How Can I Tell If My Food is Safe After a Weather Event?

What if a random act of nature knocks out all of the electricity for 2 weeks what can I safely feed my family?

I don’t want to be the chicken who runs around with my head cut off, so to speak, warning the neighbors that the sky is about to fall on my food freezer. I want to be the one who prepared folks as a Public Service to my community.

Ideally, I want to live with my family in a cool, calm, and collected neighborhood where everyone has planned ahead random weather events that we cannot control. In my dreams – right?

Until that perfect world comes, I will continue to teach parents the basics of safety, including food safety during and after a power outage or flood.

This post will also be a podcast. For those who are listening, now is the time to grab a pen and paper to take notes and jot down some valuable resources that I will be sharing.

We are about to take a closer look at food safety after a power outage, for whatever reason. So get those gears in your head turning- we’ve got some critical thinking to do. In a power outage – you won’t be able to have access to the internet. The light in the frig won’t be coming on either.

When talking about prepping, planning ahead, safety plans, or whatever your family wants to call it if you take away only one thing, I want you to remember what No Non-cents Nanna always tells you:

You cannot control anyone else’s behavior, actions, thoughts, including the behavior of a storm. You can only control your behavior and your chocies. Malika Bourne the No Non-cents Nanna

What you CAN do before a storm…

Are you ready? Prepare!

Preparing for a Power Outage

  • Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer.
    • Check to ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0° F, and the refrigerator is at or below 40° F.
    • In case of a power outage, the appliance thermometers will indicate the temperatures in the refrigerator and freezer to help you determine if the food is safe.
  • Purchase or make ice cubes in advance, and freeze gel packs and containers of water to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case the power goes out. Store all of these in the freezer for later use in the refrigerator or in coolers. The melting ice in the containers of water will also supply safe drinking water.
  • 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.
  • Group food together in the freezer. This helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power might be out for more than 4 hours.
  • Check out local sources to know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased, in case it should be needed.

During an emergency, if you use food or beverage containers to hold non-food substances like gasoline, dispose of them after use and do not recycle them.

Do Not Assume that you will be able to turn the faucets on to get water to drink or flush the toilet.

“Water, water everywhere – ‘er, not a drop to drink.” 

Prepare an Emergency Water Supply

  • Store at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and each pet. Consider storing more water than this for hot climates, for pregnant women, and for people who are sick.
  • Store at least a 3-day supply of water for each person and each pet.
  • Make sure to store your emergency water supply where it will be as safe as possible from flooding.
  • If your bottled water has an odor, do not drink or use it. Instead, dispose of it, or if applicable, call your bottled water provider to get a replacement.
  • Observe the expiration date for store-bought water; replace other stored water every 6 months.
  • Store a bottle of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach to disinfect your water and to use for general cleaning and sanitizing. Try to store bleach in an area where the average temperature stays around 70°F (21°C). Because the amount of active chlorine in bleach decreases over time, consider replacing the bottle each year.

https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/food-safety-in-disaster-or-emergency

Before a weather warning is announced:

  1. Freeze ice packs and/or containers of water
  2. An appliance thermometer should read 0 degrees F
  3. A refrigerator should be 40 degrees F or below
  4. If you can safely, stick left-overs and dairy from the frig into the freezer
  5. Do you have an ice cooler? Dry ice? If you expect more than 4 hours without power – move perishables to that.
  6. Have your canned goods up – off the floor in case you flood.

(I keep my canned goods in plastic totes with lids. This tip helps if you have upstairs neighbors who fall asleep in the tub with the water running or flush a diaper and it floods from above.)

https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/food-safety-in-disaster-or-emergency

Before a Disaster or Emergency

Prepare an Emergency Food Supply

A disaster can disrupt the food supply, so plan to have at least a 3-day supply of food on hand.

Keep foods that:

  • Have a long storage life
  • Require little or no cooking, water, or refrigeration, in case utilities are disrupted
  • Meet the needs of infants or other family members who are on special diets
  • Meet pets’ needs
  • Are not very salty or spicy, as these foods increase the need for drinking water, which may be in short supply

For a list of suggested emergency food supplies visit https://www.ready.gov/food.

