How Can We Both Be Right When We're Both Wrong?
May 28, 2010 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Marital Discord filter: After a 30+ hour power outage I open the freezer and touch the ice cubes and discover the ice cubes are still completely frozen on top with no moisture. I declare all the items in the freezer safe to eat. Is this correct?

The other party squeezes a bag of blueberries and finds then soft to the touch and says "no one in their right mind would eat food from this freezer."
Are they correct? Where does the middle ground lie?
posted by Xurando to Food & Drink (37 answers total)
Dude (I'm guessing) you don't eat food from a freezer after a 30+ hour power outage.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:02 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was the other party a few weeks ago! We scarfed the fruit, toasted some of the bread but threw out the fish, poultry, game and other meat, including four containers of the most delicious venison stew I've ever made, dammit.
posted by ceri richard at 2:03 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

where were the ice cubes? the blueberries?

things in the far back and bottom of your freezer might be okay.. but do you really want to make yourself sick to save some money? Think of it is an opportunity to clean your freezer out!
posted by royalsong at 2:05 PM on May 28, 2010

I vote for eating the food.

Consider another scenario. What if the blueberries had been brought home frozen from the store and put in the refrigerator to thaw. Would they be spoiled after 30 hours in the refrigerator?

On the other hand, marital discord has a cost, as well. Peace in the family may be more valuable than the discarded food.
posted by Bruce H. at 2:07 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would say that anything that went mushy is questionable, anything that stayed frozen is perfectly fine.

Were the ice cubes frozen solid, or just had a layer of ice on top?
posted by gjc at 2:09 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know, my fully functioning set at zero freezer contains a bag of blueberries. I just squeezed them and they are pretty soft. I feel your pain, because I'd have the same discussion with Mrs. fixedgear who is a chef. She'd vote for throw away, I'd probably keep.
posted by fixedgear at 2:09 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your evidence conclusively proves that (good news!) the ice is still perfectly safe to eat.

Otherwise, the other party wins. Your freezer turned into a refrigerator for a day, treat contents accordingly. Personally I would have gorged myself on a previous answerer's venison stew at dinner, but perhaps my risk tolerance is higher than yours.
posted by genug at 2:10 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ordinarily I'd go with the ice cube test, but unless those blueberries have been thawed before, I think that trumps it. I (being cheap and having a stronger and more adventurous stomach than many, many MeFites) would take it on a case by case basses; anything that is still a rock I'd call safe, anything slightly squishy I'd toss.

I used to keep litter bottles of water in the freezer, just for such cases and, if the door was kept shut and it was fairly full, many things won't have thawed. (BTW, I think things that have been frozen for over a year should be tossed anyway. They just aren't the same.)
posted by Some1 at 2:10 PM on May 28, 2010

Okay -- here's a key point I assumed but maybe shouldn't have: are you sure the ice cubes were frozen the whole time, not just that the power came back on and they re-froze?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:11 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think it depends on the product. If it would normally spoil in 30 hours, I'd toss it. Fruit, bread, cakes, etc I'd keep. But meat and meat-based products I'd toss. It's not worth the risk.

Of course the safe answer is always "if you have to ask, throw it out".
posted by cgg at 2:12 PM on May 28, 2010

All these things are probably safe to eat now, but may not be good to re-freeze, then re-thaw, then eat. At the very least, texture will be compromised on stuff. The blueberries are perfectly safe to eat, but I would play it safe with meats. Things in the center of the freezer will likely be perfectly fine and never defrosted. Things in the door are the first to go, and things that are mushed up against the walls and back of the freezer are second to go. The more packed your freezer is, the better everything will have survived.

I would try and make a meal tonight using as much stuff from the freezer as possible. Then I would throw away any meats from the outside edges of the freezer. I would probably keep any veggies and fruits and allow them to re-freeze, but use for smoothies or something where you process them enough not to notice the texture change. Bread products are probably fine too (bread, waffles etc).
posted by Joh at 2:14 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

IIRC Putting Food By gives you about 48 hrs if the freezer stays unopened for the duration of the power outage. Will try to find my copy for a more definitive reference...
posted by kmennie at 2:18 PM on May 28, 2010

yea 2nd thoughts that basically everything is thawed now, but can be used as if you'd put it all in the fridge.
posted by saraindc at 2:19 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

How do you thaw a turkey? Expose it to fridge temperatures for as long as it takes to thaw. It's really unlikely if you kept the door shut that the inside of your freezer rose above 4C in 30 hours.

