When in doubt, throw it out.
That's what your mother told you about dicey-looking food, and that's what public health officials are advising about food that has been sitting in refrigerators for two days without electricity.
Especially prone to spoilage and dangerous food poisoning are opened and unrefrigerated mayonnaise, eggs, tuna and chicken salad, dairy products and uncooked meat, said Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department.
"After two days without refrigeration, you're really
getting into the danger zone with anything except unopened prepared foods with a lot of preservatives," Malecki said. "You really don't want to be taking the risk of eating spoiled food."
Food poisoning usually causes vomiting and diarrhea. It can be especially dangerous for babies, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, Malecki said. Those groups are especially susceptible to quick dehydration.
Never taste a food to determine its safety. A refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed).
Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees or below.
Obtain block or dry ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for two days. Discard all food that came in contact with floodwaters,
including canned goods.
Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers touched by floodwaters.
Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that come in contact with floodwater with hot, soapy water, then sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water.
Bread, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables last longer without refrigeration, especially with local temperatures dropping. If those items look and smell OK, they are usually safe to consume.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service, a branch of the US Department of Agriculture, also issued special cautions about the safe consumption of eggs when refrigeration fails because they may contain "certain bacteria that can cause food-borne illness."