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When the power comes back: Should I toss or keep?

The Butter Bell crock from L. Tremain keeps

The Butter Bell crock from L. Tremain keeps butter fresh and spreadable at room temperature. Photo Credit: handout

Readers, if you’ve lost power in your homes I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you. But I’ll uncross them long enough to share some thoughts about which refrigerated and frozen foods are safe to eat, and which should be tossed.

Newsday has already posted some general tips about food safety after a power outage.

Most importantly, do not open your refrigerator or freezer. It’s amazing how long these insulated chambers will stay cold, and the fuller they are, the colder they’ll stay. As soon as the power comes back on, use an instant-read thermometer to take the temperature of something liquid in your fridge. If it’s at 40 degrees or below, you’re OK. (Don’t have an instant-read thermometer? It’s my favorite kitchen tool. Take this opportunity to go to any housewares or hardware store and buy one. You won’t regret it.)

Be selective about tossing food. There are some foods — bread, butter, hard cheese, eggs — that are not refrigerated in perfectly civilized places like France. (Some readers may remember back to a time when we didn’t refrigerate them here either.) With salmonella a constant (though low-level) threat, I’m not going to advise you to save eggs that have been at room temperature for more than a few hours, but if you have a loaf of bread or a wedge of Jarlsberg or Parmesan or pecorino, just store it in as cool a place as you’ve got; it will be fine for days, weeks.

Butter can handle cool room temperature; that’s why those Butter Bell crocks (see photo, above) are legal for sale in the U.S. Fruits and vegetables will look bad if they are bad. Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, chili sauce and fruit preserves don’t really need refrigeration and even commercial mayonnaise has a high enough acid content to stay at room temperature for a few days.

To assess the state of your frozen foods, look at your ice-cube bucket. A solid mass of ice indicates that all the cubes melted and refroze. If this is the case, you’ll want to toss pretty much everything (except bread, butter and other relative non-perishables). But if your cubes are still separate, then your freezer temperature never rose above freezing. Your food is OK.

If you have specific questions, I’ll try to answer them. Just email me at erica.marcus@newsday.com.

The Butter Bell crock keeps butter soft and spreadable at room temperature.

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