As much of the East Coast braces for the impact of Hurricane Sandy, being prepared is on everyone’s mind–and that includes food. Having enough canned and dried foods and bottled water is essential, but so is being informed about food safety. According to the FDA, one of the best precautions to take before a hurricane hits is making sure you have enough cold storagefor food and that it will be stored at the proper temperatures–even if the power goes out. Here are eight essential tips to follow for food safety:
1. Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. Freezer temperature should be at or below 0 °F, and refrigerators should be at or below 40 °F to ensure optimal safe storage for perishables. If the power goes out, make sure you only consume foods that have been stored at these temperatures.
2. Freeze containers of water for ice. Do this now. Ice cubes, ice blocks and gel packs will help keep food cold in the freezer and refrigerator if the power goes out. Also, get some large coolers and have those ready, too. You can put blocks of ice in there with perishable foods if the refrigerator gets too warm.
3. Use these blocks of ice for drinking water. If your normal water supply is contaminated or unavailable, you can melt the ice for a supply of drinking water.
4. Freeze as much as possible now.Move refrigerated items such as milk, cheese and meat to the freezer. This will help keep them at a safe temperature longer. Also, group food together in the freezer–it will help the food stay cold longer.
5. Store dry foods off the ground. Move any pantry items to higher shelves so they are safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding. This includes bottled water too.
6. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. This will help maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.
7. Keep your freezer full. A freezer that is loaded with food will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours. If it’s only half full, temperatures will be maintained for just 24 hours–assuming the door remains closed.
8. Cook all foods first. Once the power returns, if you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it’s important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present is destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40 °F for 2 hours or more, you need to throw it out.