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News Releases
USDA CONSUMER ALERT: Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency
WASHINGTON, March 2, 2009 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing recommendations to the regions affected by severe winter weather in Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states. USDA is hopeful that this information will help minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses due to power outages and other problems that are often associated with severe weather events.

"Power outages can occur at any time of the year and it often takes from a few hours to several days for electricity to be restored to residential areas," said acting USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Ron Hicks. "Without electricity or a cold source, foods stored in refrigerators and freezers can become unsafe. Bacteria in food grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, and if these foods are consumed, people can become very sick."

Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:
  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
  • Make sure the freezer is at 0 °F or below and the refrigerator is at 40 °F or below.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
  • 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.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.

Steps to follow after the weather emergency:
  • 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 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.
  • Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below when checked with a food thermometer.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!
  • Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer 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 2 days.
  • If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
  • For more information about "Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency," visit the FSIS Web site at: www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/
    keeping_food_Safe_during_an_emergency/index.asp
    .
  • When in Doubt, Throw it Out!

FSIS has available a Public Service Announcement (PSA), available in 30- and 60-second versions, illustrating practical food safety recommendations for handling and consuming foods stored in refrigerators and freezers during, and after, a power outage. Consumers are encouraged to view the PSA at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/news/Food_Safety_PSA/.

News organizations and power companies can obtain hard copy (Beta and DVD) versions of the PSA by contacting the Food Safety Education Staff in FSIS' Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education by calling (301) 344-4757.

Consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. Podcasts and SignFSIS video-casts in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available on the Web at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/news_&_events/multimedia/.
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For additional information, see also: FSIS Emergency Preparedness Fact Sheets
Ask Karen
www.fsis.usda.gov
Food Safety Questions? Ask Karen!
FSIS' automated response system can provide food safety information 24/7
Last Modified Jan 22, 2014