Health Check: Food Safety in a Weather Emergency

With hurricane season upon us and snowstorm season around the corner, it is important to know what to do in the event of an extended power outage stemming from a natural disaster.

Being prepared is more than just about stocking up on nonperishables and water. Keep your family safe and prevent foodborne illnesses by properly assessing your food and food storage areas after a power outage with the following tips and suggestions:

  • Be proactive and fill up gallon bags with water and use them to fill the freezer. This helps keep the food cool and creates clean water sources, if needed.
  • If you have lost power for less than four hours your food should be safe to eat.
  • Make sure to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed to retain the cold.
  • The food in the refrigerator becomes questionable after it is more than 40°F, and a freezer after it is more than 0°F for over two hours.
  • A freezer that is half full is safe up to 24 hours and a packed freezer can last up to 48 hours.
  • Not all items will need to be discarded if the time of safety has elapsed. However, you should discard meat, poultry, seafood, soft and shredded cheeses, dairy products, eggs, cooked or cut produce, opened baby formula, dough, and cooked pasta.
  • Sanitize the refrigerator and freezer before restocking after an extended power outage with a solution of one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water and letting air dry. This solution can also be used to sanitize pots, pans, and utensils as needed.
  • Stay alert for any announcements from your area’s health department about the safety of your local tap water after a weather emergency.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety.
  • When in doubt THROW IT OUT!

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Editor’s Note: Jessica Shapiro is the associate wellness dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center.

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