In wake of Irene, keep your food safe
August 29th, 2011
02:15 PM ET
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Millions of East Coasters are without power today due to the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. While the storm may be over, there may be another threat brewing behind closed doors – of your refrigerator.

When the power goes out, your food safety awareness should remain on - just like your flashlights. Knowing how to properly store food and water before, during and after natural disasters like Irene can significantly reduce your chances of foodborne illnesses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) offered the following recommendations to determine if your food is safe and how to keep it as such:

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.

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.

Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.

Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.

Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved.

Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.

And without stating the obvious, the FSIS says "when in doubt, throw it out." A taste-test is counterintuitive.

If you're one of the lucky ones who escaped Irene's path of destruction but may have hoarded 10 loaves of bread, 20 cans of Vienna sausages and 50 water bottles preparing for the worst, the American Red Cross and several other organizations, including Feeding America's network of food banks, are organizing relief efforts. To find your local food bank for goods donations, visit the Feeding America Web site - or for how to donate relief funds, contact your local Red Cross or visit the American Red Cross Web site.

Related - How to help victims of Irene

UPDATE:  Still without power? Here's what you need to know

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Filed under: Disaster • Environment • FDA • Hurricane • News

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Skottikins

    i've had the fourtune of never having gone longer than a day without power. { very lucky actually, since i live in tornado alley! } but i try to stay prapared. 2 battery back ups...enough to run phones and radio for days and the fridge for hours. lots of non-perishables....but it seems excessive to keep so much water around... 50 gals? wherever would i put it?

    August 30, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  2. Jen

    Throw food away after 4 hours? We lost power for 6 hours before the hurricane and ALL of the food was still cold in the fridge. We ate the meat, the eggs, and drank the milk during the week after and we were fine. We could have endured several more hours of power outage before having to throw away food.

    August 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  3. Pete H

    Unless you have a generator, assume you're going to lose the food in the fridge after a hurricane or other disaster. Have enough dry and canned goods on hand to counter that. Also; everyone remembers the batteries and water, but forgets about the toilet paper, aspirin, and COFFEE! Plan ahead. Think about your day, and what you use as you go through it. Put together enough stuff to get you through at least a few thrifty days unsupported. BTW: If you DO have a generator and use it after a disaster or outage, lock it to something big and heavy with a GOOD lock and chain when it's outside running! Those things take on the value of GOLD when the power goes out! Semper Paratus!

    August 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Skottikins

      Smart idea.... your forget the coffee and i might as well have been swept away!

      August 30, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  4. jweller

    I never took power outages very seriously...oh gee so your lights have gone out. That was until I had a merely two hour power outage in my neighborhood a ways back. It was quite humbling. It's amazing what you take for granted until you don't have it anymore. Man I couldn't do anything without electricity accept sit around and twiddle my thumbs for two hours. It was like being transported back 150 years. Hard to imaging being without for multiple days.

    August 30, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  5. tk

    Much easier just to keep a 3 way generator as a power reserve, it runs on natural gas, propane and gasoline, keep it connected to natural gas, if power goes out, run on natural gas, if natural gas goes out, run on propane tank, when empty, switch to gasoline siphoned from your car. You should be good for a couple of weeks. Power just ref. and freezer plus essential lights and small TV or radio for news. You should have at least 50 gallons of water on hand, these basic precautions cost a total of $500.

    August 30, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • k


      I was with you right up until then...there is a difference between being prepared and crazy.

      August 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
      • RK-NJ

        TK – You're right, "K" – Yes, 50 gallons, is sane when you hear a hurricane is coming. You have no idea how much clean water you use until you need to buy it. A family of 4 easily drinks a gallon per day, washes hands with a half-gallon per day, and each bathing requires at least a gallon – yes, people may need to wash every other day, especially if you have kids. That's 6.5 gallons per day, or 45.5 gallons per week. I'm told I won't have water and power back until day 8 after Irene in my NJ town. And that presumes you have other (non-potable) water to flush toilets at a minimum of 2gpf. If you don't, then one flush per persopn per day, puts you to 10.5 gallons per day.

        August 30, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Pete H

      Tell me; what's so crazy about having 50 gallons of water on hand? You'd be surprised at how much water you use per day; as suprised as you are when the power goes out and you find out how much you rely on electricity! "Crazy" is expecting "The Government" to take care of what you should do yourself! Semper Paratus!

      August 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  6. s kel

    ummm you can read this text by recharging your cell phone in your car if you dont have a generator.

    August 29, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  7. mjh


    August 29, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Captain Capslock@mjh

      1) hit that key right next to your "A" key. Thaaaat's a good girl (or whatever)
      2) humor is what makes the world go 'round (2nd only to love)
      3) here's an stfu sandwich with a side of humor; swallow them both whole. Bon appetit!
      4) speaking of joining the circus, do that and become the UberSeriousFreakThatNobodyGaveASh!tAbout
      5) have a nice day

      August 30, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  8. Dan

    Better to throw it up than throw it out.

    August 29, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  9. Jules43

    Internet out? Here's what to do...

    August 29, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  10. lana

    Too bad everyone who needs this info can't read it, since they have no power.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Pete H

      It's not like they didn't see this storm coming! The idea is; plan for the next disaster BEFORE the next disaster!

      August 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  11. Harvey

    In the freezer I always have four gallon jugs filled with frozen water and four jugs in the fridge portion thawing out. These get cycled back and forth between the freezer and fridge portions. If you loose power do not open the unit's doors. I also have sheets of 1 inch insulating foam. That I tape around the unit.

    During the great power outage of 2003, I was without power for four days and lost nothing

    August 29, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • JBJingles@Harvey

      But, what good is it if you can't access the food/fridge to get to any of it? Just preserving it for when power comes back? Just curious what you ate/drank during those 4 days without cracking the fridge/freezer?

      August 29, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  12. glyder

    imagine if glenn beck wrote this.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  13. huxley

    Well its too late now, but for the future:

    If you freeze two liter water bottles and leave 1+ in the frig and 1+ in the freezer, they'll remain frozen for about 48 hours in the frig and longer in the freezer, keeping food safe. If you need more than 2 days, use more water bottles. Also great because you can freeze clean pottable water and have access to ice cold, clean drinking water when you might not otherwise have access to a cold drink.

    When you freeze the water bottles, just dent them a little bit before you put on the cap – make sure the outside feels loose, not pressurized. This will prevent the expansion of the freezing water from breaking the bottle top. If you do this, you can re-freeze the bottles any number of times just fine.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  14. Chris

    I kept my food safe in my belly. I had a pound of bacon and six eggs for breakfast on Saturday morning. I didn't feel very good for the rest of the day :(

    August 29, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Pete H

      I bet you didn't! The extra weight probably anchored you to the ground pretty well though!

      August 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Skottikins

      A pound of bacon? dude... thats crazy. I love meat candy but geez!

      August 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
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