USDA CONSUMER ALERT: Keeping Food Safe
During an Emergency
WASHINGTON, March 24,
2009 - The U.S.
Department of Agriculture is providing recommendations to the regions affected by severe weather and anticipating
flooding in Minnesota and North Dakota. USDA is hopeful that this information will help minimize the potential for
foodborne illnesses due to power outages and other problems that are often associated with severe weather
"Power outages can occur at any time of the year and it often takes from a few hours
to several days for electricity to be restored to residential areas," said Acting USDA Deputy Under Secretary for
Food Safety Ron Hicks. "Without electricity or a cold source, food stored in refrigerators and freezers can become
unsafe. Bacteria in food grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, and if these foods are consumed,
people can become very sick."
Steps to follow to
prepare for a possible weather emergency:
Keep an appliance
thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature in the
refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the
Make sure the freezer is
at 0 °F or below and the refrigerator is at 40 °F or below.
Freeze containers of
water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is
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.
Plan ahead and know where
dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
Store food on shelves
that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
Have coolers on hand to
keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store in
the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in
Group food together in
the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
Steps to follow after the
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) and the door remains closed.
perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours
Food may be safely
refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below when checked with a food
Never taste a food to
determine its safety!
Obtain dry or block ice
to keep your refrigerator and freezer 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
If the power has been out
for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer
reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
If a thermometer has not
been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice
crystals, the food is safe.
Drink only bottled water
if flooding has occurred.
Discard any food that is
not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden
cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches)
can be saved. Follow the
Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort
Pouchesin the publication "Keeping Food Safe During an
Emergency" at: www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/
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.
When in Doubt, Throw it
FSIS has available a
Public Service Announcement (PSA), available in 30- and 60-second versions, illustrating practical food safety
recommendations for handling and consuming foods stored in refrigerators and freezers during, and after, a power
outage. Consumers are encouraged to view the PSA at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/news/Food_Safety_PSA/
News organizations and power companies can obtain hard copy (Beta and DVD) versions
of the PSA by contacting the Food Safety Education Staff in FSIS' Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education
by calling (301) 344-4757.
Consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative
available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4
p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
Podcasts and SignFSIS video-casts in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available on the
Web at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/news_&_events/multimedia/.
information, see also: FSIS Emergency Preparedness Fact
Food Safety Questions? Ask