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Food spoils quickly in storm conditions

Published Aug. 28, 2005

Flooding and power outages from hurricanes, tropical storms or even strong thunderstorms can affect the safety of the food in your refrigerator, freezer and cabinets. It doesn't take long for cold and frozen foods to spoil as temperatures rise. Likewise, floodwater passes on contamination to everything it comes in contact with, including food.

Unfortunately, much of your food may have to be discarded if you've had an extended power outage or flooding into your cabinets or fridge.

Clip and save these safety tips from Clemson University to refer to when stormy weather affects your area.


+ Discard these foods if they have come in contact with floodwater:

Meat, poultry, fish and eggs; fresh fruits and vegetables; home-canned foods; commercial glass jars of food or beverages, including never-opened jars with waxed cardboard seals (such as mayonnaise and salad dressing), corks, pop tops or peel-off tops;

All foods in cardboard boxes, paper, foil, cellophane or cloth; spices, seasonings and extracts; opened containers and packages, flour, sugar, grain, coffee and other staples in canisters;

Dented, leaking, bulging or rusted cans, paper, plastic foam and other picnic-type goods.

+ Undamaged commercial canned goods can be saved if the labels, which can harbor bacteria, are removed. Mark contents on can lids with indelible ink before removing labels. Then wash cans in a strong detergent solution using a scrub brush.


Keep freezer and refrigerator doors closed to keep cold air trapped. Bacteria begins to grow when the temperatures rise above 40 degrees. Place appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to monitor temperature.

A full freezer should keep food safe for about two days; a half-full freezer, about a day.

Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as the power is out no more than about four to six hours. If it appears the power will be off more than six hours, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.

Do not taste food to determine its safety.

+ The following foods should be discarded if kept more than two hours above 40 degrees:

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes (raw or cooked), milk, cream, yogurt and soft cheese; casseroles, stews or soups, lunch meats and hot dogs; creamy salad dressings; custard, chiffon or cheese pies; refrigerated cookie dough; open mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish if above 50 degrees for more than eight hours.

+ These foods will keep at room temperature a few days. Discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor:

Butter or margarine; hard and processed cheese; fresh fruits and vegetables; fruit juices and dried fruit; opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings; jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives and peanut butter; fresh herbs and spices; fruit pies, breads and cakes, except cream cheese-frosted or cream-filled; flour and nuts.

+ You can refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals but have been kept at 40 degrees or below for no more than one to two days may be cooked, then refrozen or canned.