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

Dec 20 2017, 1:06 am

Following Saturday’s massive windstorm, some households and businesses in the Lower Mainland will not have their electricity return until the early morning hours of Monday. For some, that could mean perishable food items stored in their fridges and freezers have been without power for up to 36 hours.


So what does that mean for food safety following a protracted power outage? According to Health Canada, any thawed 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 part of this ‘discard list’ includes 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. Fortunately, temperatures in Metro Vancouver have cooled down significantly ahead of the windstorm.

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, approximately 180,000 customers in the Lower Mainland and elsewhere in the South Coast were still without power – down from 500,000 customers during the peak of the outage.

B.C. Hydro’s latest estimates indicate power will be restored to all affected Lower Mainland areas by no later than 1 a.m. Monday.


DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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