How to safely store food during hurricanes

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As Hurricane Dorian creeps toward Florida with an uncertain path, federal food safety officials are reminding people how to safely store food before, during and after a severe weather situation.

It’s still too soon to say exactly what kinds of impacts Florida will feel, and where. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it’s best to be prepared and take steps ahead of time in case you have to deal with power outages or flooding.

What USDA recommends doing before the storm:

  • Keep thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer so you can make sure they stay at safe temperatures for food storage. The Food Safety and Inspection Service says refrigerators should be 40°F or lower and freezers should be 0°F or lower.
  • You can freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers before a hurricane. They’re small enough to fit in your refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold.
  • It’s best to freeze refrigerated items you may not need immediately. That way they’ll stay at a safe temperature longer.
  • Know where dry ice or block ice is available near you.
  • Have coolers ready to keep refrigerator food cold if the power is expected to be out longer than four hours.
  • Group foods together in the freezer. The FSIS says the “igloo effect” helps food stay cold longer.
  • Have ready-to-eat foods on hand that don’t require cooking or cooling.

What USDA recommends when the power goes out:

  • Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as you can. If the refrigerator door is kept closed, it will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer can hold its temperature for about 48 hours. If the freezer is only half-full it can hold temperature for about 24 hours.
  • Meat and poultry should be placed on one side of the freezer or on a tray. That helps prevent cross-contamination if juices start thawing.
  • Dry or block ice can be used to keep your refrigerator cold during an extended power outage. The USDA says 50 pounds of dry ice should be able to keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

What USDA recommends after a weather emergency:

  • Check the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer and throw away any perishable foods that were above 40°F for two hours or more. Perishables include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and leftovers.
  • Carefully check each item in the freezer and refrigerator separately. Make sure to throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or if it feels warm to the touch.
  • Frozen food should be checked for ice crystals. The FSIS says food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed can be safely refrozen if it still has ice crystals or if it’s 40°F or below.
  • Do not taste food to check if it’s safe.
  • The USDA says “When in doubt, throw it out.”

What USDA recommends if there’s flooding:

  • Don’t eat any food that may have touched floodwater and throw away any food that’s not in a waterproof container if there’s any chance it’s touched floodwater.
  • Inspect canned food closely and throw away any food that’s in damaged cans.

You can learn more about keeping your food safe on the FSIS website.

MORE HURRICANE COVERAGE:

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