FOOD SAFETY: Tips for safe food storage during summer storm power blackouts.
FOOD SAFETY: Tips for safe food storage during summer storm power blackouts.

Manage your fridge during summer storms

SUMMER storms and fires are prone to cause power issues for country and city homes which can leave a household with a fridge full of food that can quickly spoil.

The Food Safety Information Council recommends if your home loses power, you should firstly make a note of what time the power went off.

"Time and temperature are the most important measurements used to determine whether food needs to be regarded as potentially unsafe," FSIC states.

When the power goes off

There is a window of two hours from when the power is goes off before all potentially hazardous refrigerated perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood and ready-to-eat needs to be:

  • Put in alternative cold storage, for example coolers with ice or ice bricks, or into the fridges of family and friend's.
  • Eaten immediately.
  • If the fridge temperature rises to above five degrees for over two hours, eaten immediately or thrown away.
  • If you don't have a fridge thermometer or another cold storage area is not immediately available after two hours, food should be eaten immediately or thrown away.

When a sudden power cut occurs try to:

  • If you have sufficient space in the freezer, after two hours remove foods from the fridge. Place them in the freezer or esky with ice bricks.
  • Avoid opening the freezer door unless necessary, as this will reduce the time the contents will remain frozen.

If your freezer is efficient, and its door seals are in good condition, it can maintain foods in a frozen state for between one and two and a half days.

4-hour/2-hour rule for safe storage

For potentially hazardous food that has been at temperatures between 5°C and 60°C for a total of:

  • Less than 2 hours - refrigerate or use immediately.
  • Longer than 2 hours but less than 4 hours - use immediately.
  • Four hours or longer - must be thrown out.

It's best to eat perishable foods first and save the dried and canned food until last.

This advice refers to potentially hazardous food except those normally kept at room temperature or jams, pickles and other acid foods.

If you are unsure about the time that has passed or the temperature your food has been stored at then throwing the food out is the safest option.

Before the power goes off 

When there is a planned power cut, the day or night before it is cut off:

  • Organise alternative refrigerated storage in advance, for example with relatives, friends or neighbours.
  • Avoid buying food that needs to be frozen or refrigerated until after the power is restored.
  • Adjust the refrigerator to its coldest setting and remove fresh fruit and vegetables to prevent them being damaged. These items can be stored at room temperature.
  • Set your freezer to its coldest setting.
  • Place ice bricks, or freeze large blocks of ice, in the freezer for later use.
  • If you can, freeze some of the items from your fridge for later use. This is a very safe option and is best done well before the power cut.

During power cuts

Don't open the fridge door during the power cut, unless necessary.

  • Remove ice bricks from the freezer and place in an esky.
  • Remove all meats, poultry, dairy and potentially hazardous food (for example dips, pâté, ham, prepared and cooked food) from the refrigerator and place in a cooler with frozen bricks or gel packs.
  • Salted butter, margarine and hard cheeses will remain safe at room temperature.
  • Place the ice or ice bricks throughout the stored food to ensure an even temperature. Make sure the lid of the cooler has a good seal.

With food stored in freezers:

  • If it's in good condition and operates at minus 15°C or below, foods can be stored for one and two days. If the freezer door is kept shut, a full freezer can keep food chilled for up to 48 hours, while a half full freezer can be kept food chilled for 24 hours.
  • It's important freezer doors are not opened unless necessary. Opening and closing the doors will reduce the time the contents will remain at safe temperatures.
  • Foods that have partly or fully defrosted but remain very cold (5°C or less), can be refrozen.  The quality of these foods may be affected after defrosting and refreezing.

There are two options for food that has been stored in a freezer where the temperature has reached more than 5°C for up to two hours:

  • Find alternative refrigeration at less than 5°C or refreeze.
  • Consume immediately.

Food stored in a freezer for more than four hours at more than 5 °C should be thrown out.

Food in the process of being cooked

  • Throw out food that was being cooked when the power failed if cooking can't be completed properly within two hours.
  • If food is already properly cooked, eat it within two hours or throw it out.

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