Published On: Wed, Nov 23rd, 2022

How to cook Thanksgiving meal safely, and what to do if power goes out

If your turkey is in the oven but not done yet and the power goes out — sorry, you should not eat that bird. (Melina Hammer / The New York Times)

It’s been nearly 40 years since the infamous 1983 Thanksgiving Windstorm. But that doesn’t mean fears of a power outage while the turkey is roasting have gone away.

That year, winds gusting up to 70 mph swept through Western Washington, tearing off roofs and cutting power to 270,000 homes in the region. One insurance broker, recalling a holiday dinner disaster, said both the potatoes and turkey were still cooking when the power went out. His evening was spent drinking wine and eating pie.

The episode was repeated in Western Washington in 1991 when 60 mph winds put 40,000 households out of power on Turkey Day.

Luckily this year, the National Weather Service is expecting a sunny Thanksgiving Day in Seattle with a high of 54 degrees. However, windy and rainy days are not unusual for the Emerald City in November — despite a record-breaking Seattle dry spell to start the month. There’s a 30% to 50% chance of rain Thursday evening through Friday.

In any case, here are some food safety tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Department of Health to give you some peace of mind.

What to do with food during a power outage:

According to DOH, the biggest food safety concern should be for meats, eggs, dairy products, cooked vegetables and cut melon.

  • Keep track of when the outage began and how long it lasted. A power outage of two hours or less is not hazardous to food that was under safe conditions when the outage began.
  • Stop using gas or solid fuel cooking equipment if the exhaust hood stops working to avoid buildup of toxic fumes.
  • Throw away foods that are in the process of being cooked but have not reached their final cooking temperature.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Keep raw meats away from other kinds of food.
  • Surround food with ice. If you are using dry ice, know that it may cause an unsafe buildup of carbon dioxide.
  • Do not put hot food in the refrigerator or freezer.

What to do after a power outage:

  • Check the temperature of all hot and cold potentially hazardous food.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a guide for specific foods if they were refrigerated during the outage. For an example, casseroles and stuffing should be discarded after two hours if held above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Consult tables from DOH on whether to keep or throw away the food. Depending on whether the food was hot at the time of the outage, the length of the outage and what temperature the food is, some of it may be OK to eat.

Cold foods

Hours power is out45ºF or below46ºF to 50ºF51ºF or above
0-2OKOKOK
2-4OKOKX
>4OKXX

OK = Food safe, as long as it was 41ºF or less when the power went out. Immediately cool food to 41ºF or less

X = Food may be unsafe

Source: Washington state Department of Health

Hot foods

Hours power is out130ºF or above129ºF or below
0-2OKOK
2-4OKX
>4XX

OK = Food safe, as long as it was 41ºF or less when the power went out. Immediately cool food to 41ºF or less

X = Food may be unsafe

Source: Washington state Department of Health

Thanksgiving-specific food safety tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap before, during and after handling food.
  • Clean and sanitize any surfaces (counters, sinks and stoves) that have touched raw turkey and its juices, and will later touch other food.
  • Avoid cross-contamination between raw meat and poultry with ready-to-eat food by using separate cutting boards. Don’t rinse raw poultry in the sink; it will splash bacteria.
  • Don’t thaw turkey in hot water or at room temperature. Thaw it in the refrigerator, cold water or even in the microwave.
  • Check that the internal temperature of the turkey is at least 165.
  • The USDA recommends against stuffing your turkey since it can lead to bacteria growth. However, if you do, prepare wet and dry ingredients for stuffing separately and refrigerate until ready to use. Mix just before filling the bird, and stuff loosely — about ¾ cup of stuffing per pound. Immediately cook the prepared turkey at no lower than 325 degrees.

Got a burning hot food safety question? The USDA also has a meat and poultry hotline at 888-674-6854 and MPHotline@usda.gov. The hotline will even be open on Thanksgiving Day, though only from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. PST.

Amanda Zhou: 206-464-2508 or azhou@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @AmondoZhou. Amanda Zhou covers afternoon breaking news and enterprise for The Seattle Times.

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