Gusty winds increased the risk of wildfires in Northern California this October, leaving many residents without power as PG&E took preventative measures. This left many residents wondering, as the power comes back on, do I have to throw out all my food after a power outage? Is my food safe to eat? We looked into this since this power outage is affecting many in our community.
Food safety during a power outage comes down to temperature, so the best way to accurately monitor your food is with an appliance thermometer. Found at most hardware stores, set the thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer before an outage so you can properly check the temperature.
When your power is on, the freezer temperature should be at or below 0° F, and the refrigerator should be at or below 40° F. After the power goes out, it’s important to keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. As temperatures rise, bacteria are more likely to grow on the food, even if you don’t see it. The FDA says that if the food was above 40º F for two hours or more, you need to discard it.
A full freezer will keep its temperature for approximately 48 hours if the door remains closed. A good trick is to keep foods grouped closely together and move foods that can be frozen from the refrigerator to the freezer before an outage.
Once the power is back on, calculate how much time has passed, check the temperature, and then evaluate each food item individually for ice crystals. If there are still crystals, you can safely refreeze it again.
If you’re still unsure, the USDA has an extensive list of food items that can help guide you on what to throw out and what to keep and the California Department of Public Health also has some more tips.