|Infographic courtesy USDA|
Every season can cause a disaster. A rainy day could turn into a flood. Heavy wind could blow out your power. Without electricity, your fridge and freezer food could spoil. Lights out can be scary when you don’t know how to keep your food safe. Never fear! You can take steps to avoid food spoilage and reduce foodborne illness. Follow these tips before, during and after a storm or power outage.
• Before the storm
Check your temperatures: Put appliance thermometers in your fridge and freezer. Set your refrigerator to 40 degrees or colder. Your freezer should be 0 degrees or below. If the power goes out, you’ll know if your food is at the right temperature.
Empty your fridge and stock your freezer: During a power outage, the freezer keeps food safe much longer than the fridge. You can put almost anything in the freezer — meat and poultry, dairy, even leftovers!
Make ice in advance: Ice keeps food colder longer. Stock your freezer with containers filled with water, ice trays or ice packs. Also, know where you can buy extra ice if yours starts to melt.
Stock up on nonperishable items: When you don’t have power, nonperishable foods can get you through the storm. There are even recipes that don’t need power! Make sure to store your items in a cool, dry place. Keep them above any potential flooding levels.
• During the storm
Check those temperatures — again! Your refrigerator will only keep food safe under 40 degrees for about four hours without power. But a fully stocked freezer stays cold without power for about 48 hours. A half-full freezer is safe for about a day. Keep the doors shut as much as possible.
Don’t store perishable food outside: Even if it’s cold out, don’t store your food in the car, garage or basement. Instead, keep your fridge and freezer doors closed. You can also use coolers filled with ice to keep your foods below 40 degrees.
• After the storm
Once the power turns back on, check your food. Use this chart to decide which foods to keep or toss.
Refrigerated foods: Your fridge foods are safe if they have stayed below 40 degrees. Good news: Butter, cheeses, canned fruits, juices, bread products, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables are safe even if the fridge gets too warm. But meats and other dairy above 40 degrees can get you sick. Make sure you throw them out.
Freezer foods: Food with ice crystals or that has stayed below 40 degrees can be refrozen. Partially thawed ice cream or frozen yogurt cannot. Throw out unsafe dairy products to avoid getting sick.
Nonperishable foods: Don’t eat foods that touch floodwaters. Never eat food boxed in cardboard if it got wet. Canned goods are safe even in flooding if they are not damaged. Throw away cans that are leaking or damaged.
Use bleach to sanitize cans that touch floodwaters. Mix one tablespoon of unscented bleach with a gallon of water. Take off the can labels and rinse your cans with the bleach solution. Once they dry, these canned foods are safe to eat.
For more tips from food safety experts, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. Information is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time.
You can also email or chat via Ask Karen in English or Pregúntele a Karen en Español.
You, too, can stay food safe during severe weather and power outages!