Hurricane Sandy has already begun to hammer parts of the East Coast, and the situation will only get worse as the day progresses. Fortunately, Roanoke Times weather columnist Kevin Myatt does not think our area will experience lots of rain or snow (keep up with Kevin’s updates here), but there are parts of our coverage area that might see snow. Also, we all need to be aware that strong winds are projected to increase throughout the day Monday and into Tuesday.
With leaves still on the trees, that might mean downed trees and power lines in some areas. Many of us are still restocking our refrigerators and freezers after losing a lot of food in the days after June’s derecho, so I know we don’t want to have to throw away anything else. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to share some food safety advice for power outages.
From the FDA:
Before you lose power:
1. Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. Check to ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0 °F and the refrigerator is at or below 40 °F. In case of a power outage, the appliance thermometers will indicate the temperatures in the refrigerator and freezer to help you determine if the food is safe.
2. Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case the power goes out. If your normal water supply is contaminated or unavailable, the melting ice will also supply drinking water.
3. 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.
4. Group food together in the freezer. This helps the food stay cold longer.
5. Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
6. Purchase or make ice cubes in advance and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers. Check out local sources to know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased, just in case.
7. Make sure to have a supply of bottled water stored where it will be as safe as possible from flooding.
After the power goes out:
1. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. 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. Buy dry or block ice to keep the 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 fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.
3. If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it’s important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40 °F for 2 hours or more — discard it.
4. Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
5. For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.
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 above 40°F for two hours or more.
4. Keep in mind that perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.
If, God forbid, any of us are out of power for days, it will be useful to know what types of foods can be saved and what cannot. In that case, refer to this blog entry from after the derecho for more information.