Keeping food safe during power outages; be prepared to be safe

Keeping food safe during power outages; be prepared to be safe

by Sue Jones
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Winter storm Izzy has made its way across the eastern United States stranding many in heaps of snow, and leading to thousands of power outages. Among all the other concerns caused by the weather, food safety can become a critical issue. Without power, it’s important to take certain precautions to take care of food, so food poisoning isn’t added to the list of problems. 

Follow these tips from the Food and Drug Administration to keep your food safe:

If the Power Goes Out  

Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping food at safe temperatures is key to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours, and a full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if half full) if the doors remain closed. 
  • Use ice (dry, block ice, or ice cubes) and frozen containers of water or gel packs to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible.
  • Do not rely on placing food outdoors. Temperatures can vary, especially if sunlight reaches the food even while temperatures remain low.

When Power is Restored

Before eating any food after a power outage, check the temperatures inside your refrigerator and freezer.

  • If the power was out for no more than 4 hours, refrigerated food should be safe as long as the doors were kept closed. When the power comes back on, check the temperature in the refrigerator or of the food. Perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs, or leftovers with temperatures that are 45 degrees F or below, as measured with a food thermometer, should be safe but cook and consume them as soon as possible.
  • Discard any perishable food that has been at temperatures above 40 degrees F for 4 hours or more.
  • If the freezer thermometer reads 40 degrees F or below, food is safe and may be refrozen. If you did not have a thermometer in the freezer, check each package to determine its safety; you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
  • Be aware that perishable foods that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause food poisoning if eaten, even after they are thoroughly cooked.

If a storm is coming, be prepared and plan ahead

  • Use a refrigerator and freezer thermometer, and check it regularly to ensure that the refrigerator temperature is at or below 40 degrees F and the freezer is at or below zero degrees F
  • Plan for ice. Know where you can get dry or block ice. Make ice cubes and freeze containers of water or gel packs to help keep food cold when there is a loss of power.
  • Keep coolers on hand to store refrigerated food if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately, and group foods close together in the freezer. 
  • Stock your pantry with a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or refrigeration.

And remember, there are some serious risks to storing food outside.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

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