A good chunk of the nation’s midsection has been, is being or is about to be walloped by severe weather, including heavy rain, high winds, hail, the chance of tornadoes and -- in some rare instances -- snow.
The loss of power from weather emergencies compromises the safety of stored food, but consumers can take steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness.
What to do
Here's a rundown from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of food safety recommendations:
If the power goes
- Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees or lower in the refrigerator, 0 or lower in the freezer.
- Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit in around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes so don’t overfill the containers.
- 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.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
- Group foods together in the freezer. This ‘igloo’ effect helps the food stay cold longer.
- Avoid putting food outside in ice or snow, because it attracts wild animals or could thaw when the sun comes out.
- Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
- Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross contamination of thawing juices.
- Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-foot freezer cold for two days.
After a weather emergency
- Check the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
- Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
- Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
- Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
- When in doubt, throw it out.