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Published June 10, 2011, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Power outages prompt food safety concerns

“Mom, this is like camping!” my 7-year-old daughter exclaimed as she pulled a sleeping bag around herself. “Well, kind of,” I said a bit nervously.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, this is like camping!” my 7-year-old daughter exclaimed as she pulled a sleeping bag around herself.

“Well, kind of,” I said a bit nervously.

Our house was pitch black and silent due to a power outage. The wind was howling loudly outside, and a tornado warning was in effect.

We had made our way carefully to the basement. Along with three whimpering dogs, our family was huddled in the safety of my windowless arts and crafts room. My two older kids had grabbed blankets and pillows. My husband brought a battery-operated lantern, a flashlight and a radio tuned to the weather.

I’m sure a similar scene was in play citywide. We listened to the radio and waited until the all-clear announcement was noted, then we made our way upstairs guided by a flashlight. We had to wait quite a while for the power to resume.

The next day on my drive to work, some stoplights still were out, and many households had experienced a prolonged power outage. I received some calls about whether food remained safe in refrigerators and freezers after many hours without power.

How can you keep food safe when the power goes out? These are some questions and answers based on information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These rules would apply for food during a power outage or an appliance failure. If someone accidentally leaves the freezer door partially open after grabbing an ice cream bar, these rules would work, too.


Q: The food in my freezer began to thaw during the power outage. Is it safe to eat?

A: In general, food with ice crystals can be refrozen. Be sure to keep an appliance thermometer in both your freezer and refrigerator so you know the temperature. Freezers should maintain food at 0 degrees or lower. Refrigerators should maintain food at 40 degrees or lower.

I just found out our power outage is going to last 24 hours. I have a freezer full of meat. What can I do?

Keep the freezer closed at all times. Food will remain frozen in a full freezer for about two days, while a half-full freezer will stay at freezer temperature for about a day. If your freezer isn’t full, you can group your packages to form an igloo around each other, but work quickly to avoid warming the freezer. You also might put the food on trays so the juices don’t drip on other packages.

You can keep your freezer cold longer if you pick up some ice or dry ice to maintain the cold temperature. Blocks of ice will keep the food cold longer than bags of ice cubes. Fifty pounds of dry ice will keep an 18-cubic-foot full freezer cold for two days. Moving your food in coolers to another location also would be an option.

Our power was out for almost four hours. What foods in my refrigerator are most perishable?

Meat, poultry, fish, milk and most leftovers are considered highly perishable because they are high in protein and moisture. Condiments, such as ketchup, mustard and soy sauce, remain safe. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food will remain cold in a refrigerator without power for about four hours. Your food should be fine as long as you kept the refrigerator door closed.

Regardless of power outages, be sure to check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer regularly to be sure they are keeping your food fresh and safe. Here’s a nutrient-rich fruit and veggie salad to enjoy.


Spinach and Pear Salad

8 cup fresh spinach, rinsed

1½ cups red grapes, halved

1 cup cucumber, sliced

1 large pear, sliced

2 tablespoon green onion, chopped

½ cup walnuts, chopped

Honey Lime Yogurt Dressing

½ cup nonfat plain yogurt

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground mustard

Pepper to taste

Toss all salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over mixture and toss again.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 110 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 3 g of protein, 15 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 70 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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