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Open refrigerator full of foodSaving food after a power outage


Those of us in the Midwest know that spring storms can bring power outages. When freezers and refrigerators are off for several hours, whether it’s from a storm or accidental, the food safety rules about what to keep or toss are the same.


Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition/Health Specialist with University of Missouri Extension shares, “I receive lots of calls from desperate consumers wanting to know what they can save. Having been in their situation, I fully understand how hard it is to throw away what appears to be perfectly safe food, but remember we can’t usually taste, see or smell early stages of foodborne bacterial growth. A chart like this posted near your freezer and/or refrigerator can be very handy in a tough situation like a power outage.”




When the freezer has lost power the basic guideline is food can be refrozen if it still contains ice crystals. Mills-Gray suggests using a permanent marker or dark crayon to mark each package in the freezer with a large “X” indicating that it was partially thawed. Use these items as soon as possible. These items can include: meat, poultry, fish, casseroles, soups, stews, milk, soft cheeses, vegetable juices, any desserts with cheese or cream fillings, and frozen meals/food products. Any items which do not have ice crystals should be thrown away.


You can safely refreeze the following items even if partial thawing has occurred: hard cheeses, flour, cornmeal, nuts, waffles, pancakes, bagels and breads. If ice cream products are partially thawed they should be thrown away as refreezing causes texture change and poor flavor.


What if you don’t know how long the food thawed before the freezer came back on? Mills-Gray says, “Check the frozen foods and if you notice blood on neighboring packages or if blood is frozen in the bottom of the freezer, this is an indication of advanced thawing. At this point you are dealing with an unknown and the food safety rule is ‘if in doubt, throw it out.’”




Refrigerators should be about 40 degrees or just below during normal operation. Two hours without power means you need to throw away most foods. ALL THE FOLLOWING FOODS NEED TO BE TOSSED IF KEPT MORE THAN TWO HOURS ABOVE 40 DEGREES:


  • Raw or cooked meat, poultry, fish, tofu
  • Meat-, poultry- or fish-based salads
  • Hard cooked or cracked eggs
  • Egg substitutes
  • Milk, cream, yogurt, soft cheese, shredded cheese
  • Casseroles, stews, soups, pizza
  • Gravy, stuffing, broth
  • Lunch meats, hot dogs, sausage, bacon
  • Creamy-based salad dressings
  • Custard, chiffon or cheese pies
  • Cheesecake
  • Cream-filled pastries
  • Refrigerated biscuits, rolls or cookie dough
  • Opened baby formula
  • Opened vegetable juice
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Prepackaged salads/greens
  • Pasta, egg or potato salads


Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish need to be thrown away if they were held above 50 degrees for more than 8 hours.




  • Butter and margarine
  • Spices
  • BBQ and steak sauces
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Ketchup and mustard
  • Fruit juices
  • Relish
  • Cakes that do not have cream filling or cream cheese frosting
  • Opened bottles of vinegar-based salad dressings
  • Taco sauce/salsa
  • Hard and processed cheeses
  • Fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins
  • Dried fruits, coconut
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Olives and pickles


“I would remind consumers to never taste food to determine safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe to eat,” advises Mills-Gray.


For more information, contact your local University of Missouri Extension Center or contact Susan Mills-Gray at


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Last update: Monday, April 07, 2014