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What Would You do to Keep Your Food Safe During an Emergency?

Posted by Vance Ulrich, Public Affairs Intern, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Feb 21, 2017

September is National Preparedness Month, and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service reminds you to plan ahead in order to keep your food safe just in case you encounter hurricanes, flooding, fires, power outages or other emergencies that threaten storage conditions.

On any given day, maintaining the proper temperature and sanitation of food storage areas should prevent bacterial growth and keep your food safe to eat.  However, severe weather and other emergencies can compromise these conditions.

Knowing what to do during emergencies can minimize the need to throw away food and the risk of getting sick.  You and your family should have an emergency plan in place that includes food and water safety precautionsYou might find  "A Consumer's Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes"  helpful as you can print it out and use it as a guide on what to do during a power outage.  You also can get timely food safety information relevant to a particular state or territory on Twitter by following @XX_FSISAlert.  Just replace the XX with each state or territory's postal abbreviation.

As you make your plans, always remember:

  • Never taste food to determine its safety!
  • When in doubt, throw it out!

Get prepared, take these food safety steps before a possible emergency:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator temperature should remain 40° F or lower, and the freezer should be 0° F or lower.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you might not need immediately – this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Keep coolers and frozen gel packs on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
  • Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler.

If the power goes out, take these steps to keep food safe:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
    • A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep the door closed.
    • A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • If the power is out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible.
    • Did you know that…50 pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

What next? What to do after an emergency power outage, flood or fire:

  • Check the temperature on your appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer. If the thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe.
  • If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals or is at 40° F or below when checked with a food thermometer, it can be safely refrozen.
  • Discard any perishable food that has been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40° F for two hours or more.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
  • 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 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches can be saved. Follow the “Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches” in the publication "Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency.”
  • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.
  • Food in cans and jars need to be discarded if they were close to the HEAT of a fire, even if they look okay.
  • After a fire, all raw food outside of the refrigerator and all food stored in permeable packaging should be discarded.
  • If exposed to the chemicals used to fight a fire, all raw food outside of the refrigerator and food stored in permeable packaging should be thrown away as well.
    • Canned goods and cookware exposed to chemicals can be decontaminated by washing in a strong detergent solution and dipping in a bleach solution for 15 minutes.


  1. Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (888-MPHotline), available in English and Spanish from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT.
  2. Ask Karen, FSIS’ virtual food safety representative who has the answers to nearly 1,500 food safety questions, is available 24/7 from your smartphone at, also in English and Spanish. Ask Karen can be downloaded for free for iOS and Android devices.
Category/Topic: Health and Safety

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