July 15, 2024

USDA Food Safety Tips for Winter Weather Emergencies

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)  has compiled some food safety tips for those affected by severe winter weather in the northern Rockies and upper Great Lakes. Heavy snowfalls in Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan could cause power outages posing which create food safety risks.

Winter WeatherFSIS recommends consumers follow these steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during severe weather events. Print this information and put it on your pantry door for future reference.

Before the storm, purchase appliance thermometers for the refrigerator and the freezer, freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately. Group foods together in the freezer, it will help them stay cold longer. Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags, if the power goes out you can slip these  around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food stay cold.

What to buy before the storm? Grocery shop for a few says worth of foods that are ready to eat and do not require cooking or cooling. Find out where you can purchase dry ice. Locate and clean, or purchase and clean coolers.

If the power goes out keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours if it is kept closed, a half-full freezer will hold its temperature for 24 hours.  Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer. If you can find dry ice,  put a block in the refrigerator, freezer or cooler.

Any perishable food such as meat, poultry, milk, seafood, eggs or leftovers that has been above 40°F for two hours or more should be thrown out. Don’t smell or taste food to see if it is okay, because even a tiny bite of contaminated food can make you sick. Frozen food with ice crystals may be safely refrozen. If you are unsure about some foods, remember: when in doubt, throw it out.

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