With Hurricane Sandy leaving millions of people without power, it raises the question of "what do we do?" Perhaps the most pressing matter for many families is the issue of food. These tips can help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, and it can stand as a useful guideline for families to be prepared for future events.
Without power in the house, people must go without use of the refrigerator, freezer, microwave, electric can opener, and other electric appliances. Lack of power to fridges and freezers can lead to food safety issues that people should be aware of, especially before consuming any items in an unpowered fridge or freezer.
First, it is helpful to have an appliance thermometer in the fridge and the freezer to keep tabs on the internal temperatures. To ensure safe-to-eat foods, a refrigerator needs to be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and a freezer should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The best way to maintain these temperatures is to keep the doors closed as much as possible. A fridge will keep food cold for up to four hours with the door closed, while a full freezer will hold the temperature up to 48 hours (24 hours for half-full). After these times have passed, it's best to discard any remaining food.
Keep in mind that food in fridge and freezer doors will warm sooner than shelved food. Any perishable food that has been in a fridge or freezer above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two or more hours should be thrown away, including meat, poultry, fish, soft cheese, milk, eggs, and leftovers.
Foods that you may not eat immediately - like the perishables mentioned above - can be put in the freezer to keep them cold longer. Packing food tightly together in the freezer will help lengthen the time of safe consumption.
Food should be stored on high surfaces to avoid contact with contaminated water in the event of flooding. Eating food that has touched floodwater can increase the risk of food-borne illness. Containers sealed with screw caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps are not waterproof and may be susceptible to contamination. Wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers should also be discarded if they came in contact with floodwater.
It is advisable to put together a "survival kit" for emergencies. The kit should include first aid supplies, bottled water, a flashlight, non-perishable foods, and a non-electric can opener, for starters.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a word of advice to keep in mind for consuming food during power outages: "When in doubt, throw it out."
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