How to prevent food poisoning weathering a storm without power

How to prevent food poisoning weathering a storm without power
Tips to keep you and your food safe during a power outage. (source: USDA)
Tips to keep you and your food safe during a power outage. (source: USDA)

Food poisoning is the last thing you want to have while going through a weather emergency without power.

The FDA offers several tips for during and after a power outage.

During:

1 - Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperatures. 
The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.
A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.

2 - If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish, or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, it is important that each item is thoroughly cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40º F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 º F) — discard it.

Once power is restored:

1- If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.

2- If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can't rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.

3 - Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that has been at temperatures above 40° F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90º F).

The FDA also advised being prepared to safely handle food and water in the event that flooding occurs.

Follow these steps to keep your WATER SAFE during and after flood conditions.

1 - Only use water from a safe source for drinking and washing or preparing food.

2 - Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters, if it is available.

3 - If you don't have bottled water, you should boil or disinfect water to make it safe. (see steps below)

4 - If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agricultural extension agent for specific advice.

Keep Food Safe

Follow these steps to keep your FOOD SAFE during and after flood conditions.

1 - Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water.

2 - Discard any food and beverage that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water.

Food containers that are waterproof include undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and "retort pouches" (like flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches).

Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps.

Also discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.

3 - Discard any food in damaged cans. Damaged cans are those with swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting that is severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener. See box on next page for steps to clean/save undamaged packages.

4 - Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented household (5.25% concentration) liquid bleach per gallon of water.

5 - Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented household (5.25% concentration) liquid bleach per gallon of water. Allow to air dry.