If the power in your home goes out for more than a few hours, OKC-County Health Department food safety experts say it’s important to determine whether or not the food stored in your refrigerator and freezer is still safe to cook, eat or refreeze.
Generally, if the power is off for four hours or less, food in an unopened refrigerator will stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit the contents should be fine to use. A full freezer will keep food at an acceptable temperature for about 48 hours if the freezer door remains closed.
Foodborne bacteria can begin to multiply in perishable food, such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and mayonnaise, after it’s been kept above 40 degrees for more than two hours. You can't rely on appearance or odor to tell whether the food is still safe to eat. Never taste food to find out whether it’s gone bad as that could be a recipe for a case of a foodborne illness such as salmonella poisoning.
Frozen food is usually safe to cook or refreeze if the power hasn’t been off any longer than 24 hours. If you have an appliance thermometer in your freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on – if it reads 40 degrees or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If you don’t have an appliance thermometer, check each item individually. If the food still contains ice crystals, it’s safe to refreeze or cook.
You can always plan to eat your refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures. As always, it's important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria are destroyed. But remember, even thorough cooking may not destroy all the bacteria in perishable food that’s been left warmer than 40 degrees for longer than two hours. If you take a chance and eat it, you may become seriously ill.