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What to do with food in your fridge after a major power outage

Power out? Here’s what to toss — and what to keep — in your fridge.
Retro fridge isolated on white background 3D rendering
Avoid opening the fridge and freezer doors unless you need to. If kept closed, the food will stay cold for longer.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

A deadly winter storm has battered the South, knocking power out for millions of residents in Texas — and a suspected tornado hit North Carolina leaving three people dead and 10 injured, along with downed power lines for over a thousand residents, according to NBC News.

Power outages are common in winter. If you’re one of the residents who has lost power, you may already dealing with a lot of unfortunate circumstances — don’t let spoiled food be another thing to add to your plate.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued food safety tips for those affected by power outages. With winter storm season in full tilt, it’s good to keep these recommendations on hand for possible future outages.

There's always this super handy quarter-in-water trick to test food freshness. But if your power has gone out recently, the USDA has provided some additional steps to take:

  1. Avoid opening the fridge and freezer doors unless you need to. If kept closed, the food will stay cold for longer — a shut refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours while a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  2. Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray. This helps prevent cross contamination of thawing juices.
  3. Use 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.

Before you eat any food in the fridge or freezer, here are some guidelines to make sure it’s still safe:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (things like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
  • Toss any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch. You’ll want to check each item individually for this.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed out may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
  • Never taste food to decide if it’s safe. If you’re unsure, just toss it.

If your power is out due to winter storms, don't use the snow as a makeshift refrigerator. The sun's rays can thaw food even if the temperature is cold —and food can come into contact with animals outdoors, the USDA explained on its website. Instead, use buckets and containers to create ice to store in your refrigerator or freezer to keep food cold.

The most important thing to remember is: when in doubt, throw it out. Otherwise, you and your family could get really sick, and you’ve certainly got enough to worry about and deal with after a storm or natural disaster.