I’ve received calls from multiple counties this past week about freezer failure and saving partially thawed food. Saving frozen food is often possible when your freezer is out of order. But you should know what food is safe to keep before simply keeping everything.
Freezer and refrigerator failure occurs for numerous reasons this time of year: thunder storms, electrical line work, or accidentally leaving the door open. Thawed food can lead to a major loss of dollars when there is a hefty load of groceries stored in the freezer and refrigerator.
If you anticipate that a power outage is coming, there are definitely some steps you can take to get ready:
If your freezer is not full, get it full. A full freezer stays safely frozen approximately two days; a half- full freezer for one day. Adding bulk bags of ice (like the ones bought at the convenience store) is a good way to fill up vacant freezer space.
Group similar items together
Working quickly (letting the least amount of cold air escape) group similar food packages together so their juices from thawing will not drip and unnecessarily contaminate each other. Group meats and poultry on the lowest shelf on a separate tray so they are confined to themselves.
Thermometers can save money
Determining the safety of thawed food will be easier if you know the temperature inside the unit. Also, it is a good idea to set the freezer temperature control below 0oF prior to the power going off. The colder your freezer is when the power is lost, the better the chances of the food inside staying safe for a longer period of time.
Leave the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible
This recommendation might be easier said than done if there are kids in the house. Consider a visual cue for the kids to help them remember. Something as simple as tying a ribbon (or even a zip-tie) around the refrigerator/freezer handles or taping a “Do not open until power returns” sign to the handle will typically do the trick.
Once power has returned, the food inspection begins. Here are the guidelines for which foods to keep and which to discard.
Always look and feel for ice crystals in the product. Any sign of ice crystals means the food can safely be refrozen.
Scrutinize food with no ice crystals. Warm temperatures and bacterial growth go hand in hand. Excessive bacteria in food can lead to food borne illness for your family.
Leftovers, Frozen Entrees, Casseroles:
Discard all these items if they have completely thawed.
Meat, Fish, Poultry: Discard any packs that have odd odor or texture. Give extra special attention to sliced, cubed and ground meats since these are particularly perishable. If you don’t know how long your freezer has been off and the meat is completely thawed and warm, you should throw it away. If the meat is 40 degrees fahrenheit or less (very cold to the touch) and the freezer interior hasn’t exceeded 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat can be refrozen.
Thawed fruit can be refrozen as long as there are no visual signs or smells of mold, yeast, or decay.
Plain vegetables can be refrozen as long as they are still cold to the touch and show no signs of spoilage.
Discard these foods if held more than two hours above 40 degrees Fahreneheit:
Any cooked or raw meats
Milk, sour cream, soy milk, yogurt
Soft cheese of any kind
Lunch meats or hotdogs
Bagged, pre-cut greens
Custard or pudding
Raw cookie or biscuit dough
Open jars of vegetable juice, spaghetti sauce
Eggs and egg products
If you have questions about food safety or freezer failure, contact the local Clemson Extension Office and ask to be connected with Rhonda Matthews or email me at Rhonda@clemson.edu.