Here’s what to do with the food in your fridge if you lost power

MADISON, Wis. — Thousands of Madison-area residents lost power Monday night after severe storms rolled through the area, meaning they’ll likely have to get rid of any perishable food they weren’t able to keep cold.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, perishable items can last up to 4 hours in a non-functioning refrigerator as long as the doors stay closed. Food in a full freezer can last up to 48 hours without power, as long as the doors remain closed to keep the air in. In a pinch, refrigerated foods can be stored in a cooler as long as they’re stored at 40°F or below.

Once those windows pass, the CDC recommends getting rid of any perishable items, especially ones with an unusual odor, color or texture.

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Different foods call for different methods of disposal, though, according to Bryan Johnson with Madison’s Streets Division, which manages the city’s waste collection.

The vast majority of foods — especially any that have spoiled without refrigeration like meats, dairy and leftovers — will likely need to be thrown away, Johnson said.

With high temperatures hitting the Madison area on Tuesday and Wednesday, any foods that have already gone bad will likely get worse while sitting in trash cans outside.

Any residents who are worried about the stench of spoiled food can use one of Madison’s drop-off sites to get rid of their waste. A full list of waste drop-off sites is available on the city’s website.

Johnson also recommended freezing spoiled food once power is restored to help neutralize the smell until trash pickup day. Using baking soda to absorb the smells and keeping trash bin lids closed are also viable options for residents who aren’t able to make it to a waste drop-off site.

Some foods — mainly raw fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, grains and rice, and eggshells — can be composted in backyard compost bins or at one of the city’s farmer’s market drop-off sites.

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Those sites only run Tuesday evenings at the South Madison Farmer’s Market located at 1602 S. Park Street (the Madison Labor Temple) and the Eastside Farmer’s Market located at 202 S. Ingersoll Street (McPike Park).

More information about best practices for dealing with perishable foods during a power outage is available on the CDC’s food safety website.