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(MCT)–Recent power outages, coupled with the extreme heat, prompted several reader calls to the Free Press Test Kitchen about whether food in refrigerators and freezers was safe to keep.

If your power was out just a few hours and you didn’t open the refrigerator or freezer, chances are the food is OK. A refrigerator should keep food cold for four hours and a half-full freezer 24 hours (48 hours if the freezer is full) if you don’t open the doors, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Here’s a clip-and-save checklist gleaned from www.fsis.usda.gov to have handy next time the power goes out.

  • Try not to open the refrigerator and freezer doors (doing so lets the cold air escape).
  • If you know the power will be out for an extended period, get ice or dry ice to keep foods cold.
  • Use a refrigerator-freezer thermometer to check the temperature.
  • In either the refrigerator or freezer, if the temperature is 40 degrees or below, the food is safe.
  • Check the packages. If food still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees or below when checked with a food thermometer, you can refreeze it.
  • Group foods together in the freezer to help them stay cold longer.
  • Keep food on ice in coolers.
  • Never taste food to determine whether it’s safe.

Foods to Toss

Bacteria growth can take place in these foods that have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more:

  • Meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, yogurt, eggs, leftovers, hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats, pizza, shredded cheeses, casseroles, pasta and pasta sauces.
  • Cream-based salad dressings, sauces and soups.
  • Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish.
  • Pasta salads with creamy or mayonnaise-based dressings.
  • Sour cream-based dips.
  • Fruits and vegetables that have become slimy or spoiled.

Foods to Keep

  • Condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, jelly, jams, soy sauce and bottled marinade. Typically these have high salt and sugar content that can act as a preservative.
  • Fresh bread and rolls.
  • Fruits and vegetables that show no signs of decay.

The best rule to follow: “When in doubt, throw it out.”

©2012 Detroit Free Press
Distributed by MCT Information Services