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USDA offers food safety tips for areas affected by western heat wave

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing food safety recommendations for residents in the U.S. West Coast who may be impacted by power outages from an intense Western heat wave.

The National Weather Service is reporting that there is a strong mid/upper-level ridge of high pressure that is responsible for the heat wave across the western U.S. This system is producing high temperatures that will soar well beyond the century mark, with many locations surpassing 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the Desert Southwest, and perhaps isolated spots exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit, especially today. Some areas in California may experience power outages due to rolling blackouts. Power outages can compromise the safety of stored food. FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness before, during, and after a power outage occurs.

Steps to follow in advance of losing power:

  • Keep appliance thermometers in refrigerators and the freezers to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower in the refrigerator, 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower in the freezer.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator, freezer, or coolers to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
  • Freeze 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.
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Group foods together in the freezer—this ‘igloo’ effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling. 

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross-contamination of thawing juices.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days. 

Steps to follow after a power outage:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
  • Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

FSIS will provide relevant food safety information during the heat wave on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety and Facebook.

FSIS’ YouTube video “Food Safety During Power Outages” has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe. The publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage. FoodSafety.gov also has information about during disasters and emergencies.

If you have questions about food safety during severe weather, or any other food safety topics, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888MPHotline or chat live with a food safety specialist at Ask USDA. These services are available in English and Spanish from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. Answers to frequently asked question can also be found 24/7 at Ask USDA.

This article was released by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.