How to handle food following the PG&E power shutoff


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RED BLUFF — With power restoration in nearly complete in Northern California following the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff, people may be wondering if it is safe to keep any of the food items in their refrigerator or freezer.

The following food safety tips were gathered from the United States Food and Drug Administration, Foodsafety.gov, Red Cross and United States Department of Agriculture websites:

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours, or 24 hours if it is half full, if the door remains closed.

Buy dry or block ice to keep the 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 keep an 18 cubic foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days.

If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, it is important that each item is thoroughly cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, discard it.

Determine the safety of your food

If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40 degrees or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.

Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers that have been at temperatures above 40 degrees for two hours or more. Perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses

Consuming dangerous foodborne bacteria will usually cause illness within one to three days of eating the contaminated food. However, sickness can also occur within 20 minutes or up to six weeks later. Although most people will recover from a foodborne illness within a short period of time, some can develop chronic, severe or even life-threatening health problems.

Foodborne illness can be confused with other illnesses that have similar symptoms. The symptoms of foodborne illness can include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain or Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and body ache. If you think that you or a family member has a foodborne illness, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Foodsafety.gov recommends people never taste food to determine it’s safety; when in doubt, throw it out. Each item in a fridge or freezer should be evaluated separately.

During an outage

Shelf-stable foods, such as canned goods and powdered or boxed milk can be eaten cold or heated on the grill. Be sure to keep a hand-held can opener for an emergency.

If it looks like the power outage will be for more than two to four hours, pack the important items in your refrigerator, such as milk, dairy products, meats, fish, poultry, eggs and left-overs into your cooler surrounded by ice. Keep the temperature at or below 40 degrees and throw away any items that have been exposed to temperatures greater than 40 degrees for more than two hours. For an outage longer than a day, prepare another cooler with ice for the items in your freezer.

According to the USDA, food in the freezer, if it thawed or partially thawed, may be safely refrozen if the food still contains ice crystals or is at 40  degrees or below. Be sure to discard any items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices. Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat.

Before an outage

Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case the power goes out. If your normal water supply is contaminated or unavailable, the melting ice will supply drinking water.

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. Group food together in the freezer. This helps the food stay cold longer.

Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.

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