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USDA Food Safety Tips for Areas Affected by Severe Storms and Tornadoes


WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013 – In the wake of recent tragedy and destruction in Kansas and Oklahoma, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing recommendations to help affected residents minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses as a result of long term power outages and compromised food storage.

Residents with questions about the safety of their food as a result of weather damage and power outages are encouraged to call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (888-MPHotline or 888-674-6854), available in English and Spanish from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CDT weekdays.

Ask Karen, FSIS's virtual food safety expert, is available in English and Spanish 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with answers to nearly 1,500 food safety questions. Ask Karen can be downloaded for free for iOS and Android devices.

Residents also can reference the publication " A Consumer's Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes" to help determine if food is safe and learn how to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
  • A closed refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours.
  • A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during extended power outages. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

  • Check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. Food is safe if the thermometer reads 40° F or below.
  • If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals or is at 40° F or below when checked with a food thermometer, it may be safely refrozen.
  • Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items) that have been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40° F for two hours or more.
  • Save undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches). Follow the Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches in the publication " Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency."
  • If the water supply is affected, use bottled water or boil tap water for safety.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety!
  • When in Doubt, throw it out!

Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is safe during power outages. The refrigerator temperature should be 40° F or lower and the freezer should be 0° F or lower.
  • Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
  • 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 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.
  • Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

FSIS prepared a Public Service Announcement (PSA), which illustrates practical food safety recommendations for handling and consuming foods stored in refrigerators and freezers during and after a power outage. News organizations and power companies can obtain a hard copy (Beta and DVD) of the PSA by contacting FSIS' Food Safety Education Staff at (301) 344-4757.

Videos about food safety during power outages are available in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language on FSIS' YouTube channel. FSIS provides podcasts about food safety during severe weather, power outages, and flooding, which are available in English and Spanish.

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