GHN personal blog: After power outage, pay attention to food safety

With COVID-19 flaring and politicians fuming, these last few weeks have raised anxiety to a new level.

Then along came Zeta.

As the former hurricane raced from the Gulf Coast up into the mid-Atlantic states and then back out to sea, it hit the Peach State with a vengeance. It knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of Georgians on Thursday and Friday.

Including our home here in DeKalb County.

Our outage lasted more than 24 hours, starting at about 6 a.m. Thursday. Thank God for candles, a mild evening, and a Scrabble game played by flickering light.

But what to do about the food in the refrigerator?

Though the signal on my phone was dying, I was able to find out the basics.

The CDC says to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed during an outage. If a refrigerator’s doors stay shut, the Atlanta-based public health agency tells us, the food inside will stay safe for up to four hours.

That was a lot shorter time than we thought.

Other advice during an outage is to use block ice, or dry ice if you can get it, to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days, health officials say.

We kept thinking the power was just about to come back on. Absent-mindedly, we kept turning on light switches that failed to work, then felt pretty dumb for having done so.

We waited . . . and waited . . . for the lights to come back on. When they finally did, we had a new appreciation for the electricity we so often take for granted.

Taste testing is risky

Food can stay safe for up to 48 hours in a full freezer, and 24 hours in a half-full freezer.

The FDA says that if your freezer has a thermometer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the reading is 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.

If your freezer – like ours – has no thermometer, you should check each package of food to determine its safety. “You can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook,’’ the FDA says.

After a power outage, the CDC warns: “Never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.”

That means tossing out any perishable food in your refrigerator (meat, fish, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, and leftovers) after four hours have passed.

So, after 30 hours without power, that meant throwing out the leftover jambalaya (unfortunately), all the dairy stuff, the Greek yogurt and the mayo.

With Halloween and Election Day around the corner, we’re going to hunker down and try to survive.

Hopefully with electricity.