Properly storing perishable foods like dairy products is usually no problem when your refrigerator/freezer is working as it should. However, problems affecting not only the quality of your food but the safety of it as well occur when the temperature inside the unit rises above safe or acceptable levels when the power goes out. Here are some helpful tips to keep food safe.

  • Eliminate guesswork. Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. Temperature is vital information to know during a power outage.
  • When the power goes out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed – open only as necessary.
  • Refrigerated items should be safe for up to four hours—if the temperature inside has been maintained at 40°F (or lower).
  • Most perishable foods that have been above 40°F for two hours or more should be thrown out.
  • A full freezer will stay at a safe temperature for about two days; a half-full freezer for about one day.
  • Some foods that have partially thawed may be safely refrozen if they contain ice crystals; however, all foods need to be evaluated separately to determine safety.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

When it comes to dairy, the following are considered safe even if held above 40°F for more than two hours:

  • Hard cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano
  • Processed cheeses
  • Grated Parmesan, Romano or combination (in can or jar)
  • Butter

Dairy Foods That Have Been Frozen

Here is a handy chart to help you determine which dairy foods to keep from your freezer and which ones to toss once power is restored. (Remember: Never taste food to determine its safety.)

Milk

Still contains ice crystals and feels cold as if refrigerated?

Refreeze. May loose some texture.

Thawed, and held above 40°F for more than two hours?

Discard

Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt

Still contains ice crystals and feels cold as if refrigerated?

Discard

Thawed, and held above 40°F for more than two hours?

Discard

Cheeses (soft and semi-soft)

Still contains ice crystals and feels cold as if refrigerated?

Refreeze. May loose some texture.

Thawed, and held above 40°F for more than two hours?

Discard

Cheeses (hard)

Still contains ice crystals and feels cold as if refrigerated?

Refreeze

Thawed, and held above 40°F for more than two hours?

Refreeze

Cheeses (shredded)

Still contains ice crystals and feels cold as if refrigerated?

Refreeze

Thawed, and held above 40°F for more than two hours?

Discard

Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses

Still contains ice crystals and feels cold as if refrigerated?

Refreeze

Thawed, and held above 40°F for more than two hours?

Discard

Cheesecake

Still contains ice crystals and feels cold as if refrigerated?

Refreeze

Thawed, and held above 40°F for more than two hours?

Discard

Food safety should always be a top concern when buying, handling, cooking and storing foods. Being informed about general storage guidelines, as well as how to protect foods during a power outage, will help preserve the quality and safety of the foods you serve your family.

 

Storage Guidelines to Maintain Quality, Freshness and Safety

Proper storage and handling of food products is a necessity that will help maintain the quality, freshness and safety of the items you purchase and provide for your family.

Dairy foods are perishable and should always be kept cold. Here are some general guidelines* for storage from date of purchase.

Butter

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

1-2 months

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

6 – 9 months

Cheese, hard (ex. Swiss or cheddar)

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

6 months, or 3 – 4 weeks if refrigerated after opening

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

6 months

Cheese, soft (ex. brie)

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

1 – 2 weeks

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

6 months

Cheese, shredded (ex. cheddar, mozzarella)

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

1 month

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

3 – 4 months

Cheese, processed slices

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

3 – 4 weeks

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

Not recommended

Cottage cheese, ricotta

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

2 weeks, or 1 week if refrigerated after opening

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

Not recommended

Cream cheese

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

2 weeks

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

Not recommended

Cream, heavy

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

10 Days

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

3 – 4 months

Kefir, fermented milk

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

1 week, or 1-2 days if refrigerated after opening

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

Not recommended

Milk, plain or flavored

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

Package use-by date

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

3 months

Milk, lactose-free

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

1 week

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

Not recommended

Sour cream

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

Package use-by date

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

Not recommended

Yogurt

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

1 – 2 weeks

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

1-2 months

Half & Half

Refrigerator (at or below 40ºF)

3-4 days

Freezer (at or below 0ºF)

4 months

Because of the way it is processed, shelf-stable (UHT – ultra high temperature) milk can be stored at room temperature; however, once opened, it must be refrigerated.

 

Product Dating

Food packaging has a lot of information that is useful when making decisions about purchases. You will see different terms and dates that might be confusing. Here are definitions** to help clarify what you see about product dating:

  • “Sell By” date: Tells the store how long to display the product for sale. While this date allows for reasonable time to use the food at home, you should buy the product before this date expires.
  • “Best if Used By” (or Before) date: Recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • “Use By” date: The last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality; determined by the manufacturer.

*U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodKeeper App

**U.S Department of Agriculture’s: Your Safe Food Handbook

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