The Power Went Out: Do You Keep or Toss the Food in the Refrigerator?

It's an age old question: "do I keep it or toss it?" This is of course pertaining to food in the fridge that's been sitting there for a questionable period of time after a power outage. We refer you to our U.S. government guidelines on food safety, recommending just how long our refrigerators and freezers will hold their temperatures, as well as whether to keep or discard food kept inside during a power outage.It's generally recommended for safe food storage to keep your refrigerator at least 40 °F and your freezer at 0 °F or below. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) offers an informative fact sheet to help you maximize your fridge's chilling power during a power outage. Leaving your fridge closed is a key part of keeping your food safe.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. - USDA FSIS.

The NSW Food Authority presents fascinating charts to highlight temperature loss and recovery times when opening the fridge even with the power on. They show just how devastating to temperature regulation opening the door can be for preparing meals, cleaning and stocking the fridge.

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A study by UMass Amherst discovered that food kept on the top shelf warmed up quicker than food kept closer to the bottom.

It was seen consistently during the analysis of the data that the bottom full-gallon containers maintained temperature for the longest period of time. From this study's result, if the starting temperature in a refrigerator was 3°C, the temperature of the food in the top shelf would become 5.9°C. which would be 2.9°C warmer than the food kept on the bottom shelf in the first 60 minutes of a power failure. From a practical stand point this means that the temperature in the top of the refrigerator would already be in the danger zone within the first hour. So it would be advisable and prudent to store fruits on the top shelves of a refrigerator during a crisis. This also reaffirmed the fact that the cold air would be always at the bottom of the refrigerator and hence it would be the coldest part in the refrigerator; hence, the best place to store meats would be the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.
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The USDA FSIS provides a great chart to help you answer the great debate of keeping food or throwing it out:
REFRIGERATOR FOOD Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD
Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes

Discard
Thawing meat or poultry Discard
Meat, tuna, shrimp,chicken, or egg salad Discard
Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Pizza - with any topping Discard
Canned hams labeled "Keep Refrigerated" Discard
Canned meats and fish, opened Discard
CHEESE
Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco

Discard
Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Safe
Processed Cheeses Safe
Shredded Cheeses Discard
Low-fat Cheeses Discard
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar) Safe
DAIRY
Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk

Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
EGGS
Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products

Discard
Custards and puddings Discard
CASSEROLES, SOUPS, STEWS Discard
FRUITS
Fresh fruits, cut

Discard
Fruit juices, opened Safe
Canned fruits, opened Safe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe
SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish

Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.
Peanut butter Safe
Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, Hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces (oyster sauce) Discard
Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe
Opened creamy-based dressings Discard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard
BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES,PASTA, GRAINS
Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas

Safe
Refrigerator biscuits,rolls, cookie dough Discard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard
Fresh pasta Discard
Cheesecake Discard
Breakfast foods -waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe
PIES, PASTRY
Pastries, cream filled

Discard
Pies - custard,cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche Discard
Pies, fruit Safe
VEGETABLES
Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices

Safe
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard
Vegetables, raw Safe
Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard
Vegetable juice, opened Discard
Baked potatoes Discard
Commercial garlic in oil Discard
Potato Salad Discard
FROZEN FOOD Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed.
Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats

Refreeze

Discard
Poultry and ground poultry Refreeze Discard
Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings) Refreeze Discard
Casseroles, stews, soups Refreeze Discard
Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavor loss. Discard
DAIRY
Milk

Refreeze. May lose some texture.

Discard
Eggs (out of shell) and egg products Refreeze Discard
Ice cream, frozen yogurt Discard Discard
Cheese (soft and semi-soft) Refreeze. May lose some texture. Discard
Hard cheeses Refreeze Refreeze
Shredded cheeses Refreeze Discard
Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses Refreeze Discard
Cheesecake Refreeze Discard
FRUITS
Juices

Refreeze

Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.
Home or commercially packaged Refreeze. Will change texture and flavor. Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.
VEGETABLES
Juices

Refreeze

Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.
Home or commercially packaged or blanched Refreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss. Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.
BREADS, PASTRIES
Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings)

Refreeze

Refreeze
Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling Refreeze Discard
Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough Refreeze. Some quality loss may occur. Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.
OTHER
Casseroles - pasta, rice based
Refreeze Discard
Flour, cornmeal, nuts Refreeze Refreeze
Breakfast items -waffles, pancakes, bagels Refreeze Refreeze
Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie,convenience foods) Refreeze Discard

Of course the best thing to do for your fridge and food is to restore power, or to never lose it in the first place. Finding the right emergency power generator can help you avoid losing your power and food. Also remember to keep your fridge running efficiently to save on energy costs and to keep your fridge running at its best.

MORE GENERATORS, REFRIGERATOR TIPS & TRICKS ON APARTMENT THERAPY
How to Make Any Fridge More Efficient (Home Hacks)
Get Off The Grid With Alternative Home Energy Sources
How to Find The Right Emergency Power Generator

(Images: Shutterstock/withGod, Shutterstock/Lucky Business, NSW Food Authority)

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