Food safety after a power outage: What to discard and what to keep

Oct 12 2016, 11:15 pm

Metro Vancouver is expected to receive a battering from the elements over the next few days as a series of storms roll into the area.

Forecasters predict up to 200 mm of rain and winds of up to 80 km/h as the storms continue to surge through British Columbia’s southern coast. Outages are unfortunately inevitable, leaving fridges and freezers across Metro Vancouver without power.

So what does a protracted power outage mean for food safety?

According to Health Canada, any thawed item that has been left at room temperature for two or more hours should be discarded, and it goes without saying this is the case for anything that has an unusual colour or odour.

“A full freezer will keep food frozen for about 48 hours,” reads the federal government’s advice. “A freezer that is half full will keep food frozen for about 24 hours. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours.”

Health Canada’s American counterpart, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has compiled a list of what foods should be discarded if it has been held at a temperature above 4.4°C for over two hours:

Refrigerated perishable foods that should be discarded:

  • Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes
  • Thawing meat or poultry
  • Salads: Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad
  • Gravy, stuffing, broth
  • Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef
  • Pizza – with any topping
  • Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated”
  • Canned meats and fish, opened
  • Casseroles, soups, stews
  • Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco
  • Shredded Cheeses
  • Low-fat Cheeses
  • Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk
  • Baby formula, opened
  • Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products
  • Custards and puddings, quiche
  • Fresh fruits, cut
  • Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish (discard if above 10°C for over 8 hours)
  • Fish sauces, oyster sauce
  • Opened creamy-based dressings
  • Spaghetti sauce, opened jar
  • Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough
  • Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes
  • Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette
  • Fresh pasta
  • Cheesecake
  • Pastries, cream filled
  • Pies – custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche
  • Vegetables: Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged
  • Vegetables, cooked; tofu
  • Vegetable juice, opened
  • Baked potatoes
  • Commercial garlic in oil
  • Potato salad
  • Casseroles, soups, stews

Not included in this ‘discard list’ are breakfast foods (such as bagels, pancakes and waffles), raw uncooked vegetables, bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, basic condiments, opened juices, uncut fresh fruits, butter, margarine and hard cheeses.

According to the U.S. health agency, these foods can sustain warmer temperatures for longer periods. It should also be noted that food should never be tasted to determine its safety.