(09/11/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — In the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, the cleanup is in high gear, but working smart is the name of this game.
LSU AgCenter housing specialist Claudette Reichel says refrigerators and freezers are two of the most important pieces of equipment in the kitchen for keeping food safe.
“We are instantly reminded of their importance when the power goes off, flooding occurs or the unit fails, causing food to become unsafe and spoil,” she said. “The odors that develop when food spoils can be difficult to remove.
Cleaning the refrigerator can be one of the most vital components of the recovery operation.
Reichel says if food has spoiled in a refrigerator or freezer and odors from the food remain, they may be difficult to remove. The following procedures may help but may have to be repeated several times.
— Dispose of any spoiled or questionable food.
— Remove shelves, crispers and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent. Then rinse with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
— Wash the interior of the refrigerator and freezer, including the doors and gaskets, with hot water and baking soda. Rinse with a sanitizing solution.
— Leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow free air circulation.
If odors remain, try any or all of the following:
— Wipe the inside of unit with equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar provides acid, which destroys mildew.
— Leave the door open and allow the appliance to air out for several days.
— Stuff both the refrigerator and freezer with rolled newspapers. Close the door and leave it alone for several days, then remove the paper and clean with vinegar and water.
— Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in a large, shallow container in the bottom of the refrigerator and freezer.
— Place a cotton swab soaked with vanilla inside the refrigerator and freezer. Keep the door closed for 24 hours. Check for odors.
— Use a commercial product available at hardware and housewares stores. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Reichel said you should never taste food to determine its safety.
“You will have to evaluate each item separately,” she said. “If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when the power comes back on. If the thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40 degrees or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.”
If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety.
“Remember, you can’t rely on appearance or odor,” she said. “If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees or below, it is safe to refreeze.”
Refrigerated food should be safe as long as power is out no more than four hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible.
Discard any perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more.
The bottom line is— with a week-long power outage, all the food will be unsafe.
“Some things that you can do before a storm include filling the freezer to capacity by freezing containers of water in advance,” she said. “A full freezer will stay cold twice as long as a half-full freezer. This is great way to recycle 2-liter soda bottles and gallon tea jugs. Do not fill to the brim to leave room for expansion as the water freezes.”
If it’s necessary or preferred to replace the refrigerator, be sure to compare EnergyGuide labels and choose a high-efficiency Energy Star-certified model, Reichel said.
It will save more than enough money on energy bills to make up for its higher price tag and will keep food safe longer in the next power outage due to its superior insulation and gaskets.