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Is it Still Good? Food Safety After the Power Returns

The FDA has a bevy of resources to help you determine if food is salvageable after a power outage.

If, like me, you always seem to stock up on groceries the day of a power outage, you may know the temptations that follow when the power returns.

"It looks OK." "Think it's good?" "It doesn't smell bad."

Food; how long is it good and when does it need to go? 

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The answer was likely at one time obvious. Fruits, vegetables, meats -- we know when they've spoiled. Today, however, it can be tricky. Many packaged, processed foods last longer than their fresh-off-the-tree counterparts, but how much longer?

About 2,084 Carroll County residents are in the dark after last Friday's storm, and an additional storm that rolled through the Hampstead area Thursday afternoon, but power (and refrigerators) have been turned back on for more than 6,776 Carroll residents.

The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration has some guidelines to help determine what's good and what's not after a power outage.

The bad news is, most foods don't last very long. Here's a snapshot.

If it's been in the refrigerator more than four hours, throw it out. If the refrigerator has been warmer than 40 degrees for more than two hours:

Safe   Unsafe Hard cheeses (Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, etc.)  All meats, including fish and soy-based imitation meat Processed cheeses

Milk-based products, yogurt opened baby formula

Grated cheeses (Parmesan, etc.) Fresh, cut or opened fruit Butter/margarine Cooked pasta, casseroles, etc. Raw vegetables and fresh herbs and spices Eggs Canned fruit, whole fresh fruit Shredded cheese Opened fruit juice Pizza Opened vinegar-based salad dressing Open creamy salad dressing Ketchup, olives, pickles mustard Fish or oyster sauce

More essential facts from the FDA:

  • 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

To find out how long other items stay good, and for information on foods that are in the freezer, visit the FDA's food safety website

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