(08/25/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — With Hurricane Laura expected to make landfall on the coast of Louisiana, many residents in the state may find themselves without electricity. The safety of refrigerated and frozen foods is always a concern following extended power outages.
LSU AgCenter food safety expert Wennie Xu recommends planning ahead to have plenty of ice on hand before the anticipated outage.
You can purchase or make ice and store it in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. You also can freeze gel packs for use in coolers.
“Plan ahead, and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased,” Xu said.
She suggests freezing 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,” she said, adding that grouping foods together also helps the food stay cold longer.
Limiting trips to the refrigerator and freezer while the electricity is out can extend the safety of the food inside, Xu said. You can do this by having coolers for regularly used foods to limit opening the refrigerator if the power will be out for more than four hours.
It’s a good idea to have an appliance thermometer in the freezer to monitor the temperature or have a tip-sensitive meat thermometer on hand to check the temperature of the food.
“If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on,” she said. “If the freezer thermometer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.”
If you don’t have a thermometer, you can check each package of food to determine if it is safe.
“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,” Xu said.
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. Xu recommends discarding any perishable food, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers that have been at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more, or one hour if room temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Perishable foods 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.
A manual can opener is a good tool to have so you can eat shelf-stable canned foods while without electricity.
Xu recommends having a bottle of bleach to disinfect waterproof food containers, including undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches, such as flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches, if they came in contact with any floodwater.
And be prepared with bottled water for every member in the household. Have at least two quarts — and preferably a gallon — of water for each person per day.
“Also, do not forget to pack masks and other PPE if you have to evacuate since we are still in the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.