Wild weather is a fact of life, and it often means power outages, sometimes for days or longer. With Hurricane Sandy predicted to cause major service disruptions this week, it's important to brush up on how long your food can stay safe and fresh without a working refrigerator. We've gathered a few tips to make sure your fridge is ready for a long-term outage, and you know when your food has given up the ghost.
Prepare Your Fridge
• Keep your freezer at 0 degrees. A freezer should stay frozen for at least 36 hours with the door shut. Higher-quality freezers can keep food frozen for even longer, but we've seen budget models thaw in just 19 hours. If it isn't at 0 degrees, change it now.
• Keep your fridge at 40 degrees or cooler. The USDA recommends that dairy products, meats, fish, soft cheeses, or cooked vegetables should be thrown away if kept at 40 degrees or warmer for more than two hours. A cooler fridge could mean the difference between throwing away a few spoiled items and discarding everything.
• Don't open the door. Every time you open the door, cold air leaks out and warm air gets it. Opening your freezer for a few seconds can reduce the amount of time that food will stay frozen. Only open the door when absolutely necessary, and make it quick.
• Stock up on ice. When you know a storm is coming, buy a few bags of ice to stuff your fridge and freezer. Frozen items keep each other cold, so a full freezer will stay cooler longer than a nearly empty one.
Check Your Food
• Animal Products Spoil Quickly Dairy, meats, fish, and soft cheeses (as well as cooked vegetables) go bad after 2 hours at 40 degrees, according to the USDA.
• Condiments Are Probably OK Salad dressings, mustard, relish, and similar items don't have ingredients that spoil quickly. Condiments like mayonnaise (based around egg) horseradish (a dairy product) have shorter lifespans, but the USDA gives them about 8 hours to live in 50-degree temperatures.
• Ice Crystals Are a Good Sign Freezer burn might affect taste, but it means that you can probably save those items, since they haven't thawed.
• When In Doubt, Throw It Out For your peace of mind, if nothing else.
• The USDA Is A Great Resource For more specific advice and disposal timetables, check out the USDA's website and print out their factsheets for quick reference when you don't have an internet connection.
Photo: edkohler, Flickr [CC-BY-3.0]