Here’s how to be ready, food-wise, for whatever emergency may come your way – whether that means power outages, localised flooding or a public health emergency that keeps you stuck inside.
First, let’s talk about food safety and how to deal with the situation when you lose electricity and have to take stock of your freezer and refrigerator.
A fully packed, free-standing freezer (that has remained closed) will stay at acceptably cold temperatures for two to four days.
Place dry ice, a block of ice or several frozen gel packs in a well-insulated cooler; transfer perishables from the refrigerator to the cooler.
According to the US National Center for Home Food Preservation, a 50-pound block of dry ice will keep the contents of a full, 18-cubic-foot freezer cold for two days.
The following partially defrosted foods may be safe to eat/refreeze if they still contain ice crystals or have been kept below 40 degrees: beef, veal, lamb, pork, ground meat, casseroles, soups and stews, hard cheeses, juices, flours, nuts, packaged waffles and pancakes, frozen meals/convenience foods.
If dairy items, poultry, meat, seafood, fresh pasta, fresh greens, eggs, soy meat substitutes and leftovers have been held at 40 degrees or higher for more than two hours, discard them.
If opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish, commercial garlic in oil or other spreads (or any salads made with those items) have been held at 50 degrees or above for more than eight hours, throw them out too.
The following items are safe (if they had been opened/refrigerated): peanut butter, jelly, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles, Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar-based dressings, fruit, raw vegetables and hard cheeses (including grated).
Never taste food to determine its safety, and do not rely on odour or appearance.
The USDA website – usda.gov – offers a thorough rundown on how to keep food safe in an emergency, including a chart of what food items in your fridge and freezer to save or discard after a power outage.
Food storage tips
- Put appliance thermometers in your fridge and freezer. Ensure that the freezer is at 32F or below and the refrigerator is at or below 40F.
- Keep the freezer full to ensure the cool temperature lasts as long as possible should the power go out. A good way of doing this is to cook all your meat and freeze it. This keeps
the freezer cool, saves cooking later and lengthens the usability of the meats.
- Keep fridges/freezers closed as much as possible to maintain the cool temperature if the
power goes out.
- Raise fridges/freezers with cement blocks if flooding is likely.
- Move all hurricane supplies above the ground to escape any possible flood water.
Food safety in the aftermath
- Don’t eat food that has come into contact with flood water as it may carry silt, raw sewage, oil or chemical waste. This includes food from containers with screw caps, snap-lids, soda bottles or twist caps, as these are difficult to disinfect.
- Throw away food that has unusual colours, odours or textures and cans/jars that are broken or leaking.
- Throw away canned foods that are bulging or damaged.
- Use bottled water for all cooking and cleaning, or boil water to purify.
- Avoid having garbage accumulate inside.