What to throw away, what to keep if your refrigerator or freezer loses power in a hurricane

Put down those eggs.

Don’t even think about that half-eaten tub of vanilla yogurt. But the butter, you can keep.

Many residents in the wake of a hurricane wonder what in their refrigerator is safe to eat and what should be tossed. The cold, hard truth is this: Most of the perishable food in your quickly thawing refrigerator won’t be safe to eat by the end of a day without power, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.

A refrigerator will keep your perishable food safe (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) only for about four hours after power goes out. After that, the only safe thing to do is throw it out, said Marianne Gravely, a USDA spokeswoman.

“Don’t risk it,” she said.

What you should definitely throw out: milk, cream, yogurt and other dairy products; eggs (store-bought or hard boiled) and any boxed egg whites; shredded and soft cheeses such as goat’s milk cheese; meat, poultry, seafood, dough, cooked pasta and cooked or cut fruits and vegetables.

What you can keep: hard cheeses (cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, provolone) that haven’t been sliced, grated Parmesan in a can or jar; butter or margarine, open fruit juices, opened cans of fruit, condiments such as jelly, relish, mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire and barbecue sauces. Breads, muffins, tortillas, fruit pies and fresh vegetables and fruits are also safe, as long as they haven’t been cut.

The USDA has a full, online informational graphic with more information, and has published “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety,” also available online.

If you don’t expect you’ll be getting power anytime soon, your best bet to extend the life of those foods is to keep them in a separate cooler with ice.

The freezer is another matter.

The food in your freezer will stay below the 40-degree safety mark for up to two days, Gravely said, if it is fully stocked. If it is only half full, it will probably only last about 24 hours. If you’ve gotten power back, you can refreeze food that is still partially frozen (look for ice crystals) or use it right away. She advises pushing the food together into an “igloo,” to help it stay cold.

If you have more than one freezer, combine the frozen food into one; it will stay colder for a longer time. You can even add a block of ice or dry ice to help it stay colder longer.

If your food touched floodwater, throw it out, unless it was canned, Gravely said. Jarred food with a screw top is not safe, if it has touched floodwaters, which can carry sewage runoff. Any cans that may have been covered in floodwater can be disinfected with soapy water or rinsed in a bleach solution (one tablespoon of non-scented bleach to every gallon of water).

Most refrigerator/freezers don’t have built-in thermometers, so Gravely suggests putting that on your shopping list, if not for this storm, for the inevitable next one.

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