Emergency Food Safety Tips

Floods, fire, natural disasters and even a loss of power can jeopardize the safety of food. Knowing how to keep food safe during an emergency and how to determine if food is still safe to consume helps reduce the risk for food poisoning and the loss of food.

Determining if Food in the Refrigerator or Freezer is Still Safe

  • Perishable foods such as meat, milk and eggs need to be kept refrigerated at or below 40º F.
  • Frozen foods need to be kept at or below 0º F.
  • If the power is out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. The average refrigerator can usually keep food safely cold for about four hours if left unopened. A freezer may hold a safe temperature for 24 - 48 hours depending on how full it is.
  • Placing dry or block ice in the freezer or refrigerator can help keep foods cold for a longer period.
  • Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is being kept at the correct temperature. Certified food thermometers can be used to check the temperature of individual food items to make sure they haven’t exceeded 40º F.
  • Check the NSF cold storage guidelines for additional recommendations.

Refreezing Food

  • Food can usually be refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or if the internal temperature is 40º F or below.
  • Discard any items in the freezer or refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
  • Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat provided the food’s internal temperature hasn’t exceeded 40º F for more than two hours.

Tips for Storing Food Safely in an Emergency

  • If you live in an area that could be affected by a flood, store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water.
  • Use coolers to help keep food cold if the power is out more than four hours.
  • Stack items close together in the refrigerator and freezer to help food stay cold longer.

What to Keep and What to Throw Out After a Flood

  • Discard all food that came in contact with flood waters, including canned goods.
  • Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers as there is no way to safely clean and sanitize them.
  • Wash heat-resistant dishes and cookware in a certified dishwasher on the sanitizing cycle or by hand and dip them in a solution of one capful of bleach and one gallon of water.

Why It’s a Bad Idea to Store Food Outside in the Snow

  • Frozen food can thaw if exposed to the sun’s rays, even if the temperature outdoors is below 32º F.
  • Food items could be exposed to unsanitary conditions, such as animals.
  • Rather than putting food outside, fill buckets, empty milk cartons or cans with water and leave them outside until frozen. The homemade ice can then be placed in the refrigerator, freezer or coolers.

Telling if Food is Safe by Sight or Smell

  • Don’t rely on appearance or odor to determine if a food product is safe — most disease-causing organisms cannot be detected in this manner.
  • Watch food temperatures closely and discard any perishable food that has been above 40º F for two hours or more (one hour on days hotter than 90º F).

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