How To Store an Emergency Food Supply

When storing food, it is not necessary to buy dehydrated or other types of emergency food.

  • Check the expiration dates on canned foods and dry mixes.
  • Home-canned food usually needs to be thrown out after a year.
  • Use and replace food before its expiration date.

Certain storage conditions can enhance the shelf life of canned or dried foods. The ideal location is a cool, dry, dark place. The best temperature is 40° to 70°F.

  • Store foods away from ranges or refrigerator exhausts. Heat causes many foods to spoil more quickly.
  • Store food away from petroleum products, such as gasoline, oil, paints, and solvents. Some food products absorb their smell.
  • Protect food from rodents and insects.
  • Items stored in boxes or in paper cartons will keep longer if they are heavily wrapped or stored in waterproof, airtight containers.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of floodwaters.

For families with more than one responsible member pre-assign “jobs” pre-event or for drills.

During the storm:

  1. Keep the refrigerator and the freezer doors closed tight. –
  2. If you think your family will need reminders to stay out of the frig use – duct tape to tape the doors

During a Disaster or Emergency

If the Power Goes Out

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
    • The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if unopened.
    • full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • 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 they are still at safe temperatures, it is important that each item is thoroughly cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40º F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 º F) — discard it.
  • During a snowstorm, do not place perishable food out in the snow. Outside temperatures can vary and food can be exposed to unsanitary conditions and animals. Instead, make ice. Fill buckets, empty milk containers, or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Use the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers.

There is going to be a morning after:

  1. Quickly check the appliance thermometers: 40 degrees in the frig and ) degrees in the freezer.
  2. Do not taste food to see if it has food poison. (Go by the list below.)
  3. When in doubt – throw it out. You will want garbage bags in the house ready to use for a number of things.

When in Doubt- Throw it Out List

Let’s hope that you did not pick the wrong day to bring home a side of beef for the freezer.

Having a stockpile of gel packs frozen solid could be a very good thing.

  1. raw meat
  2. fresh dairy: milk, eggs, yogurt, cream cheese
  3. opened baby formula
  4. leftovers
  5. dough or cooked pasta
  6. cooked or cut produce
  7. shredded cheese

It will hurt my penny-pinching heart to have to discard any food.

But the safety freak in me hollers – Don’t risk poisoning yourself, Fool!

I hope you have cleaning supplies stocked up on a high shelf in case you have a flood. You will need to disinfect:

I repeat: “Water, water everywhere – ‘er, not a drop to drink.” You don’t want to know where it’s been.

When in Doubt Throw it Out

  1. Do not eat any food that has touched flood water. 
  2. If you’ve been in a tornado or el derecho winds and you have glass or debris splinters all around – you may as well pitch those things as well.
  3. Any food in cardboard containers, or non-sealed lids as well as your home-preserved food that flood water has reached.
  4. Cans that have rust, dented, swelling – basically if it is no longer stackable – go directly to the garbage

I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Do keep a handwritten list of all the food you have to discard. You may be able to claim as the deductible on your home or renters insurance. Keep in mind what your insurance will or will not cover. Not all insurance covers flood damage. Don’t ask me – ask your agent/ re-read the policy you signed.

After a Disaster or Emergency

Throw away the following food:

  • Perishable food that has not been refrigerated or frozen properly due to power outages
  • Food that may have come in contact with floodwater or stormwater
  • Food with an unusual odor, color, or texture.

After a Power Outage

Determine the safety of your food:

  • 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 alone. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
  • Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that has been at temperatures above 40° F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90º F).

Throw out the following foods:

  1. All perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) in your refrigerator when the power has been off for 4 hours or more.
  2. All perishable foods in your freezer if they have thawed.

You can safely refreeze or cook food from the freezer if the food still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated.

Is food in the refrigerator safe during a power outage? Use this chart to find out.

Is thawed or partially thawed food in the freezer safe to eat? Use this chart as a guide.

