Food Safety and Power Outages
Provided by the American Dietetic Association: Your Link to Nutrition & Health
April showers bring May flowers, but they can also bring thunderstorms and power outages. [Here on Guam, the power outages aren't associated with a particular time of the year, but the information here is useful anyway.] What should you do with a refrigerator full of food and no way to keep it cold? How long will your food keep before it spoils? Here are some steps you can take to help ensure the safety and health of you and your family during a power outage.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed so heat stays out and cold stays in. Most refrigerators stay cold for at least four to six hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen and if the doors remain closed. If the power is out longer, you might want to consider buying bags of ice to help keep the refrigerator cool.
Frozen foods can hold for about two days in a full freezer if it stays closed. A freezer that is half full will stay cold for about one day. Each package of frozen food is a block of ice, helping to keep the freezer well insulated.
Once the power is back on, don't rely on appearance or odor as your guide to food safety. Instead follow these guidelines:
* If foods in the freezer still have ice crystals, refreeze them right away. Then use them as soon as you can.
* Throw out perishable foods held at room temperature for more than two hours: meat, poultry and fish; milk, soft cheese and yogurt; soups; leftover foods; cooked pasta; mayonnaise; and many refrigerated desserts. Dispose of these foods safely - where animals can't eat them.
* If the power has been out for only a few hours, it's okay to keep less-perishable foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, nuts, hard and process cheeses, condiments, butter and margarine often keep for several days at room temperature. Toss food out, however, if it turns moldy or smells bad.
Plan for unexpected emergencies. No matter where you live, experts advise keeping a three-day supply of food and water on hand for you, your family and your pets.
Stock up on nonperishable foods: ready-to-eat canned meat, fruits, juices, milk, soups and vegetables. Canned foods are better than foods in glass bottles or jars because they won't break in a disaster. Choose single-serving portions, too; you may have no way to keep leftovers cold. Keep some high-energy foods on hand such as peanut butter, nuts and trail mix.
Rotate your emergency food supply every year or so. That way, it's fresh when you need it.
Fill plastic containers with enough water for your family: one gallon of water per person per day.
Keep manual can openers on your emergency shelf.
For more advice about handling food in disasters, contact the experts: American Dietetic Association's Consumer Nutrition Hot Line 800/366-1655, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hot Line 800/535-4555, your local American Red Cross chapter, Cooperative Extension Service, Civil Defense or emergency management office.