Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency

Did you know that a flood, fire, national disaster, or the loss of power from high winds, snow, or ice could jeopardize the safety of your food? Knowing how to determine if food is safe and how to keep food safe will help minimize the potential loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness. This fact sheet will help you make the right decisions for keeping your family safe during an emergency.

ABC’s of Keeping Food Safe in an Emergency

Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40 °F and frozen food at or below 0 °F. This may be difficult when the power is out.

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic foot full freezer for 2 days. Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

Be prepared for an emergency…

… by having items on hand that don’t require refrigeration and can be eaten cold or heated on the outdoor grill. Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods should be part of a planned emergency food supply. Make sure you have ready-to-use baby formula for infants and pet food. Remember to use these items and replace them from time to time. Be sure to keep a hand-held can opener for an emergency.

Consider what you can do ahead of time to store your food safely in an emergency. If you live in a location that could be affected by a flood, plan your food storage on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water. Coolers are a great help for keeping food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours — have a couple on hand along with frozen gel packs. When your freezer is not full, keep items close together—this helps the food stay cold longer.

Digital, dial, or instant-read food thermometers and appliance thermometers will help you know if the food is at safe temperatures. Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. When the power is out, an appliance thermometer will always indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer no matter how long the power has been out. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 °F or below; the freezer, 0 °F or lower. If you’re not sure a particular food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer.

One Reply to “Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency”

  1. We have some long term storage food, and keep a shelving unit stocked with canned goods to supplement the long term freeze dry food. Canned and boxed goods include soups, broth, boxed milk, bottled juice, various canned meat and fish, and vegetables, rice, potatoes, noodles, tomato sauce, etc. On all boxed and canned good I put the best used by date on the front of the can, so when I restock, I move the earliest best used by dates to the front and put the new canned goods behind those. We use the canned & boxed good by best used dates so we always have 6 months to 2 yeas on the remaining items on the shelves. We have well and septic, we have a small generator to run the well if needed and have some containers of water backed up if we need it. Since we have room, we expect to plant an even larger garden next year and I plan on working with friends with their gardens and sharing the canning and other chores associated with putting up food, as I believe that it will be cheaper then buying food from the store, as the prices have increased so much.

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