Food Safety Precautions During Extreme Weather

When extreme weather conditions result in environmental hazards such as flooding, it is important to still practice food safety measures to help support your health. Safe food handling precautions are important under optimal conditions, but they should also be practiced under stressed, emergency conditions as well. In addition to these actions, there are more considerations to be mindful of in cases of long and short-term power outages.

Keep in the Cold

Remember to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed during power outages to maintain the cold temperature. Use appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is safe during power outages. Refrigerator temperature should be 40° F or lower and the freezer should be 0° F or lower.

Without power, a refrigerator will likely keep food at a safe temperature for about four hours if the doors are kept closed.  Without power, a full freezer will stay cold for 48 hours, and a half-full freezer will stay cold for about a day.

Smell Won't Tell

Do not rely on the appearance or smell of a food item to determine its safety.  It's important to use a thermometer to determine a food's safety.

If a thermometer was not kept inside the freezer to gauge temperature, use a food thermometer on each item to determine safety.  For items in the freezer to be safe to re-freeze or prep consume, they should have an internal temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  If meats, eggs or leftovers have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, throw them out.

When in Doubt, Throw it out

If you are unsure about the safety of food items that were in your refrigerator or freezer during a power outage or anytime, THROW IT OUT!

We typically encourage not wasting food, but in cases where food has not been stored properly, safety is the top concern. Food cannot be nutritious unless it is first safe to eat. Food compromised during a flood or power-outage is not safe.

After the Fact

After any emergency situation, it is important to thoroughly clean and sanitize dishes, utensils and even the freezer and refrigerator. After a flood, be sure to discard any foods or beverages that have come in contact with the flood water and are not in waterproof containers and to throw out any damaged canned products.

After a fire, throw out any foods or beverages that were near the fire, even if the food was kept in the refrigerator or freezer, as the seals are not airtight and fumes can still get in.

We hope these tips are helpful in keeping your food safe and helping you to avoid foodborne illness. For more useful information on how to prepare for an emergency and consume safe food and drinking water, please visit this United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) resource page.

Tamika Sims, PhD, contributed to this post which is based on a piece originally written by Katie Burns