What Should You Save From Your Refrigerator When the Power Goes Out?

When in doubt, throw it out — but there's a little leeway.


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In the aftermath of another surprisingly powerful storm, around 70,000 people in the Richmond area were without power this morning. As power is slowing being restored, however, those folks may be wondering whether the food in their refrigerator is still OK to eat.

The most important thing is to resist opening your refrigerator and freezer doors when the power is off. You may want that six-pack, but don't do it. You’ll save a lot more of your food if you keep the doors closed at all times. The magic number to remember is 40 degrees and if food goes over that temperature, it’s beyond redemption.

Here’s a handy guide that breaks down what you should keep and what you should pitch:

Things you should throw away after two hours without power:

Raw, leftover or open cans of cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood — or any dish with those things in it, such as tuna salad, broth or gravy. Vegetarians, take note: Soy meat substitutes and tofu should be thrown out, too.

Lunch meat, hot dogs, bacon and sausage. Also dried beef, but I’m not sure how many people have that hanging around.

Pizza with any toppings — which is a bummer.

Canned ham. Enough said.

Soft cheeses such as brie, Monterey Jack, cream cheese. You’ll find a full list here.

Shredded cheese and low-fat cheese.

Dairy products such as milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, open evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk, baby formula.

All eggs and egg products.

Custards and puddings, plus quiche.

Cut-up fruit.

Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.:

Fish sauce, oyster sauce.

Open bottles of creamy salad dressing.

Open jars of spaghetti sauce.

Biscuits dough, refrigerator roll and cookie dough — the last one is your own fault for not eating it sooner.

Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes.

Pasta with mayonnaise or a vinaigrette.

Fresh pasta.

Cheesecake. See comments above, re: cookie dough.

Cream pies. Why did you wait so long to hit someone in the face with one anyway? Plus other custard, cheese-filled or chiffon pies.

Bags of pre-cut and/or prewashed greens.

Cooked vegetables.

Opened vegetable juice.

Exception: Opened mayonnaise, horseradish and tartar sauce can hang tight for 8 hours while over 50 degrees.

Food you don’t need to throw out:

Hard cheese such as cheddar or parmesan, and processed cheese.

Well-wrapped butter and margarine.

Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, relishes, hot sauce, oil-and-vinegar-based salad dressings, Worcestershire sauce and steak sauce.

Olives. No word on capers, but use your judgment.

Jams, jellies, preserves and syrups.

Fruit pies. Hurray!

Peanut and other nut butters.

Cooked waffles, pancakes.

Bread and bagels. Obviously. They don’t even need to be in the refrigerator.

Mushrooms and fresh herbs.

Whole raw vegetables and whole fruit.

Lastly, if your freezer is packed, the food will keep for 24 hours and can be refrozen. After that, chuck it. Important caveat: If you notice obvious thawing, throw it out with the other stuff after two hours above 40 degrees.

Information found at fsis.usda.gov, the United State Department of Agriculture’s website. And there's an app for that — you can find it here.


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