Sooner or later, every family faces a food emergency. It may be a flood, hurricane, tornado-or something less devastating, such as a power outage or the freezer discovered with its door open.
Natural disasters can create food safety and supply problems that require food safety know-how.
Here are some recommendations:
- Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times to see if food is being stored at safe temperatures (40 degrees F for the refrigerator; 0 degrees F for the freezer. Most food borne illness is caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40 degrees F.
- Leave the freezer door closed. A full freezer should keep food safe about two days; a half-full freezer, about one day. Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time. You can safely refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals or feel cold and solid to the touch.
- Refrigerated items should be safe as long as the power is out no more than about four to six hours. Discard any perishable food that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Leave the refrigerator door closed; every time you open it, cold air escapes, causing the foods inside to reach unsafe temperatures. If it appears the power will be off more than six hours, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler to be sure the food stays at 40 degrees F or below.
- Never taste food to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they've been at room temperature longer than two hours, bacteria can multiply very rapidly. Some types will produce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking and could make you sick.
For more information about food safety during a power outage or disaster, call the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.