By The U.S. Department of Agriculture
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service is issuing food safety recommendations for those who may be impacted by wildfires in California.
The National Weather Service predicts critical to extreme fire weather conditions today [Tuesday, Oct. 29] and Wednesday in southern and northern California. Due to the predicted extreme weather conditions, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said it’s considering proactively turning off power in these regions for safety. PG&E has already began cutting power for more than 2 million homes and businesses Saturday, including 1.3 million in the Bay Area. PG&E warns that these outages could last longer than 48 hours. For planning and safety purposes, consumers should prepare for outages that could last several days.
Severe weather events such as wildfires that lead to power outages can compromise the safety of your food. Without electricity or a cold source, food stored in refrigerators and freezers can become unsafe. Bacteria in food grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and if these foods are consumed, people can become very sick. Knowing what to do before and after a weather event can help you reduce your risk of illness. By following these guidelines, you can also minimize the amount of food that may be lost due to spoilage.
Steps to follow in advance of losing power
• Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 F or lower in the refrigerator, 0 F or lower in the freezer.
• Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
• 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.
• Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
• Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
• Group foods together in the freezer — this ‘igloo’ effect helps the food stay cold longer.
• Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.
Steps to follow if the power goes out
• Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
• Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross contamination of thawing juices.
• Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
Steps to follow after a weather emergency:
• Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40 F for two hours or more.
• Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
• Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 F or below.
• Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
• When in doubt, throw it out.
Consumers with food safety questions can call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or live chat via Ask USDA from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Consumers can also send a question via email to [email protected].