FSIS Offers Tips on Food Preservation in Wake of Power Outages

Posted on August 7, 2012

With hurricane season pretty much upon us, people in states along the Gulf and the Eastern seaboard are no doubt preparing their residences should a disaster strike their community.  Because of this, and because preparation is absolutely vital to preserving safety, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture is offering tips that can be followed to prevent food contamination in the wake of a weather disaster.

The tips being offered concern how to keep refrigerated food safe and fresh, as a power outage caused by inclement weather can shut off the cooling capabilities of a refrigeration unit and compromise the food inside.  That’s why things like gel packs and block ice are so important to have around.  If a fridge and freezer do go out, ice and gel packs can be used to keep perishable food cold longer than it otherwise would, preventing foodborne illness in turn.

To determine if food is indeed being stored in a fridge in a safe manner, an appliance thermometer can be utilized.  Freezers should have a temperature of 0 degrees, while the refrigerator should offer a cool 40 degrees.  Food should be clumped together to improve upon storage temperature further, and items should also be placed high up on shelves that wouldn’t be threatened should a flooding situation present itself.  And if you’re unsure of whether to simply refrigerate an item, such as meat or leftovers, consider how quickly you’re going to use it.  Place it in the freezer if there’s a good chance it won’t be consumed at once.

If you’ve prepared by following the above steps, then you’ll be able to go into action right away once the power does go out in an emergency.  Should this befall your family, then it’s imperative to keep the doors of your refrigeration unit shut unless you’re reaching in to grab food that you’re going to eat, as the freezer and refrigerator will both have their ability to cool impeded if their doors are opened.  If they remain shut, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a full freezer to maintain a safe temperature for two days.  If the freezer is only half full, that length of time drops to one day.

When the power has been out for an extended time, to the point that the food is likely being imperiled, that’s when it’s vital to be prepared with dry ice.  50 pounds should be sufficient for keeping an 18 cubic foot freezer cold for 48 hours.

It’s never possible to fully ensure safety, especially if power is out for weeks or more, but taking the time to prepare your residence should keep you and your family safe from foodborne illness in the wake of a disaster.

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