Winter is fast approaching, and we never know what Mother Nature has in store for us.  It is therefore important to know how to keep food safe during a flood, power outage, or other emergency.

It is always important to remember that foods should be stored at proper temperatures.  Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs should be kept at temperatures at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  

If your power is out for a long period of time, keeping foods properly refrigerated is difficult.  The USDA recommends keeping refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.  Rules of thumb are that a full refrigerator will hold its temperature for approximately four hours, while a full freezer will hold its temperature for approximately 48 hours.  Freezers that are only half full will maintain their temperature for around 24 hours if foods are packed tightly together.

Keeping a cooler and frozen gel packs on hand can go a long way in preserving foods during an emergency.  In addition, block or dry ice can be used in refrigerators and freezers to keep foods at proper temperatures.  

How to tell if food is being kept at a proper temperature

Food and appliance thermometers are essential in an emergency.  Appliance thermometers, which indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer without using a power source, should be kept in your refrigerator and freezer year-round.  When the power is out, an appliance thermometer will show whether food is being stored at an appropriate temperature.  

When in doubt, digital, dial, and instant-read food thermometers can be used to measure the temperature of particular food items.  

Prepare for emergency situations

Always keep food items on hand that do not require refrigeration, that can be eaten cold, or can be heated on an outdoor grill or camp stove.  Store canned goods, shelf-stable foods, boxed or canned milk, water, and other foods such as ready-to-use baby formula in your emergency food supply.  

If you normally use an electric can opener, make sure to keep a manual can opener on hand in case your power is out.  

In areas prone to flooding, food should be stored on shelves that will not come into contact with contaminated flood water.  

The USDA posts tips for consumers whose food has come in contact with flood waters or other potential contaminants on its website.