Follow important food safety tips in weather emergencies

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Whether it's a wind storm or rain storm, severe weather can leave you without power, sometimes for several days.

Lost power can be a potential food safety problem with perishables in freezers and refrigerators. It's important to pay close attention to weather forecasts. If you know, for example, that a hurricane or any other storms are in the forecast, you can take steps to protect your refrigerated and frozen foods.

Here are some tips for keeping foods safe in the event of a power outage.

  •  With a weather forecast as your guide, you can turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings. The colder the food is before a possible power failure, the longer the food will last.
  •  Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and one in the freezer to see if your perishable foods are being stored at safe temperatures - 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for the refrigerator and 0 degrees Fahrenheit for the freezer. Most foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40 degrees.
  •  Keep your freezer as full as possible by freezing water in plastic containers and using them to fill any empty spaces not occupied by frozen food.
  •  Group meat and poultry to one side or on separate trays so their juices will not contaminate each other or other foods in case of a thaw. If thawed, prepare to cook the food.
  •  Avoid opening the freezer door. That lets cold air escape.
  •  Keep a clean cooler on hand. Buy "freeze-pack" inserts and keep them frozen for use in the cooler.
  •  Find out in advance where you can buy dry and block ice - this keeps food cool.
  •  Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time. Use three pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of freezer space. A 50-pound block of dry ice placed in a full 18-cubic-foot freezer should keep food safe without electricity for two days.
  •  Dry ice is frozen at -216 F, so you must wear rubber gloves or use tongs when handling it. Don't let it touch your skin. Wrap the dry ice in brown paper for longer storage, and separate it from direct food contact with a piece of cardboard. Fill a partially empty freezer with crumpled newspaper to cut down on air currents, which cause the dry ice to dissipate. Make sure you have good ventilation where you use dry ice, which is solid carbon dioxide. Don't cover the air vent openings of your freezer.
  •  If your power goes off and the temperature stays below 40, foods should stay cold. When the power returns, check the thermometers in your freezer and refrigerator to make sure temperatures have stayed below 40.
  •  Discard any perishable that has been above 40 degrees for two hours or more and any food than has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  •  If it appears that power will be or has been off for more than six hours and room temperature is above 40 degrees, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler to check the temperature.
  •  Thawed foods that still contain ice crystals may be refrozen unless they have been at temperatures above 40 degrees for more than two hours. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals but have been kept at 40 or below for two days or less may be cooked and then refrozen or canned.