How to Know If Frozen Food Is Safe to Eat After Losing Power

Don't forget about food safety amidst this wild winter weather. Here's what government officials want you to know so you can steer clear of food-borne illness.

Just in time for Hanukkah and upcoming Christmas festivities, Mother Nature is entering the chat and is definitely making herself known this week. According to the National Weather Service, a "dangerous arctic outbreak" is likely to impact most of the lower 48 states. Frigid temperatures and "life-threatening wind chills" are expected to join snow or freezing rain in many parts of the country making travel challenging to impossible. When whipping winds meet that precipitation—especially the icy rain—power might be at-risk, too.

Pictured Recipe: Easy Brown Rice Pilaf with Frozen Vegetables

So with that in mind, and with temps as low as -70° F (!) possible in parts of the U.S., it's a good time to brush up on your nearest warming locations. (Search "warming centers near me" for local resources.) It's also a good time to refresh your food safety knowledge in the event of a power outage.

Easy Brown Rice Pilaf with Spring Vegetables

How to Know If Frozen Food Is Safe to Eat After Losing Power

If you keep the door closed, a fully-stocked freezer should stay at a safe temperature for about 48 hours, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) says. A half-full freezer should be safe for approximately 24 hours without power.

Many foods and drinks should be A-OK to refreeze if they're kept between 0° F (freezer temp) and 40° F (refrigerator temp), although they might lose some quality in the process.

If you believe the frozen food has been allowed to hang out above 40° F for more than 2 hours, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recommends discarding meats, casseroles, stews, pizzas, eggs and baked goods with custard or cheese. HHS food safety experts confirm that you should be safe to refreeze the following items, and discard the rest:

  • Hard cheeses
  • Fruit juices
  • Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes, waffles, pancakes and bagels
  • Pie crusts (although "quality loss is considerable")
  • Flour
  • Cornmeal
  • Nuts

The Bottom Line

If foods are kept between 0° F and 40° F for a short time, some items are safe to refreeze and consume later. Toss any food with a strange odor, texture or color, the CDC recommends, and "never taste food to determine its safety," the HHS warns. If you have any doubts as to whether it's still good or not, it's best to throw it out and restock fresh.

As you do so, check out our guide to the best dietitian-approved frozen foods to have on-hand for fast and nutritious meals.

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