Home & Garden

Storing Food During or After Emergencies

AUBURN, Ala. —Strong winds and rainfall brought by Hurricane Michael left many without power and shelter. Taking some simple precautions when storing food during power outages is important. These include:

  • Working with well-scrubbed hands
  • Cleaning all utensils, cutting boards, etc.
  • Keeping food hot (above 140 degrees F) or cold (below 40 degrees F)

Common bacteria can become dangerous if given an ideal breeding climate (between 50 degrees F and 125 degrees F). Bacteria quickly multiply and cause food poisoning. Never leave food in this danger zone for more than 2 hours.

Keeping Refrigerated and Frozen Food Safe

One main factor in keeping food safe is keeping it at the proper temperature. The only way you can know if your food is at the correct temperature is to use a thermometer. There are several types you need. One is a refrigerator/freezer thermometer. Place one in your refrigerator to assure the food is kept at below 40° F. Keep another of these thermometers in your freezer to ensure your food is kept at below 0° F.

To Refreeze or Not to Refreeze

You can safely refreeze any partially thawed food as long as it still has ice crystals and has been held no longer than 2 days at refrigerator temperatures. Many foods, such as ice cream or uncooked baked goods, will deteriorate in texture and taste.

Meat, fish and poultry thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen within 24 hours of defrosting. Do not refreeze dishes such as pies, stews and casseroles.

With the exception of fruit and juice concentrates, foods thawed accidentally in the freezer over a period of days (because of power failure) should not be refrozen unless they still have ice crystals. Throw out foods that are completely thawed, warmed to room temperature and left for more than 2 hours.  Use these charts to make best decisions about what should be discarded.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has an iBook to help families, businesses and communities prepare for storms and clean up after they pass. It has a complete list of food storage charts for your pantry, refrigerator and freezer.  The Emergency Handbook is a comprehensive resource for emergency planning, preparation and storm recovery. It is available as a free download from iBooks and online here.

Keeping Food Cold

In a refrigerator without power, food will remain chilled for up to 4 to 6 hours. This temperature will keep the longest if you don’t open the door of the refrigerator while the power is out. If you think the power will be out longer than this, add bags of ice to keep the temperatures cool longer. Place the ice on the upper shelves and pans on the lower shelves to catch the melting ice. The more ice you use, the longer the temperature will stay cool. Only open the door to add ice. Place a thermometer in the area farthest from the ice. Check the refrigerator temperature when adding ice. As soon as the power returns, check if food has been kept at below 40° F.

Keeping Food Frozen

When the power goes off, food will remain frozen in your freezer for several hours—maybe as long as several days. If your freezer is full and not opened during the power outage, the food will remain frozen for up to 2 days. If the freezer is only half full, food may stay frozen only 1 day. This time also depends on the seals in your freezer. If cold air is leaking around the seals, your food will thaw much faster. Replace loose gaskets now to help preserve your food when the power does go out in the future. The following are other factors that affect how long your food will
stay frozen:

  • The size of the freezer. The bigger the freezer, the longer the food will stay frozen.
  • The type of food in the freezer. Food with more water (fruits, vegetables, and meats) will stay frozen longer than food with little water (bread and nuts).
  • The insulation in the freezer. If your freezer has only a thin layer of insulation, food will thaw more rapidly.
  • The cavity depth of the freezer. The deeper chest-type freezers allow the food to remain frozen longer than upright freezers.


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Hurricane Michael Recovery Information

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