opened baby formula
  • Discard fresh shell eggs, eggs hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products
  • Discard any custards or quiches

Fruit

  • Discard cut fruit and sliced or shredded coconut
  • Keep uncut fruit, fruit juice, canned fruit, dried fruit

Sauces, Spreads, Jams

  • Discard opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish if they’ve been above 50° for more than eight hours
  • Keep peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles
  • Keep Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces and opened vinegar-based dressings
  • Discard opened creamy-based dressings and opened spaghetti sauce

Bread, cakes, cookies, pasta, grains

  • Keep bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads and tortillas
  • Discard refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough
  • Discard cooked pasta, rice, potatoes
  • Discard pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette
  • Discard fresh pasta
  • Discard cheesecake
  • Keep waffles, pancakes, bagels

Pies and pastry

  • Discard cream filled pastries
  • Discard pies with filling containing eggs or milk
  • Keep fruit pies

Vegetables

  • Discard cut fresh vegetables and pre-cut, pre-washed and packaged greens
  • Keep uncut fresh vegetables
  • Keep fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices
  • Discard cooked vegetables
  • Discard tofu
  • Discard opened vegetable juice
  • Discard baked potatoes
  • Discard commercial garlic in oil
  • Discard casseroles, soups and stews

When it comes to the freezer, follow the list above if items have become thawed and above 40°F for more than two hours. For items that still have ice crystals and feel cold like they’ve been refrigerated, it has these guidelines to follow:

Meat, poultry, seafood

  • Refreeze all cuts of meat, poultry, seafood
  • Refreeze stews and soups

Dairy, eggs

  • Refreeze milk (but it may have a weird texture after)
  • Refreeze eggs and egg products
  • Discard ice cream or frozen yogurt
  • Refreeze soft or semi-soft cheese (but it may have a weird texture after)
  • Refreeze hard cheeses or shredded cheeses
  • Refreeze cheesecake

Fruit

  • Refreeze juice (but discard if mold, a yeast-like smell or sliminess develops)
  • Refreeze packaged fruits (it may have a weird texture after)

Vegetables

  • Refreeze vegetable juice
  • Refreeze packaged vegetables (may have a loss of texture or flavor)

Breads and pastries

  • Refreeze bread, rolls, muffins, cakes that don’t have custard fillings
  • Refreeze cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling
  • Refreeze pie crusts and bread dough (may lose some quality)
  • Refreeze pasta and rice casseroles
  • Refreeze flour, cornmeal and nuts
  • Refreeze waffles, pancakes, bagels
  • Refreeze frozen meals, entrees

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