AUBURN, Alabama. – As Alabamians gear up for Hurricane Michael’s impact, they need to be savvy about food safety when the power goes out and if in-house flooding occurs.
When you Lose Power
More than likely, many people will lose power in their homes sometime during the storm. The power may be out for several hours or for days, depending on the storm’s intensity. Some areas along Alabama’s coastline may also experience major flooding due to storm surge and heavy rains.
Janet Johnson, an Alabama Extension regional agent in food safety and quality, offers homeowners valuable tips to keep food and eating utensils safe during and after the storm.
Johnson says food in a refrigerator without power will remain chilled from four to six hours. This temperature will keep longer if you don’t open the door of the refrigerator while the power is out.
“To remain safe, many refrigerated foods need to stay at 41 degrees F or lower. These include meats, milk, cream products and eggs,” Johnson said. “Homeowners need to assess the quality of vegetables, fruits, butter, condiments and other products before using them.”
If the power is out longer than six hours, add ice bags to the upper shelves in the refrigerator. The more ice you use, the longer the temperature will stay cool. Place a thermometer in the refrigerator farthest from the ice. Check the refrigerator temperature each time you add ice
“If food is at room temperature, either cook it immediately or discard it,” Johnson said. “If food in the freezer still has some ice crystals, you can cook it and refreeze it.”
When Power is Restored
When your freezer and refrigerator are working again, Johnson says to evaluate the safety of the affected food. With frozen food, consider the type of food and the extent of thawing. For refrigerated food, consider the temperature inside the refrigerator before the return of power, the type of food and the time these foods have been stored above 40 F.
Strong food odors may develop as a result of food spoilage during a power failure. Unplug refrigerator before cleaning with one of the following solutions:
- Vinegar: 1 cup per gallon of water
- Household ammonia: 1 cup per gallon of water
- Chlorine Bleach: ½ cup per gallon of water
Wash interior walls of the refrigerator and freezer. Rinse with water and dry.
Johnson offers further information about food safety before and after storms in the following two videos:
The Emergency Handbook from Alabama Extension is a great resource for information on preparing and recovering from severe weather. The handbook is available as a free iBook download and is also available on the Alabama Extension website.