Food Emergencies

Keeping the food supply safe is important at all times, but sometimes, it is a greater challenge than others. These situations include power outages, natural disasters, and other emergencies. So be prepared and keep your food safe.

Power Outages
Sometimes the power goes out.
Be prepared!
• Keep an appliance thermometer in
both the refrigerator and freezer. Make sure the refrigerator temperature is at 40 °F (4.44 °C) or below and the freezer an is at 0 °F (-17.8 °C) or below.
Keep the freezer full. Fill empty
spaces with frozen plastic jugs of
water, bags of ice, or gel packs.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer
doors closed to keep cold air inside.
• The refrigerator will keep food safe
for up to 4 hours. If the power is off
longer, you can transfer food to a
cooler and fill with ice or frozen gel
packs. Make sure there is enough ice
to keep food in the cooler at 40 °F or
below. Add more ice to the cooler as it begins to melt.
— If your freezer is not full, group
packages so they form an “igloo” to
protect each other.
— For longer power outages, add dry
ice or cubed or block ice.
During a snowstorm, do not place
perishable food out in the snow.
Outside temperatures can vary and
food can be exposed to unsanitary
conditions and animals. The sun’s
rays can thaw frozen food. Instead,
make ice in containers left outside
to freeze. Then put the “homemade
ice” in your refrigerator, freezer, or
In general, refrigerated items should be safe up to 4 hours.
Discard any perishable food that
has been above 40 °F (4.44 °C)
for 2 hours or more.
Also, discard any food that has an
unusual odor, color, or texture, or
feels warm to the touch. Never taste
a food to determine its safety!
With frozen food: check for ice
crystals! The food in your freezer that partially or completely thaws before power is restored may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F (4.44 °C) or below.
A full freezer will stay at safe
temperatures about 2 days; a
half-full freezer about 1 day.
—The freezing compartment in a
refrigerator will not keep foods
frozen as long.
— When the power comes back on,
you will have to evaluate each item
separately. When in doubt, throw
it out.
The general rule of thumb is to discard food that has been near a fire or exposed to smoke fumes.
• Food in cans or jars may appear to be okay, but heat from a fire can activate food spoilage bacteria. If the heat is extreme, the cans or jars themselves can split or rupture, leaving the food unsafe.
Toxic fumes released from burning
materials can get inside food. Discard
any raw food or food in permeable
packaging — cardboard, plastic wrap,
screw-topped jars, bottles, etc. —
stored outside the refrigerator.
• Food stored in refrigerators
or freezers can also become
contaminated by fumes. The
refrigerator seal isn’t airtight and fumes can get inside.
Chemicals used to fight the fire
contain toxic materials and can
contaminate food and cookware.
— Food that is exposed to chemicals
should be thrown away because
the chemicals cannot be washed
off the food. This includes food
stored at room temperature
and food stored in permeable
containers, like cardboard and
screw-topped jars and bottles.
Cookware exposed to fire-fighting
chemicals can be decontaminated.
Wash it in soap and hot water, then
submerge it for 15 minutes in a
solution of 1 tablespoon of
unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in
1 gallon of water.Floods
• Do not eat any food that may have
come into contact with flood water.
• Discard any food that is not in a
waterproof container if there is any
chance that it has come into contact
with flood water. Food containers that
are not waterproof include those with
Post-flood “Sanitation Station”
screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and
crimped caps.Also discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and
home-canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively sanitized.
• Inspect canned food and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.
• Undamaged, commercially
prepared foods in all-metal cans and
retort pouches (e.g., flexible, shelfstable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved if the can is properly cleaned and treated.
• For instructions on how to salvage
all-metal cans and kitchen items, read
“A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety:
Severe Storms and Hurricanes” at