Many are dealing with the aftermath left by Hurricane Laura including cleaning out refrigerators. The gagging odor from food left in the refrigerator makes it the most unpleasant of household tasks.
Claudette Hanks Reichel, extension housing specialist and director of the LaHouse Resource Center at the LSU AgCenter in Baton Rouge, referred to a fact sheet from the USDA about removing odors that can linger even after the refrigerator has been given a good scrubbing and additional steps that can be taken if the odor lingers.
The fact sheet states:
- Try repeated cycles of warming of the unit’s interior (with warm setting of hand-held hair dryer), then use a fan to flush out the air. The heat may accelerate the off-gassing of odor molecules absorbed by the plastics.
- Place activated charcoal (such as used in aquariums, so available in pet stores) in a pan while refrigerator is running to help absorb odors.
- If liquids seeped into the insulation of the refrigerator, it may not be possible to eliminate lingering odor. That means it’s time for a new refrigerator.
If it comes down to it and you have to replace the refrigerator, the fact sheet recommends comparing EnergyGuide labels and choose a high efficiency Energy Star certified model.
“It will save more than enough money on energy bills to soon make up for its higher price tag, and will keep food safe longer in the next power outage due to its superior insulation and gaskets,” states the fact sheet.
More: The many ways to get Hurricane Laura help
And to prepare for the next weather event, the USDA offers guidance on what to do with food in the refrigerator and freezer after a power outage.
The most important thing to remember is to never taste food to determine it’s safety, states the fact sheet. Evaluate each item separately.
“If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when the power comes back on. If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. Remember you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below, it is safe to refreeze.
Related: Restoration of power after Hurricane Laura proves a Herculean task
Refrigerated food should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40 °F for 2 hours.”
Discard any items in the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices. Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat.
Reichel also recommends this link from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding food safety during power outages: www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/food-safety-during-a-power-outage.html
A week long power outage means all the food is unsafe, says Riechel.
She recommends taking the following measures to keep food cold longer.
- Fill the freezer to capacity by freezing containers of water in advance. A full freezer will stay cold twice as long as a half full freezer. This is great way to recycle 2-liter soda bottles and gallon tea jugs. Do not fill to the brim to leave room for expansion as the water freezes.
- During a storm warning, try to find and place dry ice in the refrigerator and freezer and keep the doors closed. Keep a thermometer in both, and when the power returns, check to see if it’s still 40 degrees or colder.
- The extra time this provides depends upon the amount of dry ice, the insulating level of the refrigerator, and the fullness of the freezer.
“My personal experience after hurricane Katrina is that dry ice and a full freezer in my side-by-side unit keep the food frozen enough (ice crystals) for 3 days until I was able to borrow a rotating generator,” said Reichel.
Reichel also wrote a series of articles on restoring homes damaged by Laura. They are posted at www.lsuagcenter.com in the news section.
This article originally appeared on Alexandria Town Talk: What’s that smell? Tips for reducing refrigerator odor after power outage