Hurricane Sandy has already begun to wreak havoc. Tides are rising and the storm has begun to strike eastern shores with punishing winds and rain. We all know what could very likely come next: Mass power outages. Which means all those refrigerated groceries we've stockpiled -- yeah, like that milk everyone was rushing out to buy yesterday? -- may be doomed to spoil. And then what will we eat?!
Thankfully, there are measures the USDA advises we take to keep our food safe, avoid food poisoning or other foodborne illnesses, and stay satiated in the case that the power goes out. Even those of you who aren't currently hunkered down awaiting Sandy's visit may want to take note for the next time inclement weather strikes your area ...
- When it comes to meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, there's one simple rule: These staples must stay at or below 40 degrees F.
- Frozen foods should remain below 0 degrees F.
- It kinda goes without saying, but sometimes we forget that we should keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
- Make or buy dry or block ice if you can. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for two days. Or try ...
- Frozen water bags: This is a clever trick -- you pour water into plastic bags and stock them in your freezer. That way, it'll keep your food cold a little longer if you lose electricity. And -- little by little it'll melt and you'll have water if you lose that as well.
- Obviously you'll want to have shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods. Make sure you have ready-to-use baby formula for infants and pet food. Also, keep a hand-held can opener around just in case.
- Foods that may be safe even if not kept cold: Hard cheeses -- including Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano -- butter or margarine; opened fruit juices; opened can fruits; fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates; most spreads that do not include milk products; breads; pies; and raw vegetables. For a full list of foods, check out FoodSafety.gov's list.
- If a food item has ice crystals and feels as cold as it had been refrigerated, you can refreeze hard cheeses; breads, rolls, muffins, cakes without custard fillings; fruit juice; vegetable juice; cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling; casseroles; pasta, rice based; flour, cornmeal, nuts; breakfast items including waffles, pancakes, bagels; and frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage, and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods). However, most food will have to be thrown out if it has thawed for over two hours and is over 40 degrees F. A checklist can be found at FoodSafety.gov.
- Food tainted by flood water, which contains bacteria, is not safe.
- Be sure to discard any items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
What's another way you keep your food safe when the power goes out?
Image via A Siegel/Flickr