I'd keep anything that was still frozen hard and I'd cook anything that thawed out. You could eat leftovers for a good week after that, no need to gorge tonight. Plus you can freeze prepared foods like lazananas, roast meats, pasta, etc. Stuff like bread that would last a week on the counter will be fine either way.
posted by Mitheral at 2:23 PM on May 28, 2010

Are the ice cubes still in their trays? If so, they may look as if they never thawed, but you don't know that. They may well have thawed (along with the rest of your freezer stock) and re-frozen.

Though it won't help with this dispute, here's is a simple test that can help determine freezer food safety in the future: take a few ice cubes and put in a container in the freezer. Next time you have a power outage, check your ice cubes. If they still retain their distinctive ice cube shape, they never thawed, which indicates that [at least that section of] the freezer never got warm enough to endanger your food.

Where does the middle ground lie?

If I understand the situation right, you believe (but are not sure) that the freezer was unpowered for 30 hours. Was it closed for those hours? Was it full? From the USDA: "A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed."

If they freezer was opened, or if I suspect that it did thaw, I would probably assess foood on a case-b-case, package-by-package basis. I wouldn't hesitate to eat fruit or vegetables that had thawed and refrozen, because I would expect them A) to still be cold even if not frozen; B) to perhaps degrade slightly in flavor or texture but not become significantly less safe to eat. I'd be a lot warier of meat.
posted by Elsa at 2:23 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I routinely use food I've kept in a running fridge for longer than 30 hours and for some of (probably most of) the 30 hours, the food in the freezer remained frozen. I'm assuming (based on the ice cubes condition and the fact you're asking this question at all) that it never actually got warm, so it's probably better off -- as long as it never got warm.

Blueberries and other things I'd normally eat fresh, I'd probably still eat uncooked - acid fruits in particular. Or cook them if I were at all in doubt. Of the rest, I'd keep what I could cook immediately and either eat or refreeze.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 2:23 PM on May 28, 2010

USDA fact sheet. Scroll down to the last two questions and the charts.

To help pre-empt future arguments: freezer thermometer.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:24 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Uhm, eat the food that is still hard to the touch, and throw out the rest, unless it is food that -- if left for 30 hours on a kitchen table -- wouldn't be spoiled (like, you know, blueberries.)
posted by davejay at 2:24 PM on May 28, 2010

You opened the freezer AFTER the 30+ hour outage. The real question is...when was it last opened? Was it opened during the outage? If so...toss the stuff.

If it.

If this is causing trouble in your $100 worth of food really worth the hassle?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:31 PM on May 28, 2010

I am a professional at marriage. You assert it is good. You eat each item and, if you are right, and you don't keel over, then smile and say it is safe. Then move on to the next item...
saves the food and saves the marriage.
posted by Postroad at 2:33 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you still have ice cubes, the food is fine.
posted by sageleaf at 2:55 PM on May 28, 2010

Unless your freezer was mostly empty or you held it open for long periods of time, there is very little chance that the temperature inside rose above fridge temperature during those 30 hours. I'd be very surprised if the temperature rose significantly above 0C. Food quality may suffer if any melting took place, but you are not in any danger.

If you want to get scientific about it, you can note that blueberries are full of sugary water and that sugary water freezes below 0C, so you could very well have had frozen ice cubes and melted blueberries right beside each other if the temperature were slightly below 0C.

More likely, the blueberries weren't really melted, but were just softened because the temperature was a little bit warmer than usual. For example, if you keep your freezer really cold, then your ice cream will be really hard, but if you keep your freezer a little less cold your ice cream will be much softer. Blueberries, in my experience, behave similarly. What happens when you melt a bag of blueberries on the counter or in the fridge? You get at least a small pool of juice in the bottom of the container. Check the bag for juice.

Finally, let me assure you that if food in a freezer without power for 30 hours was a significant health risk, then I would never have made it to adulthood.
posted by ssg at 3:20 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is why I maintain a sentinel ice cube in both our freezers. Huck an ice cube in a ziploc bag; seal it and keep it in the door. if it melts, even partially, and refreezes, you'll know it, because it'll be all melty.

I think after 30 hours you're fine, personally. I've had food stay frozen solid for longer than that in a refrigerator.
posted by KathrynT at 3:35 PM on May 28, 2010

Oh geez, 30 hours is nothing. We lose power all the time out here in winter. As long as the freezer door is kept shut, and the freezer is fairly full, things won't even start thawing until the 48 hour mark.

Check it out, the USDA agrees with me. "A freezer full of food will usually keep about 2 days if the door is kept shut; a half-full freezer will last about a day."
posted by ErikaB at 3:46 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well I just ate chicken that had sat in my fridge (not freezer) raw for over 5 days. With the door being opened and closed frequently.

