Hurricane season is here. Chances are high that people who live in hurricane territory will lose power at some point during the season. Power outages are inconvenient in most every way. But when it comes to food safety, that inconvenience could become dangerous.
At Bad Food Recall, we help readers all over the United States. Our goal is to help consumers feel confident, safe, and informed. As for hurricane season, consider these food safety tips to prevent foodborne illness from groceries that may spoil during a power outage.
Food Safety Tips for Hurricanes
In a crisis that results in a power outage, the last thing anyone wants is to have food poisoning. Food poisoning is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful illness that causes nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. These symptoms are the last thing you want to deal with while recovering from a disaster.
Preventing food poisoning after a natural disaster often starts with preparedness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that you keep your food safe by remembering the “ABCD’s of Keeping Food Safe in an Emergency.”
A – Always Refrigerate
Always keep food you would normally refrigerate at 40°F and frozen food at 0°F. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator without power will keep food at a safe temperature for around four hours if it is kept closed. Full freezers will hold a safe temperature for about two days. Half-full freezers will keep food safe for only about 24 hours.
Try to obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if a hurricane causes a prolonged power outage. Plan ahead and start researching places to purchase dry or block ice now.
B – Be Prepared
Be prepared by stocking an emergency food supply with items that don’t require refrigeration. Choose items that can be eaten cold or be heated without electricity. Try to stock up on items like these before a storm hits:
- Boxed or canned milk
- Bottled water
- Canned goods
- Individually-wrapped snack items
- Ready-to-use baby formula
- Pet food
As an additional food safety measure, remember to occasionally rotate your supply of shelf-stable foods, and don’t forget to buy a handheld can opener or two.
C – Consider Storage
Consider your storage when planning for an emergency. Store your emergency food supply in an area that can be safely out of the way of contaminated flood water if you live in a location that may be affected by flooding. It’s also a good idea to obtain several coolers and to keep gel ice packs in your freezers. Coolers can help keep cold food safe to eat for longer than four hours in a prolonged power outage. Remember to pack items in coolers, refrigerators, and freezers to keep food cold as long as possible.
D – Digital or Dial Thermometers
Digital or dial food thermometers are an important part of disaster preparedness. A food thermometer can help you track whether food is safe to eat during a power outage, or shortly thereafter. Don’t risk testing any food you think may be on the edge of spoiling by tasting it. Use a food thermometer to check it first.
Food Safety Tips for Dealing with Flood Waters
If flood waters invade your house, do not eat any items that have come into contact. Any food that is not in a waterproof container is potentially contaminated. Be aware that the following containers are not waterproof:
- Screw caps
- Snap lids
- Pull tops
- Crimped caps
If flood waters reached them, always discard:
- Cardboard containers
- Home-canned Foods
- Commercially canned foods that show any sign of damage, including swelling, leaking, punctures, or deep rust
Most food in commercially prepared, undamaged all metal cans can be saved if you thoroughly wash the individual items with soap and water, then sanitize them in a bleach solution or by submerging them in boiling water. If you wash and sanitize canned goods, allow them to air-dry for at least one hour before you try to open them. If the label came off in the washing process, re-label the items with a marker, making sure to include the expiration date.
What if Food in the Freezer Thawed during a Power Outage?
Again, do not attempt a taste or smell test to determine food safety. Evaluate each item separately with a food thermometer. If food that was previously frozen reads 40 °F or below with your thermometer, it may be frozen again. Feel free to refreeze any food that still contains ice crystals as well. Refreezing may compromise the quality of certain foods, but at least it won’t go to waste. It is also less likely to cause food poisoning.
Be sure to discard any food that came in direct contact with raw meat juices as it thawed. Discard any perishable food has been above 40 °F for two hours or more, including:
Foods that Stay Safe if Un-Refrigerated Longer than Two Hours
Now that hurricane season is here, think about stoking your emergency food supply with foods that stay safe for longer periods of time outside of the fridge, such as:
- Hard cheeses like cheddar, colby, swiss, parmesan, provolone, or romano. Soft cheese like cottage cheese or mozzarella will spoil if out of the refrigerator too long.
- Butter or margarine
- Fresh or dried fruits
- Fruit juices, even if they have been opened
- Peanut butter
- Vinegar-based salad dressings
- Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, or tortillas
- Raw vegetables
Food Safety Tips Prioritizing Sanitation in an Emergency
Many times, prolonged power outages mean most people will run out of hot water as soon as the supply in their water heater is gone. Sanitation is arguably more important in the event of a natural disaster than on a normal day. Keep up good sanitation practices during a power outage by:
- Heating water if possible, and thoroughly wash dishes with soap. If you don’t have running water for a period of time, sanitize the dishes after the rinse with boiling water or a bleach solution as well.
- Wash your hands at every opportunity, but at least before eating.
- If you don’t have access to your normal supply of water, use the cleanest, clearest water available for washing.
- Choose bottled water in the event of a massive flooding caused by a hurricane, especially if you don’t have any information on the safety of the municipal water supply.
- Without bottled water, boil water before drinking it to kill most of the pathogens that can make you sick. If you can’t boil water, you can disinfect it with bleach.
Get Help with Food Safety Concerns or Illness
If you have concerns about food safety after a natural disaster, a food recall, or developing food poisoning, contact Bad Food Recall. We can help you determine what made you sick, and if someone else could be liable for any damages you are suffering as a result.
At Bad Food Recall, we want our readers to be prepared for possible food safety issues. We also want you to know that we are here if you have questions or concerns, or need legal advice. To find out more, call us at 1-877-534-5750. You can also contact us online to request a free consultation.