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By: Tracy Turner
I put a roast on to cook in my slow cooker and went to work. When I got home, I realized that the power had gone out at my house at some point during the day. I checked my slow cooker and the power was off, but my roast looked like it cooked fully. Can I still eat the roast?
Great question! However, I’m sorry to say that unless you are able to tell how long the roast was in the slow cooker without adequate heat, it’s best that you toss it out, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Generally speaking, perishable foods that have been at temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for two hours or more will need to be discarded to avoid the development of harmful bacteria that could cause a foodborne illness. This is because food that isn’t maintained at proper temperatures can enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees at which bacteria grows most rapidly.
As the name indicates, a slow cooker cook foods slowly at a low temperature—generally between 170 and 280 degrees. It works by using the direct heat from the pot and the steam created from tightly covering the pot over a period of time to destroy bacteria, making the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods, according to the USDA.
“While food is cooking and once it’s done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating,” the USDA says.
But, if the power to the slow cooker goes out and you aren’t there to know how long the cooker was without power, how long the food had cooked before the power went out, or how long the food might have sat in the danger zone, bacteria could have begun to develop on the food.
So, in your case, even if the roast looks done, the USDA says it shouldn’t be eaten.
The USDA also advises the following when using a slow cooker:
- Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.
- Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator. The slow cooker might take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won’t get a “head start” during the first few hours of cooking.
- If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time, if preparation time is limited.
Lastly, while it’s OK to use a slow cooker to keep foods warm, it’s not recommended that you reheat leftovers in a crock pot. This is because it takes too long for the leftovers to reheat to a safe temperature, creating a perfect space for harmful bacteria to form.
As such, the USDA says it’s best to reheat food on a stove, in a microwave, or in a conventional oven until the food reaches a temperature of 165 degrees. At that point, you can then place the food in the slow cooker to keep it hot, at 140 degrees or higher.
Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Shari Gallup, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.
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Family and Consumer Sciences
By: Tracy Turner
If my home floods, what do I do with the food in my fridge and pantry?
Your question is very similar to another that was asked in a “Chow Line” column from May 2017, so it’s best answered by reissuing that column here.
If your home becomes flooded, it is important that you throw away any food that might have come into contact with floodwater. That includes cartons of milk, juice, or eggs and any raw vegetables and fruits. In fact, unless they were in a waterproof container, any foods in your home that came into contact with floodwater need to be thrown out.
Floodwater can seep into and contaminate foods packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard, or stored in containers with screw-on caps, snap lids, or pull tops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The best way to avoid the potential for foodborne illness in such cases is to throw away all foods not contained in waterproof packaging. That includes any foods in your pantry, cabinets, fridge, and freezer that came into contact with floodwater.
Canned goods also need to be inspected for damage due to flooding. Throw away any cans with swelling, leakage, punctures, or deep rusting, or those that are crushed or severely dented and can’t be opened with a can opener.
Foodborne bacteria can cause illness. Symptoms will occur usually within one to three days of eating the contaminated food. However, symptoms can also occur within 20 minutes or up to six weeks later, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In the case of a power outage without flooding, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. If not opened, a refrigerator without power will keep food cold for about four hours. A half-full freezer will hold its temperature for about 24 hours, and for 48 hours if the freezer is full, the USDA says.
If the power is out more than four hours, you can store refrigerated foods in a cooler with dry ice or block ice. You can also use dry ice or block ice in the fridge to keep it as cold as possible during an extended power outage, according to the FDA.
The USDA and the FDA offer these other tips for safe food handling after a power outage:
- Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Throw away any perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.
- Check each item separately. Throw away any food that feels warm to the touch or has an unusual odor, color, or texture.
- Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed can be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees or below.
Remember, when in doubt about the safety of the food item, throw it out. Never taste the food to decide if it is safe to eat, the USDA says. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut, according to the FDA.
Experts agree: One way to be prepared in the event of an extended power outage is to keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that don’t require cooking or cooling. And keep a supply of bottled water stored where it will be safe from floodwater.
Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line author Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or email@example.com.
Editor: This column was originally reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in food safety for Ohio State University Extension.
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OSU Extension, Food Safety