If you have ever volunteered at Second Harvest Food Bank, you know that food safety is a major part of our work.
There are important ways that you can protect your food at home in the event of an emergency. As the season's storms impact our communities, we have compiled a few easy tips and rules that you can use in your home (adapted from the Federal Drug Administration Food Safety Guidelines).
Before Power Outage Emergency:
1. If you can, put an appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. Freezer temperature should be at or below 0° F, and the refrigerator should be at or below 40° F.
2. Freeze containers of water in the freezer to help keep food cold. These can be kept in the freezer, refrigerator, or in coolers in case the power goes out. Melting ice can also supply safe drinking water.
3. Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately to keep them at a safe temperature longer.
4. Cluster food together in the freezer. This helps the food stay cold longer.
5. Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
If the Power Goes Out:
Here are basic tips for keeping food safe:
1. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours after a power outage if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
2. You can purchase dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18 cubic foot, fully stocked freezer cold for 48 hours.
3. If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish, or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, it is important that each item is thoroughly cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40º F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 º F) — discard it.
Once the Power is Back On:
Determine the safety of your food:
1. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
2. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
3. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that has been at temperatures above 40° F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90º F).
Perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.
You can learn more about Second Harvest's response in times of disaster here.