With the East Coast bracing for the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, an estimated eight to 10 million people are expected to lose power. And with prolonged power outages come serious concerns about food safety.
"It is important to keep our food safe when the power goes out to prevent our food from spoiling, which can put us at higher risk for food borne illness," Toby Smithson, RD, founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells HuffPost in an email. "Salmonella is the most common problem, but E. Coli with ground beef can be dangerous, as well as others."
According to FoodSafety.gov, the most important thing is to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. If they stay sealed, your fridge can keep food cold for about four hours, and a full freezer for about 48 hours (24 hours if it's half full).
For a full list of tips on food safety in the event of a power outage, including preparations to take ahead of time and precautions after an outage occurs, click over to HuffPost Taste.
But what do you really need to throw out? The general rule of thumb, according to FoodSafety.gov, is to discard any perishables that have been stored above 40 degrees F for more than two hours, no matter what their appearance or odor (and never taste the food). "Words to live by with food safety concerns are, 'When in doubt, throw it out,'" Smithson says. And if you're concerned about the wasted money? "Your health is most important," she adds. "You can lose a lot more money from becoming ill (missed work time, medication costs, doctor visit costs) by consuming spoiled food than the cost of the food itself."
Still confused? FoodSafety.gov advises checking each item individually to see if it's safe to eat. We put together some of the information from their chart on what to save and what to throw out from your refrigerator. Click over to them for the full list, and for the list of what to keep and what to toss from your freezer.
Meat, Poultry And Seafood
Any food in this category <a href="http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/refridg_food.html">held over 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more should be discarded</a>, including raw meat, cooked leftovers, salads like tuna or egg salad, opened cans of meat or seafood, lunchmeats and any foods cooked with meat like casseroles, soups, stews or pizza, according to FoodSafety.gov.
It's important to distinguish between hard and soft cheeses. Hard cheese like cheddar, Swiss and provolone are safe to keep, but soft picks like brie, mozzarella, ricotta or cottage cheese should be discarded. Toss any shredded cheese, even if it's a hard type like cheddar; grated cheese, however, is safe to hang on to.
Butter and margarine are safe to keep, but all other dairy products like milk, cream, yogurt and baby formula need to go.
All eggs and egg products should be discarded.
All your fruit is safe to keep unrefrigerated, unless it's already been cut. If that's the case, toss it.
Sauces, Spreads, Jams
Many of your kitchen staples will last even through a power outage. Peanut butter, jelly, relish, mustard, ketchup and sauces like soy, barbecue and Worcestershire are all safe, as are any vinegar-based dressings. Discard open tomato sauce, cream-based dressings, any fish sauces and mayo, tartar sauce or horseradish that has been stored at above 50 degrees Fahrenheit for more than eight hours.
Bread, Cakes, Cookies, Pasta, Grains
Prepared breads, rolls, muffins, cakes and tortillas and breakfast eats like bagels and waffles are all safe to hang on to. Toss cooked pasta and rice, any pasta salads, refrigerated bread or cookie dough and any homemade fresh pasta.
Pies And Pastry
Cream-filled or custard-type goodies should be tossed, while any fruit pie should be safe.
Raw veggies and all your herbs and spices are safe, but it's best to toss any cooked veggies or anything pre-cut, washed and packaged. You should also discard cooked leftovers containing vegetables, like casseroles, soups or stews, baked potatoes, potato salad and any open vegetable juice.