As the peak of the 2009 hurricane season approaches, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is providing recommendations to minimize the chance of foodborne illnesses due to power outages and other problems caused by severe weather.
“In the hours after a tropical storm or hurricane, food safety can become a critical public health issue,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Jerold Mande. “With a little bit of planning and some common sense decision-making, people can make sure they have access to safe food and water even in the aftermath of severe storms.”
So how can you keep food safe when a storm knocks out the power? Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer, for starters. If you live in an area that often encounters severe weather, make sure you have coolers on hand and know where you can get dry and block ice.
Once the storm passes, it may take a while for power to be restored so resist temptation and keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible so the cold air does not escape. If the refrigerator door stays closed, the food inside can last safely for up to four hours. If the food still has ice crystals or is 40°F or colder when checked with a thermometer, it is safe to refreeze. Never taste it to determine its safety! A useful tip: Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for two days.
Flood waters often come with tropical storms and hurricanes. Unfortunately they bring the always present bacteria. Throw out food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance it has come into contact with flood water as well as other wooden or plastic kitchen equipment and utensils – don’t forget to throw out baby bottle nipples and pacifiers. You can wash other metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by soaking them for 15 minutes in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water. You may be able to save undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches by following our easy to follow tips.
Whether you have food in the refrigerator, freezor or cooler, including packaged goods and water, it is always better to be safe than sorry, so when in doubt, throw it out! FSIS has more tips to keep your food safe before, during and after a storm. Visit the FSIS fact sheet for all of the details and remember to Ask Karen , our virtual representative is available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.
Check out our information on food safety during a power outage and hurricane preparedness and share the public service announcement, Podcasts in English and Spanish as well as the American Sign Language videocasts.