Keeping food safe during an emergency

A flood, fire, national disaster, or the loss of power from high winds, snow, or ice could threaten the safety of your food.

Knowing how to decide if food is safe and how to keep it that way can reduce the possible loss of food and the risk of foodborne illness. This information will help you make the right decisions for keeping your family safe during an emergency.

Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40 °F and frozen food at or below 0 °F. This may be difficult when the power is out. To help, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours if the door remains closed. A half full freezer will maintain the temperature for about 24 hours with an unopened door. If you know the poser is going to be out for a longer period of time, you can buy dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible. Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased in your community.

Be prepared for an emergency by having items on hand that don’t require refrigeration and can be eaten cold or heated on the outdoor grill. A planned emergency food supply might include shelf-stable foods, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods. Make sure you have ready-to-use baby formula for infants and food for pets too. Remember to use these items and replace them from time to time. Be sure to have a hand-held can opener for an emergency.

Think about what you can do ahead of time to store your food safely in an emergency. If you live in a location that could be affected by a flood, plan your food storage on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water.  Coolers are great for keeping food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours—have a couple on hand along with frozen gel packs. When your freezer is not full, keep items close together this helps the food stay cold longer.

Have food thermometers and appliance thermometers on hand, these help you know if food is at safe temperatures. Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. When the power is out, an appliance thermometer will always indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer no matter how long the power has been out. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 °F or below and the freezer, 0 °F or lower. If you’re not sure a particular food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer.

For more information on keeping food safe during an emergency please login to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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