(Information below is from the Virginia Department of Health website, www.vdh.virginia.gov) In the case of an electrical outage, it is important to take careful precautions to ensure food safety. The risk of food poisoning is heightened when refrigerators and ovens are inoperable. Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Just remember, “When in doubt, throw it out!”
Here are basic tips for keeping food safe:
- Always keep a thermometer in your refrigerator. The temperature should read 41 F or below.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
- 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:
- Thawed food can usually be eaten if it is still “refrigerator cold.” Check the temperature when the power comes back and if the freezer thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
- Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
- 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.
Practice Safe Food Handling:
- A full cooler or freezer will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled, so it is important to pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to insure a constant cold temperature. If available, 25 pounds of dry ice will keep a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for three to four days. Use care when handling dry ice and wear dry, heavy gloves to avoid injury.
- Thawed food can usually be eaten if it is still “refrigerator cold.”
- Eggs and other foods need to be stored in 41 F or slightly below. Do not eat foods that may have spoiled.
- Use sanitized food and water bowls for your pets and be sure that they do not drink from flood-contaminated surfaces.
For additional food safety information, call the toll-free USDA/FSIS Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) 674-6854. Food safety specialists (both English and Spanish speaking) are available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT on weekdays year-round.