FDA warns of food safety risks during storm-related power outages and flooding

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to be alert to food safety risks that could result from possible power outages and flooding due to storms that currently threaten both coasts of the United States.

"Foods that are inadequately refrigerated during storm-related power outages, and foods or bottled water contaminated by flood waters, present a potential health risk to consumers," said Robert E. Brackett, Ph.D., Director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Consumers may want to look up FDA's advice on how to confront such risks, which is available on the FDA website."

Some of the safety steps recommended by the FDA and posted at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fsdisas.html include:

In advance of storm-related power outages and flooding:

  • Make or purchase ice to keep food cold in refrigerators and freezers in case of a power outage.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Have ice or gel packs ready for use in coolers.
  • Keep a supply of bottled water stored where it will be safe from flooding.
  • Purchase an appliance thermometer to monitor refrigerator and freezer temperatures. Make sure your freezer is at or below 0ºF and the refrigerator is at or below 40ºF.

In the event of a power outage:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours, and a half-full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 24 hours, if the door remains closed.
  • Buy dry or block ice to keep refrigerators as cold as possible during prolonged power outages. Fifty pounds of dry ice will keep an 18-cubic foot, fully-stocked freezer cold for two days, or a half-stocked freezer of the same size cold for one day.
  • Throw out meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that are at room temperature for more than two hours.

If flooding occurs:

  • Do not eat any food that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Use bottled drinking water that has not come in contact with flood water.
  • Boil tap water to kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. Filter cloudy tap water through clean cloths, or allow it to settle and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.
  • If you cannot boil water, disinfect it by adding 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops) of bleach per gallon of water, stir, and let stand for 30 minutes before use. Use only regular, unscented liquid household bleach. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.
  • Discard food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come in contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap-lids, pull-tops and crimped caps.
  • For powdered or concentrated infant formula, use bottled water or tap water boiled as directed above in areas where local water supplies have been contaminated by flood waters.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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