Food Safety Guidelines During, After Hurricane Sandy

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The Virginia Department
of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has advice for Virginians about
food safety before, during and after power outages that may be caused by
Hurricane Sandy. Sandy appears to be on track to
cause power outages in eastern Virginia, and depending on the track she takes
up the east coast, throughout the entire state.

VDACS' food safety
experts have a lot of advice, but here is Tip #1: when in doubt, throw it out.
Second to that is, throw out suspect contents of your refrigerator and check
food in your freezer carefully to be sure it's still safe to eat when power is
restored.

They also suggest some
actions consumers can take prior to a storm to help prevent spoilage or ruined
food. People who have large, chest type freezers should make certain that the
freezer is full. If it is not, they can freeze containers of water to fill
unused space and then if the power goes out, throw a blanket, rug or some other
insulating materials over the freezer. A full freezer that is not opened should
maintain safe temperatures for several days.

A smaller freezer in a
refrigerator will not maintain safe temperatures as long as a chest freezer, but
if it is full and not opened, food could remain safe for a couple of days.

After the storm, VDACS'
food inspectors will inspect food processors, grocery stores and other retail
stores in affected areas to ensure food safety. However, individual consumers
also need to be aware that the potential for foodborne illness at home grows
every day that the power is out.

VDACS offers
the following basic tips for keeping food
safe to eat during a power outage
:

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

    • o
      The refrigerator will keep food
      cold for about four
      hours
      if it is unopened. With that window having passed,
      consumers will need to discard most of the items in the
      refrigerator.
    • o
      A full freezer will keep the
      temperature for approximately 48
      hours
      (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains
      closed.
    • o
      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 keep 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 to cook each item
    thoroughly 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° F for
    two 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, consumers will need
to determine whether their food is safe to eat using these
guidelines:

  • If an appliance
    thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power
    comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F 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° F or below, it is safe to
    refreeze or cook.
  • Refrigerated food is
    likely safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the
    refrigerator door was kept shut. If the four-hour window has passed, discard any
    remaining perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or
    leftovers.

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. Never taste food to determine its safety, and always
discard any items in the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat
juices.

The following foods are
safe to consume even if they have been held above 40° F for two hours or more:
hard cheeses, processed cheeses, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, jelly,
relish, mustard, olives, pickles, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, fruit pies, bread,
rolls, cakes, muffins, fruit juices, canned fruits, whole fresh fruits and raw
vegetables except cut greens and cut tomatoes.

For more detailed
information regarding which food items are safe to consume after an extended
power outage, go to www.foodsafety.gov or www.foodsafetyinfosheets.com.

 

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