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Keeping Food Safe in an Emergency

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A blizzard or loss of power from weather-related causes could put the safety of food in your home at risk. Learn the "ABCDs" of emergency food safety to reduce possible food loss and the risk of foodborne illness.

ABCD'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. When the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. This will maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if the door stays closed. A full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours if the door stays closed (24 hours if it's half full).
  • Be prepared for an emergency by having items on hand that don't require refrigeration and can be eaten cold.
  • Consider what you can do ahead of time to store your food safely in an emergency. 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.
Even if it is very cold out, don't put food from the refrigerator or freezer out in the snow. The outside temperature may change from hour to hour, and direct sunlight may warm the food. What you can do instead is make ice in empty buckets, milk cartons, and cans, and use them in your refrigerator, freezer, or cooler.

You may find it hard to throw away food after an emergency. But remember that if the food is dangerous to eat, you may spend more on medical bills or lost time from work because of a foodborne illness than it would cost to replace the food. 
 
Remember, never taste a food to decide whether it is safe to eat! How the food looks or smells is an unreliable sign of safety. To help you decide what to keep and what needs to be thrown away, see these "When to Save, When to Throw Out" charts for Refrigerated Foods and Frozen Foods.

For a full fact sheet and the answers to frequently asked questions, see Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency.

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