NEWS | June 1, 2015

Food Safety Tips Before and During a Power Outage

By Staff Sgt. Tiffany York 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron

Hurricane season is here and with it is an increased chance of high winds and heavy rains that could cause your power to go out. You may have already created an emergency kit with plenty of bottled water and non-perishable food items. Maybe you have only gotten as far as thinking about making one but do you have a plan to keep your perishable foods safe from spoilage during a power outage?

Power outages can occur at any time, so it's best to have a plan in place to keep your perishable food safe before one occurs. According to the Food and Drug Administration, your plan should include putting a thermometer in your refrigerator that is at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below and your freezer that is at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. This will ensure that your food isn't at a temperature that could cause growth of harmful bacteria. It would be a good idea for you to group foods close together in the refrigerator and freezer to help them stay colder longer.  Be sure and fill any empty spaces in your freezer with bags of ice or gel packs that can be used to keep foods cold in a cooler. Which brings me to my next recommendation... invest in a large insulated cooler to store refrigerated foods in the event power is out for an extended period of time. Know ahead of time where you can go to purchase extra bags of ice or gel packs, in case you should run out. 

During a power outage if the doors remain closed, perishable foods in the refrigerator will stay safe for about four hours. If the power is going to be out longer than four hours, The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that you transfer your refrigerated food into a cooler with enough ice to maintain a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below. It's imperative that you avoid opening refrigerator and freezer doors as much as possible. A freezer will hold its temperature if the door remains closed for about 48 hours if it is full. If it is half full, it can only maintain its temperature for 24 hours. If, at any time, your food exceeds 41 degrees Fahrenheit for greater than four hours, do not taste or eat it.  It is estimated that 48 million Americans get food poisoning each year and the most common mistake made is tasting food to see if it is still edible. A good rule of thumb is "when in doubt, throw it out". If you do plan on eating refrigerated or frozen foods such as meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still safe to do so, make sure you cook them thoroughly to assure that any foodborne bacteria is destroyed.

Creating a plan and following these tips could prevent you and your family from getting a foodborne illness and from having to throw away hundreds of dollars in spoiled food. If you have any questions or want additional information on food safety contact the Public Health office at 963-6958 or the Navy Preventive Medicine office at 794-6652.

(Information obtained from The Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture)