When in Doubt: Reminders for Food Safety in an Emergency Situation

By: Katie Burns   Date: 6/21/10

As Mother Nature proves to be fickle with hot summer thunderstorms, tornados and flooding as well as other disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, it is as good a time as any for a reminder on how to be food safe in the event of a power outage in a weather-related emergency.  Here are a few thoughts for you to keep in mind:

Keep in the Cold: Remember to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed during power outages to maintain the cold temperature.
     ? 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 forty-eight 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 prepare and 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.
     ? While the smell or look of a food may not indicate that it is safe, it can certainly help you determine what is unsafe.  As a general rule, throw out any food that has an unusual color, odor or texture.

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! 
     ? Try not to worry too much about "wasting" food that you throw away.  Food cannot be nutritious unless it is first safe to eat, and food compromised during an emergency 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 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 and still get in.

The USDA has more information on how long food lasts during a power outage, as well as other information related to keeping food safe during an emergency.  

As we take these lessons to heart, remember that health and safety should always be a priority. Never forget to always Be Food Safe when preparing foods!