August 26, 2011
2 min read

Power outages from hurricane may pose problem for food safety

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With Hurricane Irene set to hit the East Coast in the immediate hours, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued recommendations to minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses associated with power outages, flooding and other problems that could be associated with the storm.

“Hurricanes not only pose dangers to people’s physical safety, but the resulting power outages and other effects of hurricanes also can affect the safety of the food people may rely upon after hurricanes strike,” Al Almanza, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) administrator, said in a press release. “The American public should be aware of things they can do to protect the safety of their food before and after natural events.”

The FSIS recommends the following actions to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Make sure the freezer is at 0·F or less and the refrigerator is at 40·F or less.
  • 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 is not needed immediately.
  • Know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
  • Group food together in the freezer to help food stay cold longer.
  • Store food on shelves safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.

After the weather emergency, the FSIS offers the following tips:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • 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) if the door remains closed.
  • Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40·F or less when checked with a food thermometer.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety.
  • Obtain dry or block ice to keep the 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. The food is safe to refreeze if the appliance thermometer reads 40·F or less.
  • 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 any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
  • 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.
  • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches can be saved.
  • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.

For additional information, please visit the FDA website.

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