“My freezer went out. What food can I save?” my caller asked.
She wasn’t sure how long her appliance had been out of commission.
The food was warm to the touch, so most of the food could not be salvaged. Her tightly wrapped frozen bread was safe, especially because no meat juice had dripped on the packages. Her fully thawed meat, poultry and fish were not safe after thawing and sitting for an undetermined amount of time. High-protein foods are especially perishable.
Unfortunately, I have had this sort of phone call many times in my career.
I experienced a near “freezer disaster” myself a few years ago when one of my kids left the freezer door open after grabbing a treat. Our food was still refrigerator-cold (or about 40 F) when we discovered the door partly ajar.
I decided to cook almost all of the food and then refreeze the meals. Some of the food had ice crystals, so I was able to refreeze it safely and without much quality loss.
However, I wasn’t planning on a cooking spree that lasted all day. I’m happy to report that everyone double-checks the freezer door every time he or she grabs a treat.
Safeguard your food by keeping a close eye on the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with appliance thermometers. The temperature of your refrigerator should be 40 F or lower, and your freezer should be zero F or lower.
Sometimes the lack of cold storage is short-term, such as when you exchange appliances. In that case, coolers and ice can be used to keep food cold.
When weather emergencies, such as severe storms, are predicted, we can plan ahead. Dry ice and block ice can be used to keep foods cold. To keep an 18-cubic-foot freezer cold for two days, you will need about 50 pounds of dry ice.
If the power goes out or a refrigerator or freezer fails, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, a closed refrigerator without power will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer without power will hold the temperature for about 48 hours, and a half-full freezer will hold its temperature for about 24 hours.
Be sure to keep canned food on hand for emergencies. These shelf-stable foods allow you to maintain a healthful diet even when cold storage is not available. Here is a tasty recipe with minimal preparation required. It was adapted from a recipe found on the Canned Food Alliance website at www.mealtime.org .
Canned dry edible beans are rich in protein and fiber. By draining and rinsing the canned beans, you can reduce the amount of sodium they contain significantly.
Bistro Bean Soup
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
8 ounces reduced-fat, fully cooked smoked turkey sausage
1 (14.5-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, undrained
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 (14.5-ounce) cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tsp. minced thyme leaves or 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
Ground black pepper, to taste
Heat oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened. Add sausage and cook for five minutes, until sausage is heated through. Add tomatoes, one can beans, one can broth and thyme and heat. Simmer for 10 minutes. Combine remaining beans and broth in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and creamy. Stir the puree into soup and bring to a boil; simmer for five minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for about three minutes. Season with black pepper.
Makes eight servings. Each serving has 170 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 20 g of carbohydrate, 5 g of fiber and 730 milligrams of sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.