May 2016
Homeplace & Community

Oh No! Power Out?

A guide to refrigerator safety when you don’t have electricity.

Storms have been plentiful lately causing the power to go out and stay out for hours. Have you had one of them? If not, you will sooner or later; let’s go through a refresher course as to what is good to do and what it not good to do to keep your foods safe. Here is what you should know, in case your fridge and freezer lose their juice.

Refrigerator Safety: The Essentials

Here are the basics of fridge safety, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If the power is out for less than two hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer.

If the power is out for longer than two hours, follow these guidelines:

The magic number there? Two hours. Yep, after two hours, either transfer the stuff in your fridge to a cooler or a working refrigerator. Don’t mess with spoiled food; it’s not worth getting sick.

What to Throw Away and What to Keep

OK, so your fridge has been without power and above 40 for more than two hours. Is anything safe to keep?

Yes, some condiments and foods are OK to keep; although meat and most dairy need to go. Here’s a very helpful and handy list from on what to keep and what to toss:

 Solving Odor Problems in Your Refrigerator or Freezer

If food has been allowed to spoil in a refrigerator or freezer, the strong odors associated with food spoilage may be extremely difficult to remove.

The first step is to clean the appliance with a gentle household cleaning solution and water. Use a bleach solution (one tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water) to rinse inside surfaces. While the unit is unplugged, leave the door open for a day or two to air it out. Spray disinfectant around hinges, locks and into any openings. If the odor remains, try one of the following methods:

If the unit has been off several days, it is possible the odor has gone into the insulation. If the odor has penetrated the insulation, much work is needed to get it out. An air compressor might be needed to blow air into this section of the unit. If the previous methods do not satisfactorily take care of odor problems, it may be that drippings from meat or fish leaked into the insulation. This problem would require service by a refrigerator technician, who may have to remove the liner and replace the insulation.

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.