Prepare Kansas

Keep food safe during a power outage

September is National Preparedness Month. It is also our annual Prepare Kansas online challenge. Prepare Kansas 2019 will provide tips on keeping food safe in emergency situations. Kansans and anyone interested in planning ahead for emergencies can follow the K-State Research and Extension Facebook page and this blog at any time during September, pick up handy information and interact with K-State extension specialists and agents. No registration is required. Today’s post is written by Londa Nwadike, State Extension Consumer Food Safety Specialist for Kansas and Missouri.

If you are in the middle of a power outage, some key steps should be taken to ensure that your perishable food (food that requires refrigeration or freezing for safety) stays safe for as long as possible.  It is very important to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible so that the cold air inside will not escape.  If the refrigerator doors are kept closed, the food inside could remain at a safe temperature for up to 4 hours.   If the freezer doors are kept closed, a full freezer could remain at a safe temperature for up to 48 hours (24 hours if the freezer is half full, as the frozen items in the freezer can help to keep the other items cold as well).

If the power is off for more than 4 hours, the most perishable items in the frig should be moved to a cooler with ice to keep them at a safe temperature. If you don’t have enough space in your cooler, you don’t need to include foods that don’t actually require refrigeration such as fresh whole fruits and vegetables, hard and processed cheeses, fresh herbs and spices, and nuts. (A more detailed list of foods that don’t actually require refrigeration for safety is available from this USDA publication).  It is also important to include a thermometer in the cooler to be sure the food is staying below 40F for safety. If perishable foods get too much warmer than 40F, microorganisms that can make you sick can grow more rapidly. If you see that the temperature of the cooler is getting above 40F, add more ice/ frozen ice packs and if needed, drain off some of the water in the cooler.

If the power has been off for close to 24 hours, or if you have been told that the power will be off for more than 24 hours, you will need to use dry ice or block ice to keep the foods in the freezer cold enough for safety.  You will need to find a source of either dry ice or blocks of ice that you can safely use in your freezer.  Dry ice may be sold by some larger grocery stores, or check the telephone book yellow pages (online or in print), with your power company, or with a local dairy or cold-storage warehouse to obtain dry ice.   It is important to be sure that the dry ice or block ice and any containers used to hold it are intended for contact with food so that the ice itself does not contaminate your food.  For a full 18 cubic foot freezer, 50 pounds of dry ice should keep food frozen for 2 additional days.

#prepareKansas throughout September

September is National Preparedness Month. It is also our annual Prepare Kansas online challenge. Prepare Kansas 2019 will provide tips on keeping food safe in emergency situations. Kansans and anyone interested in planning ahead for emergencies can follow the K-State Research and Extension Facebook page and this blog at any time during September, pick up handy information and interact with K-State extension specialists and agents. No registration is required. Today’s post is written by Londa Nwadike, State Extension Consumer Food Safety Specialist for Kansas and Missouri.

Many of us living in the USA think that a power outage won’t happen to us.  Unfortunately, it can happen, so it is important to be prepared ahead of time.  Power outages can be caused by the aftermath of thunderstorms, tornadoes, winter storms, floods, or a number of other reasons, making it important to be prepared anytime.

One of the things that everyone should do to be prepared for a power outage is something that is a good food safety practice even if the power never goes out!  We should all ensure that every refrigerator and freezer we use has a working thermometer in it so that if there is a power outage, you will know how warm the inside of the frig or freezer got while the power was out, so you will know if the food is safe to keep or not (more on this in upcoming weeks!).  In addition, it is always important to be sure that your frig and freezer are cold enough to keep your perishable foods safe.

Refrigerators should be 40F or colder (generally from 34-40F) and freezers should be at or below 0F, both for food safety and food quality.  Keeping your refrigerator below 40F will greatly reduce the likelihood that organisms such as Listeria, which can make you very sick, can grow. Listeria can grow much more rapidly at slightly higher temperatures such as 45F, so it is important to keep your refrigerator at 40F or below for safety.

Very few home refrigerators in the US actually have a thermometer in them, although most have a temperature control dial which can help to change the temperature.  It is very important to know what the actual temperature in your frig is, both after a power outage and anytime!  Refrigerator and freezer thermometers can be purchased at most grocery stores and discount stores for less than $5 and do not take up much room. Place one in each of your refrigerators or freezers in the spot you think would be warmest (usually the front or in the door) and move it around occasionally to be sure that the warmest spot is below 40F (refrigerator) and below 0F (freezer).

More information on important steps for food safety before a power outage is available from USDA: Keep Your Food Safe During Emergencies and Consumer Guide to Food Safety in Severe Storms and Hurricanes.