Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Food Safety: How to Keep Food Safe during an Emergency

Dec. 10, 2007–The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing recommendations to the regions affected by severe winter weather in the Midwestern United States help minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses due to food spoilage from power outages and other problems that are often associated with severe weather events.

Power outages can occur at any time of the year and it often takes from a few hours to several days for electricity to be restored to residential areas. Foods stored in freezers and refrigerators can become unsafe in just a few hours if bacteria begins to grow and if these foods are consumed, people can get sick.

Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
  • Make sure the freezer is at or below 0° F and the refrigerator is at or below 40° F.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers after the power is out.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately to help keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Group food together in the freezer to help the food stay cold longer.

Steps to follow after the weather emergency:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. (Don’t keep opening it up to check!)
  • The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed.)
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40° F or below.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!
  • Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.
  • If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer or food thermometer. If the food still contains ice crystals or is at 40° F or below, the food is safe.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
  • Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers, and deli items after 4 hours without power.
  • Drink only bottled water if flooding has occurred.
  • Discard all food that came in contact with flood waters including canned goods. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers.
  • Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • When in Doubt, Throw it Out!

A food safety PSA video is available here.

 

Karyn Zoldan
karyn

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