Food Safety - Emergencies

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Keep Food Safe During an Emergency

Did you know that a flood, fire, national disaster, or the loss of power from high winds, snow, or ice could jeopardize the safety of your food?  Knowing how to determine if food is safe and how to keep food safe will help minimize the potential loss of food and reduce the risk of food borne illness.  This fact sheet developed by the US Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service will help you make the right decisions for keeping your family safe during an emergency.  For more in-depth information on food safety, go to http://www.ready.gov/food.

ABC’s of Keeping Food Safe in an Emergency

Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40 °F and frozen food at or below 0 °F. This may be difficult when the power is out.

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.  The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.  A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.  Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time.  Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic foot full freezer for 2 days.  Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

Be Prepared for an Emergency

Having items on hand that don’t require refrigeration and can be eaten cold or heated on the outdoor grill.  Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods should be part of a planned emergency food supply.  Make sure you have ready-to-use baby formula for infants and pet food.  Remember to use these items and replace them from time to time.  Be sure to keep a hand-held can opener for an emergency.

Consider what you can do ahead of time to store your food safely in an emergency.  If you live in a location that could be affected by a flood, plan your food storage on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water.  Coolers are a great help for keeping food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours—have a couple on hand along with frozen gel packs.  When your freezer is not full, keep items close together—this helps the food stay cold longer.

Digital, dial, or instant-read food thermometers and appliance thermometers will help you know if the food is at safe temperatures.  Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times.  When the power is out, an appliance thermometer will always indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer no matter how long the power has been out.  The refrigerator temperature should be 40 °F or below; the freezer, 0 °F or lower.  If you’re not sure a particular food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer.

For questions and answers about food safety and for a handy food safety chart, click here.

To investigate alternate ways to cook food, check below:

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