Being prepared to face natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes should include food safety, which can be compromised when Mother Nature’s fury comes knocking.
Knowing how to determine if your food is safe to eat and how to keep it safe during an emergency will minimize you and your family’s chance to catch a food borne illness. There are several things you can do both before, during and after the emergency.
Before the emergency. Make sure you have a working appliance thermometer inside your refrigerator and freezer. Keep your freezer set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below and your fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Keep an adequate supply of ice on hand so you can keep food cold in the event that the power goes out.
Put refrigerated items that you may not immediately need in the freezer to keep them safe for future use.
Have coolers on hand that you can fill with ice and put food in if your power will be out for more than four hours. And, if you have gel packs, freeze them ahead of time so they will be ready to use.
During and after the emergency: Don’t simply taste food to determine if it is safe to eat.
To maintain the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer, keep the doors closed as much as possible. Food is safe inside a refrigerator for around four hours if the door is not opened. A full freezer keeps food safe for 48 hours and for 24 hours if half full and the door remains closed.
You can refreeze food safely if there are ice crystals on it or it is at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Use block ice or dry ice to keep food safe if your power is expected to be out for a long period of time as the result of a weather emergency. A 50-pound block of dry ice should keep everything inside an 18-cubic foot freezer safe for 48 hours.
How to determine if your food is safe. If your electricity has been out for several days, use your appliance thermometer to check the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer. If the temperature inside the refrigerator is 40 degrees or below or it has ice crystals on it or your freezer is at 0 degrees or below, the food should be safe to eat.
Throw away perishable foods like meat, milk, eggs and soft cheeses that have been stored inside your refrigerator if your power has been out longer than four hours.
Do not eat any food that has come into contact with flood or contaminated waters. Discard any food not in a watertight container that may have come into contact with polluted water.
Don’t forget to check your canned foods as well. Throw away cans that show any signs of leaks, swelling, holes or rust.
Restaurant safety is also paramount before, during and after natural disaster. Restaurant owners prepare for disasters almost the same as families do. If you own a restaurant and are facing a natural disaster, ensure that your refrigerators and freezers are as cold as possible.
If you lose electricity at your restaurant, keep refrigerator and freezer doors as much as possible. Both ice and dry ice should be used in order to keep food as cold as you can. Throw away any food that shows any signs of spoilage or has become too warm as a result of the power outage. Anything that has potentially come into contact with contaminated or flood waters should also be immediately thrown out.
In order to get ready for a potential disaster, restaurant owners should also consider either buying a generator that can be used to keep refrigerators and freezers operating or have access to a leased freezer truck where food can be stored until the lights come back on.
Remember that keeping food safe is everyone’s concern – before, during and after natural disasters.