Power off? First, flashlights; second, food

Minnesota health officials encourage residents to keep food safety advice in mind during power outages, especially if the outage lasts at least a day.

To be on the safe side, make sure your fridge and freezer are equipped with thermometers before the lights go out. That could make the difference between knowing if you can keep or should throw out a freezer full of costly food, or, worse, expose yourself and family to spoiled food.

The health department recommends that during a power outage people keep in mind :

• Refrigerator and freezer doors should be kept closed as much as possible to maintain cold temperatures.

• A refrigerators will only keep food cold for about four hours when left unopened.

• Food stored in the refrigerator that has been at a temperature above 41 degrees F for more than four hours should be thrown away.

• A packed freezer stays cold longer than one that's half-full. A full freezer will hold its temperature for approximately 48 hours if the door remains closed. If the freezer is only half-full, it will only keep food frozen about 24 hours.

• If food stored in a freezer has thawed but is still below 41 degrees F, it can be refrozen. Although the taste and texture of the food may be compromised, it should remain safe to eat.

"Do not trust your eyes or sense of smell to determine if food has gone bad," says Assistant Commissioner of Health Aggie Leitheiser. "Food may be unsafe to eat, even if it doesn't look or smell bad. The old adage applies: when in doubt, throw it out."

Restaurants and other food businesses can call MDH at 651-201-4500 or their local health department for more information about food safety during power outages.

More information is available at http://www.health.state.mn.us/foodsafety/emergency/index.html.