USDA offers food safety tips in advance of hurricane season

Published 4:58 am Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Special to The Post-Searchlight

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is urging residents of coastal states to plan ahead this hurricane season and minimize the potential for foodborne illness in the event of power outages, flooding, and other problems that could be associated with weather emergencies.

“As you prepare your home for hurricane season, remember to protect food from being exposed to contaminated water or unsafe storage temperatures in a power outage,” USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said. “When it comes to emergencies of any kind, planning ahead is always the best strategy to help reduce the risk of foodborne illness.”

Email newsletter signup

FSIS encourages those living in coastal areas to be prepared, particularly when it comes to ensuring access to safe food and water after weather emergencies. Families should have an emergency plan in place that includes food and water safety precautions.

Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

• Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is safe during power outages. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and the freezer should be 0 degrees F or lower.

• Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.

• Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.

• Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.

• Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.

• Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.

• Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

• Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.

• A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep the door closed.

• A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).

• If the power is out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

• Check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. If the thermometer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe.

• If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below when checked with a food thermometer, it may be safely refrozen.

• Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items) that have been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.

• Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.

• Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.

• Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.

• Never taste food to determine its safety. When in doubt, throw it out.