Consumer Alert: Hurricane Katrina Aftermath: Keeping Food Safe During Flooding And Power Outages | USDA Newsroom
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News Release
  Release No. 0340.05
Contact:
Susan Conley (301) 504-9605
Matt Baun (301) 504-0235

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  CONSUMER ALERT: HURRICANE KATRINA AFTERMATH: KEEPING FOOD SAFE DURING FLOODING AND POWER OUTAGES
 

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 2005 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing recommendations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which has caused widespread flooding and power outages in Gulf Coast states. Distribution of this important public health information will help minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses due to power outages or flooding.

In response to this public health emergency, USDA is extending the hours of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline this week in order to accommodate consumers' questions and concerns 24 hours a day. Callers to the hotline will be able to speak to a live-operator who will be able to provide them with answers to their food safety questions. The Hotline number is 1-888-MPHotline.

Food Safety and Power Outages

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. Each time the door is opened, a significant amount of refrigeration is lost.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed.)
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40° F or below.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!
  • Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for two days.
  • If the power has been out for several days then check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer or food thermometer. If the food still contains ice crystals or is at 40° F or below, then the food is safe.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer then check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, then the food is safe.
  • Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after four hours without power.

Food Safety and Flooding

  • Drink only bottled water if flooding has occurred.
  • Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water.

Discard:

  • Canned foods, including those bought in stores as well as home-canned foods.
  • All foods in cardboard boxes, paper, foil, cellophane or cloth should be thrown out.
  • Meat, poultry, eggs or fish.
  • Spices, seasonings, extracts, flour, sugar, grain, coffee and other staples in canisters.
  • Unopened jars with waxed cardboard seals such as mayonnaise and salad dressing. Also throw away preserves sealed with paraffin.
  • Wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.

Save:

  • Canned foods that did not come into contact with flood waters.
  • Dishes and glassware if they are sanitized by boiling in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water.
  • When in doubt, throw it out!

Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

Consumers also can ask safe food handling questions by logging onto "Ask Karen," the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) online automated response system at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/. E-mail inquiries can be directed to mailto:MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov. Additional information about USDA's food safety efforts can be accessed on the FSIS Web site.