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Food Safety Before, After & During Weather Emergencies

August 7, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about food safety before, after, and during weather emergencies.

Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Abbey Schnedler, Mississippi State University Extension apprentice in the Department of Food Science Nutrition and Health Promotion.

Abbey, Mississippi is no stranger to storms and natural disasters, no matter the time of year. Today you have essential tips to prepare your household before, and what to do after a weather emergency to minimize food loss and risk of food-borne illness.

How do we store and/or discard food during weather disasters? I know most people buy non-perishable food items to prepare, but how do I handle perishable food in the fridge and freezer if I lose power?

Abbey Schnedler: Food safety can definitely be a challenge in any type of emergency. However, there are a few things that you can do.

The USDA recommends buying appliance thermometers for the fridge and freezer to help indicate temperatures when the power does go out.

If you have time to prepare, you can attempt to keep typical refrigerated items safe longer by freezing items such as milk, leftovers, and meat.

More importantly, remember to keep the fridge closed. The more you open the doors, the quicker the temperatures will rise.

Amy Myers: So you mentioned rising temperatures. What temperature would you want your freezer and refrigerator to stay at to keep food safe?

Abbey Schnedler: Under normal conditions, a freezer should remain at zero degrees or below, and a fridge should remain at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. However, in the case of a power outage, keep food under 40 degrees.

To combat rising temperatures in a power outage, you can prepare your freezer ahead of time by freezing bags of water into ice packs to stack around your food to keep temperatures stable. Another helpful tip is to keep a full fridge of closely-packed food and ice.

Amy Myers: Those are great tips for our listeners. How long is too long for power to be out, and how do you know if your food is still safe to keep after a power outage?

Abbey Schnedler: After an emergency and power is back on, you should first check the thermometers to ensure that temperatures stayed under 40 degrees Fahrenheit in both the fridge and the freezer. A full freezer has the potential to hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours, or if half-full, 24 hours.

If frozen foods stayed under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it can safely be refrozen. For the fridge, most foods should be safe up to four hours. However, after two hours, if temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you should discard meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers.

Some food items have different recommendations, and the USDA provides a list with guidance on their website on what to keep or throw away based on the fridge temperatures after the outage.

It is important to never taste the foods in order to determine if it is still safe. When in doubt, throw it out.

Amy Myers: So we've covered what to do with perishable food. What are some tips for storing non-perishable food?

Abbey Schnedler: It is a good idea to have an emergency supply kit prepared, including at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food items and water. The non-perishable food items, like peanut butter, canned goods, and trail mix, should have a long storage life and require little to no cooking.

While storing non-perishable food, it is important to keep food in a cool and dark place that will be unable to be affected by flooding.

Check your supply kit, especially if the food was stored for a period of time. Can damage can be shown by swelling, deep rusting, or denting that is severe enough to prevent normal stacking. If the can looks damaged, throw it out.

Amy Myers: You mentioned an emergency supply kit. What are some other things you recommend including in this kit?

Abbey Schnedler: Store at least one gallon of water per day, per person or pet that you have, for at least three days. You can also include emergency cooking supplies to help you prepare meals safely during a power outage. Other items, including a can opener, cooking utensils, plates, cups, aluminum foil, and some disinfectant and hand sanitizer.

You can also choose to get a smaller camp stove to use if you want to warm your food during a power outage. However, you should only use this outside.

Amy Myers: Is there anywhere else I can look for more information about home and food safety during emergencies?

Abbey Schnedler: Yes. I found a lot of information on the CDC's website. Also, as I mentioned before, the USDA is a very good resource to learn more about food safety.

For disaster preparedness, check out the website

Amy Myers: Thank you so much. Today we've been speaking with Abbey Schnedler, Mississippi State University Extension apprentice in the Department of Food Science Nutrition and Health Promotion. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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