Food Safety in a Disaster or Emergency

Before Emergencies

  • Refrigerator and Freezer ThermometersMake sure you have thermometers in each refrigerator and freezer
    • Ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0°Fahrenheit
    • Ensure that the refrigerator temperature is at or below 40°Fahrenheit
    • Thermometers will allow you to determine if your food is safe in the case of a power outage
  • Freeze containers of water to make large ice cubes that can help keep food cold should you lose power
    • Water that is stored/frozen in sanitized, food-grade containers can also be used as extra drinking water
    • Never consume water that has been stored in milk containers
  • Purchase/make ice cubes and gel packs ahead of time to store in the freezer.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you will not use immediately, for example, fresh meat, and poultry. This will keep them at a safer temperature and longer.
  • Group food together in the freezer to help food stay colder and longer.
  • Have coolers set aside to help keep refrigerated food cold if the power will is out for more than 4 hours.
  • Store food on shelves that will keep food off of the floor and safe from contaminated water should flooding occur.
  • Ensure that you have an adequate supply of bottled water stored where it will be safe from flooding.
  • Have a manual can opener on hand.

After an Emergency

  • Throw away the following food items
    • 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 texture, order, or color
    • When in doubt, throw it out!
  • After a flood, clean and sanitize food contact surfaces that have been flooded
    • Throw out wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers if they have come into contact with floodwaters. Sanitizing methods are not effective in removing floodwater contaminants from these items
    • Salvage commercially prepared food in cans and plastic or metal pouches by removing labels and washing, rinsing, and sanitizing the containers. Then, relabel the cans with the name of the product and the expiration date

Power Outage

Demo of food in a refrigerator and freezer over the course of hours during a power outageIf the power goes out...

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain their temperature
    • The refrigerator will keep food cold for 4 hours if unopened
    • The freezer will keep food frozen for 48 hours if it is full, 24 hours if it is half full
  • Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power will be out for an extended period of time
    • Once power is restored...
    • If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperatures of the unit once power is restored
    • if the freezer thermometer is 40°Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe to refreeze or cook
    • If no appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, analyze each package of food
    • if the food still contains ice crystals it is safe to refreeze or cook
    • If power was out for less than 4 hours, refrigerated food should be safe as long as the doors were kept closed
    • Check the temperature of the food and discard any perishable food that has been at temperatures over 40°Fahrenheit for 4 hours or more
  • This information was taken from the following resources. Additional information can be obtained by clicking on the links: