Expert: Tips to manage refrigerated food during power outage

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A winter storm bringing moderate to heavy snowfall and howling winds to Southern New England caused some residents to lose power Monday.

If you think you may lose power during a storm, make sure to put your refrigerator and freezer on the coldest temperature settings. That way if the power goes down, your food will stay colder longer.

Call 12 for Action spoke with the chief of food protection of the Rhode Island Department of Health on Monday about how to determine when your food will go bad in your fridge if the power goes out.

“If the food isn’t above 40 degrees, you can save it,” said Ernest Julian, Ph.D. “If it’s been above 40 degrees for over two hours, then a lot of the products will be discarded.”

According to Julian, a little bit of preparation can keep the fridge and freezer cool.

“You can put all of your foods together, especially in the freezer. They’ll warm up slower that way,” he said.

The refrigerator will also warm up slower if it is full of ice. If you don’t have enough ice, you can fill up bottles or gallon jugs with water and stick them outside. Once they’re frozen, bring them back inside and fill up the fridge.

“The refrigerator will probably hold temperature for about four hours,” Julian said. “The freezer – if it’s fuller – for about 48 hours. If it’s half full, about 24 hours.”

Julian said the mistake people make is opening the fridge to see if it is still cold – because it just warms up the food.

Eating food that has gone bad can cause serious illnesses, too.

“Salmonella, listeria, there’s a bunch of bacteria that can grow at warm temperatures,” Julian said. “And you don’t know what’s in the food. If they’re there, they grow to large numbers and cause serious illness. You don’t want to take that chance.”

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