Never gave it a second thought.

Keep in mind I COOKED the chicken to 165 degrees. If my partner balked at eating it I would just have eaten it in front of her while saying "your on yer own then tonight."
posted by Max Power at 4:22 PM on May 28, 2010

i'd eat it, but not refreeze it.

mostly i just popped in to say i love this thread!
posted by msconduct at 4:34 PM on May 28, 2010

You know, my fully functioning set at zero freezer ....
posted by fixedgear at 2:09 PM on May 28 [1 favorite +] [!]

I assume that is 0F - here zero would be 'I am never coming to eat at your place'.

Fridge thermometers are great, I am about to get a second as the temperatures in each compartment of my combo fridge freezer move differently, and fluctuate noticeably between hot and cold weather (old fridge). However they measure the air temperature, not the food temperature, and that is the clue to why food in a full freezer will last longer than a less full one. Also why it is important to keep both doors shut - at least in my unit there is a vent linking both compartments.

I had the same thing happen, but gradually as a result of a thermostat problem. The bread I kept, I think everything else went (both fridge and freezer).

I would be comfortable with thinking about it as 'freezer turning into fridge', putting it ALL into the fridge and going from there. Unless it got above fridge temperature before the power came back on.
posted by GeeEmm at 5:00 PM on May 28, 2010

IR thermometers are the bomb (for whatever reason you'll find less expensive models if you google "laser thermometer". I've used it to check that the freezer was getting everything frozen properly after dialing the temp down due to finding a bag of slightly squishy fruit. But it can also be used to obsessively determine how close the pot of water is to boiling, whether you're likely to burn your mouth on the food you just made, the possibilities are endless.

Yes, I've also used it to check refrigerated and frozen things after a power outage.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 5:12 PM on May 28, 2010

I'm sure everything this fine, provided the food in there was properly handled in the first place (before going in the freezer).
posted by Menthol at 6:05 PM on May 28, 2010

We had a 48 hour power outage and many of the foods in the freezer were still frozen rock solid. We ate out of that freezer for months afterwards without issue. You have my permission to eat it.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:09 PM on May 28, 2010

You are correct sir. Please throw out every item in the freezer if you want to remain happy. Marital happiness is not logical. Resistance is futile. Just go with this flow. If you resist, you must know that those resistance items are for your sole consumption.
posted by caddis at 9:14 PM on May 28, 2010

30 hours. I've gone on expeditions where we keep fresh food and meats in a ice cooler for 3 weeks! Not a problem.
posted by JackFlash at 9:55 PM on May 28, 2010

Consider another scenario. What if the blueberries had been brought home frozen from the store and put in the refrigerator to thaw. Would they be spoiled after 30 hours in the refrigerator?

This absolutely convinces me it is ok to eat the food. Honestly, It's ridiculous to me that anyone would think this food has spoiled.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:00 PM on May 28, 2010

Fixedgear may be right. Even frozen blueberries often feel somewhat soft. Was the bag full of melted juice?
posted by slidell at 10:04 PM on May 28, 2010

You are probably right. But if you eat the food and get sick, you will not hear the end of it until your dying day. So in the interest of keeping the peace, just go ahead and toss it out, buy new food, and tell the other party that you have no idea how you ever lived without them.
posted by spilon at 7:33 AM on May 29, 2010

Anything that is dangerous should be thrown out--dairy, eggs, meats.

Fruits and vegetables should be absolutely fine as long as they are still cold to the touch.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:06 PM on May 29, 2010

Theoretical My Freezer Land:

A: The berries are squishy because, although the temperature is no longer -18DegC (Where it nominally is), it is still below zero, BUT the sugar in the berries is more mobile, leaving them to be more manipulatible.

B: Your frozens likely became somewhat thawed 'fridgeds... As the temperature around them rose, they started to thaw but not as quickly as the air temperature rose.

C: It was just over a day, which is how long meat would spend at my place between going into the freezer and freezing, and being defrosted and cooked.

D: Uncooked food is HIGHLY unlikely to have developed sufficent toxins by now to pose a problem once cooked. Cooked food might have, as it likely spent longer in the danger zone prior to freezing.

So, IANAFS, but I'd eat it, almost everything. Try to use it all up because the texture may be less then desirable, but otherwise chow down with impunity.

And tell your S.O. to HTFU. (This is a personal bias about people being all whiny about germs and isn't actually good advice:P)
posted by Quadlex at 3:48 AM on June 2, 2010

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