Hurricane Matthew has already left more than 300,000 Florida residents without power. Without the key utility, those in the storm's path who plan to remain home have been advised to take precautions to preserve food and protect themselves and loved ones against foodborne illnesses.
The National Hurricane Center predicts the Category 3 hurricane, which was making its way through Florida, will likely cause flooding in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York, Virginia, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Residents have been encouraged to be prepared for any power outage, including placing an appliance thermometer in both the freezer and refrigerator, according to recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). This will help determine if food is safe to consume in the event of a power outage.
Zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower in the freezer and 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower in the refrigerator are considered safe temperatures for food. Leftover foods not needed immediately should be frozen along with refrigerator items in case of a power outage. FSIS suggests grouping foods together in the freezer — not only will they stay colder for longer in the case of a power outage, but the practice will also prevent cross-contamination should food start to thaw.
If power is lost, keep the refrigerator door shut for as long as possible. If kept closed, a refrigerator can remain cool for about four hours. Conversely, a full freezer can hold its temperature for about 48 hours — a half-full freezer will hold for 24 hours.
Should a refrigerator go below 40 degrees for more than two hours during a power outage, items to discard include eggs, fresh pasta, pasta, opened baby formula, milk, cream, vegetables, meat, tofu, cheese, fruit, seafood, opened canned meats and salad.
For more items considered unsafe following a power outage, visit the FSIS site. For any questions or concerns regarding food safety during Hurricane Matthew, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline.
“When In doubt, throw it out,” is the primary approach recommended by FSIS if there is any question about what food to safely eat during severe weather events.