Preparing for winter storms and weather emergencies: Keeping your food safe

Winter storms and power outages can affect the safety of food. These tips can guard you and your family from food illnesses.

Severe weather can bring power outages and other complications that can affect the safety of our food. Knowing how to prepare and handle these events will protect you and your family from sickness due to tainted food. Michigan State University Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture
(USDA) offer these tips to assist you. Here are some guidelines that you can use to reduce the amount of food that may spoil:

  • Appliance thermometer: Keep a thermometer in the freezer and refrigerator. In case of a power outage this will show if the food is safe to keep and eat. The thermometer in a refrigerator should be between 38 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature in a freezer should be zero degree and below.
  • Keep it cold: Keep containers of water and gel packs frozen to keep the appliance cold in case of an outage.
  • Time it: If the power is out for less than four hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer. If the power is out for longer than four hours, follow the guidelines below:
  1. Freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
  2. Refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
  • After a storm or disaster, it is important to eat only safe food. Throw away perishables like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers stored above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more. Throw away food with an unusual odor, color or texture. Do not taste food that you have determined is tainted. Throw away food that may have been in contact with flood water, including food in swollen, punctured and damaged cans. When in doubt, throw it out.

Finally, the American Red Cross and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommend the following:

  • Keep a supply of nonperishable food and a three day supply of commercially bottled water per person (minimum of three gallons) on hand in case of an emergency.
  • Since there may not be power, remember to purchase food that requires no refrigeration, cooking, water or special preparation. Good food choices are dried fruit, canned fruit or vegetables, shelf-stable cans of meat, poultry and fish,  jars of peanut butter and jelly, small packages of cereal, granola bars and crackers, non-fat dry milk and small boxes of juice drinks. Select small cans of food so there won't be any leftovers that will need refrigeration. Remember to include infant formula, pet food and foods for family members with special dietary needs.  Be sure to keep a manually operated can opener on hand.

Keeping these tips and resources in mind will help you and your family to manage through a difficult event and ensure that no one becomes ill from tainted food.

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