In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, more than 400,000 people were left without power, struggling with flickering candles, sputtering flashlights, and refrigerator contents in varying states of troubling thaw. Just how long will all your victuals last? The United States Department of Agriculture says be prepared: After eight hours above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you can’t keep much, and for many of us on the East End, power went out four days ago.
Most refrigerators, however, if kept closed (or opened only in necessity, and quickly) will keep food safely cold for four hours. A full freezer will maintain its temperature for approximately 48 hours.
The U.S.D.A. recommends the use of a food thermometer to determine the temperature of potential meals once a food’s freshness has been called into question.
Any of the following foods that rise above 40 degrees for more than two hours should be discarded: raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood, soy meat substitutes, chicken or egg salad, gravy, stuffing, broth, lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef, pizza with any topping, and any soft cheeses.
Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, grated Parmesan, butter and margarine, fruit juices, canned fruits, fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, and dates are all deemed safe.
Foods that must be discarded after having been above 50 degrees for more than eight hours include: creamy dressings, refrigerated biscuit dough, rolls or cookie dough, fresh pasta, pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette, cheesecake, cream, custard or cheese-filled pastries or pies, packaged greens, cooked vegetables, opened vegetable juice, and baked potatoes.
Happily, Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, and hoisin sauces are considered safe, as are vinegar-based dressings, bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, bagels, fruit pies, and raw vegetables.
As for once-frozen food, you can keep anything with ice crystals that feels “as cold as if refrigerated,” except ice cream. Any frozen foods that have been above 40 degrees for more than two hours should be discarded except hard cheese, fruit, or fruit juices (just watch out for mold), breads, rolls, muffins, pies and cakes (without custard or cream filling), flour, cornmeal, nuts, waffles, pancakes, and bagels.