The good news is that the National Weather Service says that competing climate factors suggest a less active hurricane season this year compared to many in recent years. The bad news is that it doesn’t take a hurricane to knock power out. Spring and summer storms often do it very effectively.
But, even when the power goes out, your refrigerator and freezer can help you and your family avoid food poisoning, but only if you are ready for the emergency and know how to react.
- Make sure that you have appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer. That’s the best way to be sure that your food is safe after a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer.
- If there are warnings of a severe storm on the way, freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags. They are small enough to fit in around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold and won’t make a mess when the ice melts. Don’t fill them too full or they might split because water expands when it freezes.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Be sure to have a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling
When the Power Goes Out
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed.
- A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an “igloo” to protect each other.
- Place meat and poultry to one side or on a tray so if they begin thawing their juices will not get on other foods.
- If the power is going to be out for a long time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
When Power Comes Back
- Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
- Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
- With frozen food, check for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
- Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe .
See these charts to help you evaluate specific foods
- Refrigerated Foods: When to Save and When to Throw Out
- Frozen Food and Power Outages: When to Save and When to Throw Out
For more information about food safety in an emergency, check out these resources:
- What Consumers Need to Know About Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes, Power Outages, and Floods (FDA)
- In an Emergency (FoodSafety.gov)
Questions received to USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline about grilling meat and poultry increase during spring and summer months. In anticipation of the unofficial beginning of the summer grilling season on Memorial Day weekend, I have put together some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive about grilling.
Do you have guidelines for buying meat and poultry? What's the best way to handle them safely?
- At the store, choose packages that are not torn. Make sure they feel cold. If possible, put them in a plastic bag so leaking juices won't drip on other foods.
- Make fresh meats the last items to go into your shopping cart. Be sure to separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart.
- Have the cashier bag raw meat separately from other items, and plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.
How should I store fresh (raw) meats at home?
Refrigerate or freeze fresh meats and poultry as soon as possible after purchase. This preserves freshness and slows the growth of bacteria. They can be refrigerated or frozen in the original packaging if you plan to use them soon.
- If refrigerated, keep at 40 °F or below and use ground meats and poultry within one or two days; and beef, veal, pork and lamb steaks, roasts and chops within five days.
- For longer freezer storage, wrap in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or plastic bags made for freezing. Meat and poultry will be safe indefinitely if kept frozen at 0 °F, but will lose quality over time. Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart
- Never leave raw meat, poultry, or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour at 90 °F and above).
Is It Done Yet? How can I tell when my meats are safely cooked?
Meat and poultry should be cooked to a safe temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present. Color of meat and poultry is not a good indicator of safety. Use a food thermometer to make sure meats have reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Safe Cooking Temperatures
- NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
- Keep Hot Food Hot! After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served — at 140 °F or warmer. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. If you are at home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 °F, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.
I worry about my father-in-law forgetting to take a clean plate to the grill for cooked meat and poultry. Is it safe to use the same plate for raw and cooked meats?
No, to prevent food borne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food. You can either use a clean plate for the cooked meat or wash the one that held the raw meat.
Can I refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked meat and poultry?
Yes, if you refrigerated them promptly after cooking (within two hours; one hour if the temperature is above 90 °F), they can be safely refrigerated for about three or four days. If frozen, they should keep good quality for about four months.
For more information on the safe preparation, handling and grilling of meat and poultry, check out these resources in English and Spanish:
If you have any other questions about grilling meat and poultry, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov
Of course raw cookie dough isn’t as sweet as Mom—but it might be a close second! As you bake up a batch of Mother’s Day cookies, or help Mom with her famous family recipe, keep this information in mind to keep yourself and your mom safe.
Cracking the Cookie Dough Case
May 2009, we learned about a number of people who became sick from E. coli O157, a germ that can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and can even be life-threatening.
CDC and state and local health departments began to investigate. We originally suspected ground beef was making people sick. It is one of the “usual suspects” for E. coli O157, along with leafy greens and sprouts. But as we learned about more and more people who were infected with the same specific strain of E. coli O157, we noticed that they were generally young and female, which isn’t what we normally see in outbreaks linked to ground beef.
Our disease detectives asked the people who were affected by this outbreak many questions and had them talk about everything that they had eaten and done the week before they became sick, looking for things in common among them. The mother of a sick child mentioned that he had eaten raw, prepackaged cookie dough during the days before he became sick. Another person who had been ill told us she ate ice cream with cookie dough and brownie mix-ins at an ice cream shop (and, later, that she had also eaten raw, prepackaged cookie dough at home). Then another person mentioned eating raw cookie dough, and another.
When cookie dough was mentioned on a conference call between investigators from CDC and health departments in affected states, investigators in several states mentioned that an ill person in their state also reported eating raw cookie dough. It was a “Eureka” moment! Further investigation strengthened the link between eating raw prepackaged, cookie dough and becoming ill. As a result of the investigation, the company recalled the product.
Resist Temptation: Don’t Lick that Spoon!
As gooey and delicious as it might look, eating raw cookie dough could make you very sick. When handling raw cookie dough, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Do not eat any raw cookie dough or any other raw dough product that’s supposed to be cooked or baked.
- Follow package directions for cooking at proper temperatures and for specified times.
- Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with raw dough products.
- Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that might be present from spreading.
- Follow label directions to chill products promptly after purchase and after using them.
For more information, check out these resources:
- E. coli
- Consumer Advisory: FDA Continues to Warn Against Eating Raw Dough for Cookies or Other Raw Dough Products before Cooking
- E. coli Outbreak and Raw Cookie Dough [PODCAST]
- Animal Planet: Killer Outbreaks: E. coli O157 [VIDEO]
- More about the outbreak [BLOG]: