The FDA and Safe Food Hints and Tips

I often scold and rant at the government for reasons high and low.

That being said, in light of the ongoing Katrina news, the FDA has offered information on food safety that’s applicable for many emergencies, not just hurricanes. That they posted them online a day after New Orleans and the rest of the gulf states were without power is a conundrum best left for another day.

The information is good if not obvious. I’ve posted the pertinent parts below: Print and save for a later day…hopefully a day that never comes.

Food safety when the power goes out

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to
    maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about
    4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately
    48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. Buy dry
    or block ice to keep the refrigerator 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 fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.
  • If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs
    while they are still at safe temperatures, it’s important that the
    food is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any food
    borne bacteria that may be present is destroyed.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
  • For infants, if possible, use prepared, canned baby formula that requires
    no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with
    bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.

Once the power is restored

  • Once the power is restored you will need to evaluate the safety of the
    food. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature
    when the power comes back on. If the thermometer stored in the freezer reads
    40 degrees F or below the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer
    has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine
    the safety. Remember, you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still
    contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below, it is safe to refreeze
    or cook.
  • Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power is out for no more
    than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable
    food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above
    40 degrees F for two hours or more.

For a list of how to handle specific refrigerated and frozen foods during
power outages, go to

Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes and Floods

  • Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can
    contaminate the public water supply. Drinking contaminated water may cause
    illness. You cannot assume that the water in the hurricane-affected area
    is safe to drink. Listen to local announcements for updated information on
    the safety of the water supply.
  • If bottled water is not available and the safety of tap water is questionable,
    follow these directions to purify it:
  • If you have a heat source available, boil the water vigorously for 1-3
    minutes (at altitudes above one mile, boil for 3 minutes). Water should be
    bubbling and rolling. (
  • If you can’t boil water, add 8 drops (about 1/8 teaspoon or 0.75 ml) of
    newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water, stir
    it well and let the water stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Note that
    using bleach will not kill parasitic organisms. (
  • You can also use water-purifying tablets from your local pharmacy or sporting
    goods store. (
  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water.
    Discard any food without a waterproof container if there is any chance that
    it has come into contact with floodwater. Undamaged, commercially canned
    foods can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash the cans and
    disinfect them with a solution consisting of 1/4 cup of bleach per gallon
    of water for clean surfaces. Re-label your cans, including the expiration
    date, with a marker. Food containers with screw-caps, snap lids, and home
    canned foods should be discarded if they have come in contact with flood
    water because they cannot be disinfected.
  • Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and
    pacifiers. There is no way to safely clean them if they have come in contact
    with contaminated flood waters. Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes
    and utensils with soap and hot water. They should then be sanitized by boiling
    in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1/4 cup
    of chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

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