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After Hurricane Sandy: What's Safe to Eat in the Refrigerator?

Health officials provide tips for food safety and for cleaning up.

If you are among the lucky ones to have your electricity back following the Hurricane Sandy disruptions, it's time to restock your refrigerator. But health officials say there are some important steps you should take to keep you and your family safe. 

If your power was out for longer than 2 hours, follow these guidelines:

  • A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours.
  • If there are still ice crystals in the food, it may be refrozen. 
  • If the food defrosted in the freezer, and has not been above 45 degrees for several hours, it should be cooked and served promptly.
  • Thawed breast milk should be used within 24 hours of being defrosted.  Thawed breast milk cannot be refrozen.
  • Condiments such as mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise are safe and may last for a few days without refrigeration.
  • Discard any items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
  • Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat.

Once your power is restored, follow these clean-up guidelines:

  • Wipe up spills immediately (don’t forget to check the back of the refrigerator) – clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water and then rinse.
  • If there is an odor, wipe inside with equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar is an acid, which destroys mildew.
  • Be sure to scrub the gaskets, shelves, sides, and door. Allow to air out.
  • Avoid using strong smelling cleaning agents (such as ammonia), abrasives, and all cleansers that may pass on a chemical taste to food or ice cubes, or cause damage to the interior finish of your refrigerator. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Check the front grill of the unit to make sure it is free of dust and lint to permit free airflow to the condenser.

 Time to restock!

  • Allow time for the refrigerator to be below 45º F and your freezer to be below 0º F before restocking.
  • Have raw poultry, meat and seafood in a sealed container or wrapped securely to prevent raw juices from contaminating other foods.
  • The temperature of the storage shelves in the door fluctuate more than the temperature in the main part of the fridge.
    • Don't store perishable foods in the door.
    • Eggs should be stored in the carton on a shelf. 
Meri Stewart November 04, 2012 at 06:31 AM
I had stocked my freezer with Lean Cuisne's and Smart One's two weeks prior to the storm. After five days without power, I didn't have the heart to ditch everything from the freezer since technically, it still was looming on my credit card, unpaid. I actually contacted my co-op insurance company and asked if there was a hurricane "food spoil insurance." Guess the answer to that one... After power was restored, I opened my freezer. There were still ice cubes, so I basically deemed the food safe. I have been eating these frozen meals morning, noon, and night and they taste and smell perfectly fine. As long as the freezer remained SEALED, I think you are OK...for a few days at least.
Were Americans Damnit November 04, 2012 at 07:14 AM
what an amazing tale of survival. And they say that the majority of in the Rivertowns are soft and without any idea of what real struggle is. Well, not anymore. You contacted your insurance company huh? What you have in there 20, 25, Lean Cuisines? Those bastards. I ask you, where are they when we need them. God speed, we'll all get through this, remember. 'We're not strangers, we're neighbors.' Some of us with freezers that still hold a little ice and a lot of Smart Ones. It's stories like these, that make us Americans.
Merken Muffley November 04, 2012 at 08:13 AM
Thank God you were able to save the vinegar-based products. One must have access to Balsamic. Please take care of yourself.
Meri Stewart November 04, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Unfortunately, some of us live paycheck to paycheck (unlike you.) I understand it is a trivial thing, but saving as much food as I could was an asset to me. Comments like yours prove you are too high on your pedestal to understand.
Meri Stewart November 04, 2012 at 06:02 PM
And if you read the title of this article, that is why I responded. I did NOT compare my food loss to loss of human life or destruction of home and land. I wasn't the only one who wondered about their refrigerators/freezers. Otherwise an article wouldn't have been written. I am not making light of this situation. I was just offering a little advice to those who questioned the safety of their food. It is sad you have to be obnoxious and make fun of my response.

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