How to keep your food from spoiling during dreaded power outages

We ask the experts for food safety tips and find out how to best store meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables and canned food during load-shedding

17 May 2023 - 17:34
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Load-shedding getting up your nose? Here's how you should be storing your food.
Load-shedding getting up your nose? Here's how you should be storing your food.
Image: 123RF/tommaso79

The forecast for this winter is that it will be cold and dark,  with speculation that we might move to stage 10 load-shedding.

This does not bode well for many reasons, not least because of the struggle people have in making plans for dinner, storing leftovers and keeping fresh food bought for weekly or monthly consumption from spoiling.

With this in mind, we asked the experts what we can do to reduce food waste during load-shedding. 


According to Prof Lisanne du Plessis, a spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), perishable foods such as meat, poultry and fish are the most susceptible to spoilingand food safety concerns. “Given the price of food, especially meat, one is hesitant to throw it out, but food safety is paramount,” she says.

Du Plessis advises that meat be cooked, braaied or roasted as soon as possible once it has thawed, adding that it should not be refrozen once thawed. “Once it is cooked and cooled, it can be frozen. However, once cooked meat is thawed, it cannot be frozen again.

Leftovers could also be a problem, she says, depending on how long they are kept in the fridge before and during load-shedding. To avoid discarding them, prepare only what you plan to eat. If you do have leftovers, use them in another meal and try to consume it as soon as possible to avoid keeping it in the fridge for long periods of load-shedding, or freeze it instead.


Maretha Vermaak, a registered dietitian at Rediscover Dairy, says heat treatments that limit harmful bacteria make milk and dairy products safe to consume for longer periods. “For families who are finding milk products are increasingly spoiling because of load-shedding, UHT dairy products are a smart adaptation that help you to reduce food waste and save money,” she says.

“Pivoting to long-life options is much smarter than reducing your consumption of important foods. So carefully consider preserved and heat-treated foods so your family is enjoying a variety of foods every day, regardless of load-shedding.”

But what to do with sour milk and yoghurt, or cream that will soon go off? Vermaak says you can use these in baking. “Milk which has turned slightly sour should not be wasted. It is useful to cook or bake with. Sour/soured milk is a good added activator for proofing your baking, such as bread, rusks or muffins. It also provides flavour and texture.”

Rediscover Dairy also advises dividing perishables such as hard cheeses and butter into smaller portions, keeping only what you need in the short term and freezing the rest. These ingredients can easily be defrosted and used as you need them. 


Du Plessis says though most fruit and vegetables will keep fresher for longer in the fridge, not all of them need to be refrigerated. 

“Vegetables such as onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin (unpeeled and intact) and squash can be stored outside the fridge,” she says, adding that vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, green beans, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cut vegetables, leafy vegetables, leeks, mushrooms, peas, radishes, spinach, sprouts and sweetcorn should be stored in the fridge.

Bananas, apples, oranges, naartjies, peaches and mangoes can be stored in a fruit bowl outside the fridge, but need to be placed in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. “Berries, grapes and cut and/or peeled fruit should be stored in the fridge,” she says.


When it comes to canned foods, it’s generally simple: “Canned food should be refrigerated once opened, but should be eaten within the time period printed on the label by the manufacturer, which will generally indicate ‘consume on same day’ or ‘consume within 1-2 days’,” Du Plessis says. 


But how long can food safely be kept in the fridge and freezer before it spoils? “In general, if the freezer door is kept closed, frozen food will stay frozen for around 48 hours,” says Du Plessis. “Food in the fridge should be safe as long as the power is not out for more than four hours, the refrigerator door is kept closed and the fridge was running at 4°C at the time of load-shedding.”

However, Vermaak adds: “Should you only use a fridge with a small freezer compartment on the top, the suggested time frame for products to remain frozen decreases to about six hours.”

You can also try the following:


  • Move refrigerated foods to the top shelf of your fridge during load-shedding. Vermaak explains: “Generally, the top shelf and the back of your fridge are the coldest parts, ensuring products stay at an optimal temperature.”
  • Store perishable foods in a cooler box with ice bricks or bottles of frozen water during load-shedding, especially if you aren’t able to keep your fridge door closed. Frozen ice packs or ice can also be packed around perishable foods in the fridge to keep them cold for as long as possible.
  • Freeze any refrigerated items that you don’t need immediately, such as leftovers, meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese and butter.
  • Buy long-life products such as UHT milk and canned foods which have a long shelf life and don’t need to be refrigerated until opened.
  • Understand the difference in labelling. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, “sometimes food is still safe to eat after the ‘best before’ date, whereas it’s the ‘use by’ date that tells you when it is no longer safe to eat.”

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