Keep food safe if the power goes out, Health Unit urges

SIMCOE, OCTOBER 29, 2012 – As people brace themselves for the heavy wind and rain storm in the forecast, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is reminding homeowners, restaurant owners and operators of other food premises that power outages can pose a threat to the safety of food supplies.

Without electrical power, freezers and refrigerators will lose the ability to store foods at safe temperatures. Foods stored in freezers need to be held at -18°C or less, and fridges must be at 4°C or less, to hinder the growth of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms.

“Food that is not kept at a safe temperature is one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses, also known as food poisoning,” explained Sandy Stevens, Program Coordinator for the Health Unit’s Healthy Environment Team. “Keeping the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible during a power outage is important to keep the food within a safe temperature range for as long as possible.”

A refrigerator without power should keep food cool for about four to six hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer without power will keep items frozen for about 2 days.  A half full freezer will keep items frozen for about 1 day.

Even after the power has been restored, the Health Unit encourages people to check the temperature of their perishable foods, consider how long it may have been out of the safe temperature range, and err on the side of caution.

“If a fridge or freezer has been without power for an extended period of time, and you are unsure about the safety of your perishable foods, discard them,” added Stevens. “The general rule for food safety is, when in doubt, throw it out.”

The Health Unit offers other helpful tips to ensure your food remains safe during a power outage:

  • Note the time the power outage started in order to track how long your refrigerator(s) and freezer(s) have been without power; knowing this will help you determine which foods may be safe to eat and which ones are not.
  • Place perishable items such as meats, dairy and seafood in the coldest section of the fridge while the power is out.  Better yet, meats and seafood may be stored in the freezer.
  • Throw out perishable foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and leftovers if they have been at temperatures above 4°C for more than two hours.
  • Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat if it still contains ice crystals or is at 4°C or below. You will have to evaluate each item separately.
  • Ice inside fridges and freezers should help keep them cold.
  • Contact your doctor or pharmacist for information about proper storage of medication that requires refrigeration, such as insulin.   

For more information, local residents can contact the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit at 519-426-6170.

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Media contact:
Sandy Stevens
Program Coordinator, Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3216 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623
sandy.stevens@hnhu.org