After a Flood

Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood or stormwater. Discard:

  • Food with an unusual odor, color, or texture.
  • Food in packages that are not waterproof.
  • Food in cardboard containers, including juice/milk/baby formula boxes.
  • Food containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped caps, twist caps, flip tops, and snap tops.
  • Home-canned foods because they cannot be disinfected.
  • Canned foods or food containers that are bulging, opened, or damaged. Throw out cans or food containers that spurt liquid or foam when you open them or contain food that is discolored, moldy, or smells bad. When it doubt, throw it out!

Put your gloves on – you’ve got some cleaning to do after a flood.

1 Tablespoon of bleach to 1 Gallon of water

  • What you can salvage will need to be cleaned with a solution of bleach water. Nor everything can be saved.
  • Be careful with enough ventilation. Chorine bleach is toxic.
  • Use the bleach water solution on your metal eating utensils and pots and pans.
  • For sealed non-dented canned goods, remove the labels then scrub with bleach water solutions.

My list and the list from the USDA’s poster are NOT complete lists.

Hopefully, it is a basic list that you and your family members can file in your heads long enough to know that you will have to follow through with a number of safety tasks before you can eat the groceries you have on hand.

Here are more details from the USDA on cleaning with your bleach solution:

Don’t forget that you had some jugs of water in the deep freeze to keep things cold and maybe drink, to prep food with later, or even wash hands or clean.

How to salvage commercially prepared food in cans and plastic or metal pouches (like flexible, shelf-stable juice package

  1. Remove labels if possible. Note the expiration date.
  2. Brush or wipe away dirt or silt.
  3. Wash cans and pouches with hot, soapy water.
  4. Rinse cans and pouches with clean, safe water.
  5. Sanitize cans and pouches in one of two ways:
    1. Place them in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/240 mL) of unscented household bleach in 5 gallons of water for 15 minutes, OR
    2. Put in a pot of water, bring to a boil, and continue boiling for 2 minutes.
  6. Re-label cans or pouches with a marker. Include the expiration date.
  7. Use food in cans or pouches as soon as possible.

https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/food-safety-in-disaster-or-emergency

You may also like: I Have RECALLED Food – Now What Do I Do? – No Non-cents Nanna

This is Malika Bourne, the No Non-cents Nanna encouraging you to Make Good Choices.

LIKE & Share

If you have found the content of this post of value, please LIKE and SHARE for others to be AWARE.

Also, comments are welcomed.

I’d love to know what more information can you use on your preparedness journey. Did I go too fast? Too Slow? Too much? Not enough? Did you learn something new ow was this a good review?

Copyright information:

This No Non-cents Nanna blog post is researched, written, and put together by Malika Bourne. I have taken the liberty to use the information found on the website of the “U.S. Department of Agriculture.” I have copied and pasted quotes in block quotes along with the URL. The poster image is also found on the USDA website.

This post/podcast is for educational purposes. Under Public Domain use I have used information from the USDA website therefore all information is credited to the “U.S. Department of Agriculture.” as my source.

Disclaimer: This post is for inspiration. The user will accept it as is or edited at their own risk. This post may not cover everything you need to know in the event of a power outage or flood etc. in regard to food safety.

Malika Bourne, the No Non-cents Nanna is not responsible for your interpretations.

Digital Rights and Copyright

Most information presented on the USDA Web site is considered public domain information.

Public domain information may be freely distributed or copied, but use of appropriate byline/photo/image credits is requested. Attribution may be cited as follows: “U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Some materials on the USDA Web site are protected by copyright, trademark, or patent, and/or are provided for personal use only.

Such materials are used by USDA with permission, and USDA has made every attempt to identify and clearly label them. You may need to obtain permission from the copyright, trademark, or patent holder to acquire, use, reproduce, or distribute these materials.

Resources:

Emergency Preparedness (USDA)
Available in Spanish.

Food Safety Images for Severe Storms, Flickr (USDA)
Available in Spanish.

Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes, Power Outages, and Floods (FDA)
Available in Spanish and French.

Food, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Information for Use Before and After a Disaster or Emergency (CDC)
Available in Spanish.

Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency (CDC)
Available in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

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