Keep food safe in power outages

Summertime is a popular time of year for family gatherings, outdoor recreational opportunities, and fun in the sun.

Along with fun and enjoyment comes the increased risk of tornadoes.

“Severe thunderstorms and damaging winds also represent a threat during our warmer months,” said Mary Rosner, Marinette County Public Health Officer. “Power outages may occur during or after these storms and Marinette County Public Health wants you to know the following about food safety during and after power outages.”

Here, Rosner offers some basic tips for keeping food safe when the power is out.

– Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.

– The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.

– A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.

– Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator 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 fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.

– If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish, or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it’s important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40 degrees for 2 hours or more – discard it.

– Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.

– For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.

Once Power is Restored, you’ll need to determine the safety of your food, Rosner said.

Here’s how:

– If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40 degrees or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.

– If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.

– Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40 degrees for two hours or more.

“Keep in mind that perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked,” Rosner said..

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service offers the following food safety recommendations for the Midwest

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

– 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.

– Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.

– Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross contamination of thawing juices.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

– 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 degrees or below.

– Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.

– When in doubt, throw it out.