The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued some food safety recommendations for those who may be impacted by Hurricane Joaquin. On Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service announced that Hurricane Joaquin is now a Category 4 hurricane in central and northwest Bahamas. It is expected to move into the United States during the next couple of days. Some strengthening during the next day or so is forecast, with fluctuations in intensity possible on Friday. The storm’s impact will become clearer as the week progresses. A hurricane watch for the East Coast of the U.S. could be required into the weekend. Residents along the East Coast should pay close attention to the forecast from now through Saturday and Sunday. Be aware that flooding from heavy rain, damaging winds, and tidal flooding will be possible. These types of weather forecasts present the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food. Significant flooding is also possible from this and other weather systems that will be impacting the East Coast though next week. Flooding is possible from South Carolina through Massachusetts, including North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during severe weather events. Steps to follow in advance of losing power:
- Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to make sure that temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees F or lower in the refrigerator and 0 degrees F or lower in the freezer.
- Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes so don’t overfill the containers.
- 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.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
- Group foods together in the freezer. This “igloo” effect helps the food stay cold longer.
- Keep a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.
Steps to follow if the power goes out:
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
- Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross- contamination of thawing juices.
- Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-foot freezer cold for two days.
Steps to follow after a weather emergency:
- Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more.
- Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
- Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below.
- Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
Food safety after a flood
- Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. This would include raw fruits and vegetables, cartons of milk or eggs.
- Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard, or those with screw‐caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Flood waters can enter into any of these containers and contaminate the food inside. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home-canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
- Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel‐type can opener.
This site has compiled a list of what foods should be discarded if a refrigerator has been held at a temperature above 40 degrees F for more than two hours: Refrigerated perishable foods that should be discarded:
- Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood, and soy meat substitutes
- Thawing meat or poultry
- Salads with meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad
- Gravy, stuffing, broth
- Lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef
- Pizza with any topping
- Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated”
- Canned meats and fish, opened
- Casseroles, soups, stews
- Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey, Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco
- Shredded Cheeses
- Low-fat Cheeses
- Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk
- Baby formula, opened
- Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products
- Custards and puddings, quiche
- Fresh fruits, cut
- Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish
- Fish sauces, oyster sauce
- Opened creamy-based dressings
- Spaghetti sauce, opened jar
- Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough
- Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes
- Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette
- Fresh pasta
- Pastries, cream filled
- Pies (custard, cheese filled, or chiffon, and quiche)
- Vegetables: greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged
- Vegetables, cooked; tofu
- Vegetable juice, opened
- Baked potatoes
- Commercial garlic in oil
- Potato salad
- Casseroles, soups, stews
FSIS will provide relevant food safety information as the storm progresses from its Twitter feed at @USDAFoodSafety and on Facebook. The FSIS YouTube video “Food Safety During Power Outages” has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe. The publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage. FSIS also has an infographic covering what to do before, during and after a power outage. Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov or m.AskKaren.gov on a smartphone. The mobile Ask Karen can also be downloaded from the iTunes and Google Play app stores. Consumers can also email, chat with a live representative, or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from the app. To use these features from Mobile Ask Karen, simply choose “Contact Us” from the menu. The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), are available on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET in English and Spanish.
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