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USDA Consumer Alert: Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency

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USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 

1-888-674-6854 

Congressional and Public Affairs 
Neil Gaffney (202) 720-9113 

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2013—The U.S. Department of Agriculture is issuing recommendations to help minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses in anticipation of a major winter snow storm that could dump multiple inches of snow from southern New England to coastal Maine and leave communities without power for extended periods. 

"Major winter storms that bring heavy snow, ice and strong winds can impact food safety," said USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Al Almanza. "Consumers who are in the path of the winter storm headed for the Northeastern U.S. should know there is information available so they can ensure the safety of the food and water they may consume, even in the event of power outages." 

Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
  • Make sure the freezer is at 0° F or below and the refrigerator is at 40° F or below.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.


Steps to follow after the weather emergency:

  • 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.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!
  • 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.
  • When in Doubt, throw it Out!


FSIS has available a Public Service Announcement (PSA), available in 30- and 60-second versions, illustrating practical food safety recommendations for handling and consuming foods stored in refrigerators and freezers during, and after, a power outage. Consumers are encouraged to view the PSA at: www.fsis.usda.gov/news/Food_Safety_PSA

News organizations and power companies can obtain hard copy (Beta and DVD) versions of the PSA by contacting the Food Safety Education Staff in FSIS' Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education by calling (301) 344-4757. 

FSIS's YouTube channel,www.youtube.com/USDAFoodSafety, provides a video in English and Spanish titled "Food Safety During Power Outages." The channel also includes the SignFSIS video in American Sign Language titled "Food Safety During a Power Outage." Food Safety at Home podcasts regarding food safety during severe weather, power outages, and flooding are available on the FSIS website in English and Spanish atwww.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events
/Food_Safety_at_Home_Podcasts/index.asp


Consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day atwww.AskKaren.gov or via smartphone at m.AskKaren.gov. "Ask Karen" live chat services are available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. # For additional information on Emergency Preparedness, visit:www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/ Emergency_Preparedness_Fact_Sheets/index.asp

NOTE: Access news releases and other information on FSIS' website at www.fsis.usda.gov
Follow FSIS on Twitter @usdafoodsafety. # USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).

Last Modified: February 8, 2013

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