Did you lose power during Sandy? How do you know what's still good to eat in your fridge?
According to the Food and Safety Inspection Department of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after power has been lost, food in a refrigerator remains safe for only about four to six hours — if the refrigerator has remained unopened.
As for freezers, which should be set at zero degrees Fahrenheit, a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours, but only 24 hours if a freezer is half full.
Food to discard
Certain foods have a high risk of spoiling during electrical power outages. The following items should be thrown away if the temperature in the fridge has risen above 41 degrees or if the power has been out for longer than four-six hours:
* Meats, fish and poultry, either raw or cooked
* Cooked vegetables
* Dairy products such as milk, soft cheeses, whipped butter, cottage cheese and cream cheese
*Mayonnaise. It spoils very quickly.
* Deli meat and hot dogs
* Cut fruit
* Pies, pastries and cookie dough
* Casseroles, stews and soups
Health officials stress not to taste potentially spoiled food! You should throw out any food that looks strange or has an odd odor. At times, spoilage cannot be detected by smell because there may not be a foul odor or taste.
Food to save
After power has been restored, check the internal temperature in your refrigerator to determine if other food is safe to eat. If the temperature is at 40 degrees or below, or if the freezer food contains ice crystals, then the food is safe, says the USDA. (Check the temperatures with an appliance or food thermometer.)
According to the Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety at www.fsis.usda.gov, food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below.
There are some foods that will remain safe at room temperature for a few days. These include:
* Butter, margarine, hard cheese
* Uncut fruit and vegetables
* Fruit juices
* Fresh herbs and spices
* Fresh bread
Do not eat any food that has come into contact with flood water. According to William Gerrish of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, "This includes packaged food items in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth and similiar containers that may have been water-damaged, as well as beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops, and home canned foods, as these tops cannot be disinfected appropriately."
And remember—if in doubt, throw it out!
A full consumer guide to food safety during storms, including hurricanes, may be found on the USDA website. For more information about staying safe and healthy after a disaster or storm, visitwww.ct.gov/dph.
Often, foul odors from food spoiled in a refrigerator may be difficult to eliminate. The following may help remove odors, but these steps may have to be repeated.
* Wipe inside of the unit with equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar provides acid, which destroys mildew.
*Wash inside of the unit with a solution of baking soda and water. Be sure to scrub the gaskets, shelves, sides and door. Allow to air out several days.
*Stuff the unit with rolled newspapers. Close the door and leave for several days. Remove paper and clean with vinegar and water.
*Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in the bottom of the unit, or place these items an open container.
*Place a cotton swab soaked with vanilla inside the freezer. Close the door for 24 hours. Check for odors.
*Use a commercial product available at hardware and houseware stores. Follow the manufacturers' instructions.