WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is issuing recommendations to help minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses in the event that a late winter storm leaves communities without electricity.
"Power outages that often result from weather emergencies compromise the safety of stored food, and planning ahead can minimize the risk of foodborne illness," said USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Al Almanza. "If you do lose electricity to your refrigerator and freezer, these tips offered by USDA can keep food safe to eat for a longer period, but when in doubt, throw it out."
Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:
• Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is safe during power outages. The refrigerator temperature should be 40° F or lower and the freezer should be 0° F or lower.
• Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
• Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
• Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
• Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
• Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
• Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
Steps to follow if the power goes out:
• Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
• A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep the door closed.
• A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
• If the power is out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
Steps to follow after a weather emergency:
• Check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. If the thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe.
• If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below when checked with a food thermometer, it may be safely refrozen.
• Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items) that have been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40° F for two hours or more.
• Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.