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Refrigerator Not Working? Keep Your Cool With These Food Safety Tips

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It has happened to everyone at least once in their lives. You open the refrigerator to grab an ice-cold beverage but what you get is stale dark air. Whether it’s due to a power outage or a faulty fridge, the brutal realization that you may be about to lose your hard-earned cash in the form of spoiled food is never kind. But don’t fear; if you plan for this type of emergency, you can come through it undamaged.

Trouble Shoot It

There are two issues to address when it comes to your refrigerator. The big question is who owns this icebox? If you’re a homeowner, it’s likely that it’s yours. As a renter, typically the landlord is responsible for fixing or replacing it. The second question is whether you are merely experiencing a power outage, or do you have a mechanical issue instead?

If your refrigerator has stopped working, do some quick troubleshooting first. Check to see if the inside light bulb has blown out. If the motor isn’t running, then there is no power to the fridge. Next, check for a power outage. If you have power to your kitchen but not the appliances, you may have a partial outage. If this is the case, check your breakers to see if the appliances have blown a fuse.

If it turns out to be a neighborhood-wide outage, then check in with your utility company to get an estimated time of restoral. Keep in my mind that this is just an estimated time. Once you know how long it will be before the utility restores electricity, you can make important decisions regarding food storage.

Renter vs. Homeowner Responsibility

But what if there’s no outage and your refrigerator merely has gone kaput? Now is the time to decide whom to call. For renters, the answer is easy: the landlord is responsible for sending a repair person or replacing the refrigerator. Most landlords are responsive, knowing that the lease agreement requires them to provide necessary, functioning equipment. Landlords who own lots of properties sometimes have a supply of refrigerators ready to deliver, but this is a best-case scenario.

If you’re a homeowner, you will need to make a quick decision about whether you can fix your refrigerator or need to replace it. The average life expectancy of a refrigerator is 13 years, so if it’s beyond that, you may be looking at a replacement. On the plus side, there are many energy-efficient models on the market, and they may include a tax rebate.

Keep Food From Going Bad

The big question here is how do you keep your food from spoiling? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of useful tips on everything from preparing for an outage to food safety.

–    Keep thermometers in both the refrigerator and freezer

–    Freeze extra ice and water to keep items cold

–    Have a cooler handy

–    Stack foods together

During the outage keep the refrigerator and freezer door closed. Don’t be tempted to peek inside to feel how cold it is. Depending on how much food is in the freezer, your food will stay frozen for 24 to 48 hours. A full freezer stays cold longer.

On the other hand, refrigerators only stay cold up to four hours. If you know that your power will be out longer, or you will be without the appliance for an extended period, then you need to act quickly. Consider using what you can by drinking milk or juice, making sandwiches for dinner or chopping fresh vegetables up for a salad. If the power is out, then it’s likely you have no means to cook unless you have a gas stove or barbeque. If this is the case, it could be time for an impromptu block party.

Another option is to pull out the camping cooler, but you will need to keep it stocked with ice to keep food from spoiling, so this may not be the best option. A third possibility is to check in with friends, relatives or churches who have electricity and ask if you can store your food with them.

The number-one issue to remember is that if food gets below a certain temperature, it should get thrown out. Food left for two hours at above 40 degrees Fahrenheit can carry food-borne illnesses which can make you sick, so check it before eating it. Meat, fish, poultry, and eggs should get well cooked before eating, even if kept in a 40 degrees environment.

Eat It or Toss It?

The FDA recommends throwing away perishables stored in the refrigerator if it’s been longer than four hours. While it’s hard to throw away food, getting sick from spoiled food is much worse. If your freezer still contains ice crystals after the power is back on, or the internal temperature is 40 degrees or below, then your food is okay to refreeze.

If you can’t save your food from going bad, there are a few possibilities to regain your losses. Check with your homeowner’s or renter’s policy to see if it covers food loss due to mechanical failure or power outage. You can also contact your electric company about possible reimbursement. Take photographs before throwing out food items. Make a note of what time the power went out and how long the food was without refrigeration. Keep any receipts that you have for prior purchases.

As a final note, whether you are a renter or homeowner, if your refrigerator is 13 years old or more, you may want to put a new one on your radar.

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