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Do YOU Have a Plan to Keep Food Safe during Severe Weather?

Severe weather can result in the loss of power for hundreds of thousands, and without power comes food safety challenges.

This year has been an important reminder that disaster can strike anytime and anyplace.  Nearly every region of the country experienced some form of extreme weather event, including wildfires in California, extreme cold and snow through the Midwest and East, and destructive tornadoes in the South and Central Plains.

All of these events resulted in the loss of power for hundreds of thousands, and without power comes food safety challenges.  The temperature and sanitation of food storage areas is crucial to preventing bacterial growth, and severe weather and other emergencies can compromise this.  Knowing what to do in these instances can minimize the need to throw away food and the risk of getting sick.

September is National Preparedness Month and America’s PrepareAthon! these are a coordinated national awareness campaign to get families and communities thinking about how to respond in the event of a disaster or other emergency.  The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is joining the effort by helping people plan to keep their food safe in case of hurricanes, flooding, fires, power outages and other emergencies that threaten storage conditions. 

Before the Power Goes Out (if there’s time)

  • 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 may not need immediately – this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Have 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.

When the Power Goes Out

  • 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. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

After the Power Returns

  • When the power comes back on, you will have to evaluate each item separately. When in doubt, throw it out. These charts help you evaluate specific foods:
  • With frozen food, check for ice crystals! The food in your freezer that partially or completely thaws may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below.
  • 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!

Anyone with questions about the safety of their food as a result of weather damage and power outages is encouraged to call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at, available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish. Ask Karen can also be downloaded for free for iOS and Android devices.

FSIS food safety tips during severe weather on Twitter, @USDAFoodSafety, and on Facebook, at

For more information about food safety in an emergency, visit:

For more information about National Preparedness Month visit, go to

Posted in: Food Safety


Submitted by Yan (not verified) on Friday, November 28, 2014 - 12:35
It's not only storms, take a look at this <a href="">page full of disasters</a> to see why you should have water stored. There can be any number of issues from small water main breaks and electrical outages to larger disasters.
Submitted by Richard Kline (not verified) on Thursday, September 25, 2014 - 15:53
When you know a storm is coming put as many bottles of water in the freezer as it will hold. We have a standalome, so we put close to 2 cases of 12 oz bottles to stuff it full. We have kept food frozen for 4 or 5 days using this method
Submitted by Robin marshall (not verified) on Thursday, September 25, 2014 - 06:53
My comment on food safety is the key thing to do is to wash all things that is edible. People handle a lot of are foods before they are purchased and there hands may not be clean, so if you take that food home without washing it, and someone had a cold or some kind of virus or germ ocourse you are going to get some type of bacteria just because that person handled that product. Also when I buy prewashed salad products, I still wash them, because the person who handled that salad, there hands may not have been clean or had some type of bactaria, so please wash all of your food items for your safety so that we can be free from bacteria and germs. On vegetatables and fruit should be put in bags so that when we go to buy them everybody hands are not on them and again wash them when you take them home, this is just comment sense. I wash everything that I buy at the grocery that I have to eat because I care about my health. When I purchase meat before I cook it, it is taken out of the package and washed. So again we hope that the food we buy is clean and free from bacteria, but if you do your job by washing everything that you put in your mouth you will not contact these bacteria's. I hope this message will help and educate are consumers when purchasing food items. Its is not always the retailers because consumers handles a lot of are foods to. So to make everybody happy and free from germs please wash your hands and and your food items before eating.
Submitted by Robin Marshall (not verified) on Monday, October 6, 2014 - 18:36
I hoped this article was very helpful.