Power's Out? Clean That Fridge!

Mar 1, 2011 at 10:00 am
Power's Out? Clean That Fridge!
Wikimedia Commons

All winter we've braced for ice-induced power outages. Who knew it would be a string of surprise thunderstorms and tornadoes that would leave more than 30,000 St. Louisans in the dark?

Now that the power's coming back, it's time to investigate the damage done by a dead fridge and freezer. The University of Illinois Extension Disaster Resources offers the lowdown on what's safe to keep and what you really ought to pitch.

Let's start with that refrigerator. Most foods need to be thrown away if they've been held at 40 degrees or higher for more than two hours. Cold and insulation might be on your side; it's worth investing in a fridge thermometer. Otherwise, plan on throwing away all meat, poultry, seafood and casseroles, soups, and stews that contain them.

Most dairy products also need to go if they've been held above 40 degrees for two hours. The exceptions are butter, margarine and hard or processed cheeses (cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, Velveeta). Soft cheeses, any form of eggs, milk, cream, sour cream and yogurt need to go.

Fruits and vegetables are safe, except for cooked juices, garlic in oil or butter, and baked potatoes.

And you may have to kiss your pies goodbye. Refrigerated fruit pies are fine, but cream, custard and chiffon ones might kill you.

Cooked pasta and refrigerated bread products (think anything with the Pillsbury Doughboy on the label) are bad.

Peanut butter and condiments are fine, but be wary of anything with mayonnaise. That includes tartar sauce and horseradish. They need to be thrown away if their temp topped 50 degrees for more than eight hours.

Onward! What's lurking in your freezer?

Any meats, seafood, casseroles, soups, stews and convenience foods can be refrozen if they still have ice crystals in them.

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen cheesecakes and frozen casseroles all need to go.

Frozen fruits can be refrozen as long as they're not stinky or slimy. If frozen vegetables still have ice crystals in them, they can also be refrozen. No ice crystals? Trash can.

Any frozen bread or pastry products can be refrozen if they have ice crystals. If anything containing custard or cheese filling has thawed, it's gotta go.

Frozen staples like flour and nuts should be fine.

And of course, when in doubt, throw it out. But you knew that.