First, note the time of the power outage and resist the urge to open the refrigerator. With the doors closed, refrigerated food will stay safe for about 4 hours, while frozen food will thaw but will stay safe for 24 to 48 hours.
Consider keeping an appliance thermometer in the fridge. This will come in handy in the likely event that you don't know when the power went out. Discard perishables if the temperature gets above 40 degrees fahrenheit for more than two hours.
And keep a cooler or two on hand. When perishables are kept packed with ice, a good insulating cooler might be able to prolong their life.
Also, throw out ice cream and frozen yogurt, even if they still feel cold or contain ice crystals. Their dairy content means quicker spoiling.
Remember, a sniff test is not accurate. Instead, use a food thermometer to take the internal temperature of perishables. Throw out any items with internal temperatures above 40 degrees fahrenheit.
And there is no need to throw out refrigerated butter, hard cheeses, raw vegetables or fruit juices. They'll keep for 24 hours.
Do not refreeze items if their internal temperature is above 40 degrees fahrenheit or if there's no sign of ice crystals on them.
And finally, throw out any food that has come in contact with raw-meat juices. You don't want the cross-contamination.
For more information on how to handle food during a power outage and other consumer topics, click here.
by Erika Wortham and Jenn Eaker