Loss of Power and Food Safety
During a complete power loss, it would not be possible for an establishment to continue operating safely, therefore it should close. Whenever power is lost, all refrigerated and frozen food should be evaluated before it is used or refrozen. The loss of power usually means loss of refrigeration and freezing capabilities. When this occurs the food must be examined to determine if it is safe for human consumption.
Remember, you cannot see or smell the bacteria that can make you sick. Food often appears normal even after it has become dangerous to eat. To insure food is safe, use an accurate thermometer to determine if any of the potentially hazardous food has risen above 41°F. After a disaster when cooling equipment hasn’t been working, a standard temperature should be used, which will allow the equipment to recover before the food actually enters the danger zone. All potentially hazardous food (food requiring refrigeration) which is found above 41°F should be discarded and not served. Potentially hazardous foods,41°F or below, should be returned to operating refrigeration equipment and monitored to make sure the proper temperatures are maintained or cooked to proper temperatures immediately for service or hot holding.
REMEMBER – When in doubt, throw it out!
Frozen, partially-thawed food is safe to cook or refreeze if it still contains ice crystals or has not risen above 41°F. If the juices from raw meat have dripped onto cooked food discard it regardless of the temperature. It probably has been contaminated and is no longer safe to eat.
It is important to keep the refrigerator doors shut. A refrigerator will keep food cold for a few hours; a full freezer can be expected to keep food cold for 24 to 48 hours. Make sure all food is checked and evaluated immediately after power is restored. Re-cooling or re-freezing food that has been out of temperature for over two hours will not make it safe to eat, so if there is any doubt, throw it out.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following food safety information for expected power outages and flooding from a hurricane.
- In the event of power outages or floods from a hurricane, FDA says the most significant food safety challenge consumers will face will be keeping refrigerated foods at or below 41°F and frozen food at or below 0°F.
- Perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that are not properly refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even if they are thoroughly cooked.
- The FDA says that if flooding is an issue, consumers also will need to evaluate the safety of their stored food and water supply.
Use the following guidelines to keep your food safe when you experience a loss of power.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains cold. Buy dry or block ice to keep your 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 full freezer for two days. Dry ice produces carbon dioxide, a heavy gas that will remain in low spots without assisted ventilation. Ventilate indoor areas well to avoid hazardous carbon dioxide concentrations, and avoid skin contact with dry ice. Symptoms of exposure to carbon dioxide include hyperventilation, headaches, shortness of breath, and perspiration.
- If you will be eating your refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, be sure to cook them thoroughly to the proper temperature to assure that any food-borne bacteria may be present is destroyed.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
- For infants, if possible, 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 the power is restored you will need to evaluate the safety of the food. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when the power comes back on. If the thermometer stored in the freezer reads 41°F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. Remember, you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food item still contains ice crystals or is 41°F or below then it is safe to cook or re-freeze.
Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power is out for no more than four hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food items (such as meat, poultry, fish eggs or leftovers) that have been above 41°F for two hours.
- Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with floodwaters. Discard any food in a non-waterproof container if there is any chance it has been in contact with floodwaters. Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved if you remove the labels. Thoroughly wash the cans, and then disinfect them with a solution consisting of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water. Re-label your cans, including the expiration date, with a marker. Food containers with screw-caps, snap lids, and home canned foods should be discarded if they have come in contact with floodwaters because they cannot be disinfected.
- Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers if they have come in contact with floodwaters as sanitation of these items cannot be ensured. Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils with soap and hot water, and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water.
For more information on safe food handling, call FDA’s toll-free information line at (888) SAFEFOOD.