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Power Outages or Emergencies and Food Safety

Written by Janice M on . Posted in Food & Beverage, Hygiene & Quality Control

In Africa, power outages (euphemistically known as load shedding) are common. Other disasters, such as floods, more severe storms or large wildfires are also on the increase, mostly due to man’s intrusion and global warming. How do you plan for and handle food safety in the midst of a blackout?

9 Most Helpful Planning Tips for Power Outages / Load Shedding:

  1. Make sure that your fridge and freezer are really cold. A fridge needs to run at or below 4°C and a freezer at -18°C.
  2. Invest in a fridge and a freezer thermometer, so at any time and after a power outage, you can tell when the temperature has been exceeded and food safety compromised.
  3. Freeze extra large bottles of water and ice packs to use as ice blocks in the fridge when the power goes out. This can also be used as drinking water in an emergency.
  4. Packing food inside large plastic containers in the freezer and grouping them together will help to insulate them for longer during power outages.
  5. If your fridge or freezer are chest models, keep an old blanket / towels nearby to throw over the front of the door, to further insulate the closure.
  6. If you have advance warning of power outages, place the freezable food that is in the fridge into the freezer, as the freezer will stay cold for much longer than the fridge will.
  7. Find out who stocks dry ice blocks near you, you can also place this in a fridge and freezer to keep it cold for longer.
  8. Store food on shelves, so that they don’t readily come into contact with defrosted liquids or flood water.
  9. Keep a good supply of dry goods available, eg tinned food, boxed dairy products.
A variety of fridge / freezer thermometers are available from Selectech.

What to do for food safety when the power goes out:

  1. Place the frozen water bottles or ice packs in the fridge and then try not to open the door.
  2. Food will stay cold in the fridge for about 4 hours if the fridge is unopened, this will be extended if there are ice blocks in the fridge.
  3. Place higher value items in cooler boxes with ice bricks packed on top.
  4. The freezer will keep food chilled for about 48 hours if the door is kept closed.
  5. Monitor the temperature with the fridge thermometer. Companies will find it easier to use a temperature data logger, which can remotely monitor the temperature.
  6. If the period of outage is going to be extended, add some dry ice, if possible.
  7. If you do not have access to safe water, the water should be filtered and boiled or disinfected before use.

NB – when to discard food:

  1. The general rule is : discard perishable food that has been above 4°C for two or more hours.
  2. Frozen food that is -18°C or still contains ice crystals is safe to refreeze or cook.
  3. If you are unsure, you can check the internal temperature of the food with a probe thermometer.
  4. Consult the Food Charts below to see which foods are regarded as perishable.
  5. Perishable food that has not been kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may be infected with bacteria that you cannot always smell or see and may cause illness if eaten, even if well cooked.
  6. Clean and sanitize shelves and surfaces thoroughly.
A variety of thermometers are obtainable from Selectech. Please email us with your requirements and we will suggest a suitable thermometer and pricing. Planning and learning some basic food safety points will help you to be better prepared and more confident when facing a power outage. Image Credit: weebly.com

Power outages and safety of different refrigerated and frozen food types

1. When should you throw out refrigerated food:

After a power outage, you need to decide which refrigerated food you should keep and which you should dispose of, preferably to compost and packaging recycling, or the dustbin. When in doubt, refer to the No. 1 rule: The general rule is : discard perishable food that has been above 4°C for two or more hours.

Power outages and safety of different refrigerated food types

Food Categories Specific Foods Held above 4°C for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish or seafood; soya meat substitutes Discard
Thawing meat or poultry Discard
Salads: meat tuna, prawn, chicken or egg salad Discard
Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard
Lunch-meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Pizza – with any topping Discard
Canned hams labeled “Keep refrigerated” Discard
Canned meats and fish, opened Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard
CHEESE Soft cheeses: blue, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, ricotta, mozzarella, Edam Discard
Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Provolone, Romano Safe
Processed cheeses Safe
Low-fat cheeses Discard
Grated cheeses Discard
Grated Parmesan, Romano in can or jar Safe
DAIRY Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yoghurt, eggnog, soy milk Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
EGGS Fresh eggs, hard cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard
Custards and puddings, quiche Discard
FRUITS Fresh fruits, cut Discard
Fruit juices, opened Safe
Canned fruits, opened Safe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe
SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if above 10°C for over 8 hours
Peanut butter Safe
Jam, relish, taco sauce, mustard, tomato sauce, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces, oyster sauce Discard
Opened vinegar based dressings Safe
Opened creamy based dressings Discard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard
BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS Breads, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas Safe
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough Discard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard
Fresh pasta Discard
Cheesecake Discard
Breakfast foods – waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe
PIES, PASTRY Pastries, cream filled Discard
Pies – custard, cheese filled or chiffon, quiche Discard
Pies, fruit Safe
VEGETABLES Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices Safe
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard
Vegetables, raw Safe
Vegetables, cooked, tofu Discard
Vegetable juice, opened Discard
Baked potatoes Discard
Commercial garlic in oil Discard
Potato salad Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard
* Table adapted from USDA – Keeping food safe during an emergency

2. When should you throw out frozen food:

Food can stay safe in the freezer for around 48 hours and then can safely be refrozen. The texture of the food may be more mushy, but it will be safe to eat. When in doubt, refer to the No. 2 rule: Frozen food that is -18°C or still contains ice crystals is safe to refreeze or cook.

Power outages and safety of different frozen food types

Food Categories Specific Foods Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed and held above -18°C for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Beef, veal, lamb, pork and ground meats Refreeze Discard
Poultry and ground poultry Refreeze Discard
Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings) Refreeze Discard
Casseroles, stews, soups Refreeze Discard
Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavour loss. Discard
DAIRY Milk Refreeze. May be some texture loss. Discard
Eggs (out of shell) and egg products Refreeze Discard
Ice cream, frozen yoghurt Discard Discard
Cheese (soft and semi-soft) Refreeze. May be some texture loss. Discard
Hard cheeses Refreeze Refreeze
Shredded cheeses Refreeze Discard
Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses Refreeze Discard
Cheesecake Refreeze Discard
FRUITS Juices Refreeze Refreeze. Discard if mould, yeasty smell or sliminess develops.
Home or commercially packaged Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavour loss. Refreeze. Discard if mould, yeasty smell or sliminess develops.
VEGETABLES Juices Refreeze Discard after held above -18°C for 6 hours
Home or commercially packaged Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavour loss. Discard after held above -18°C for 6 hours
BREADS, PASTRIES Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings) Refreeze Refreeze
Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling Refreeze Discard
Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough Refreeze. Some quality loss may occur. Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.
OTHER Casseroles – pasta, rice based Refreeze Discard
Flour, cornmeal, nuts Refreeze Refreeze
Breakfast items – waffles, pancakes, bagels Refreeze Refreeze
Frozen meals, entrees, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods Refreeze Discard
* Table adapted from USDA – Keeping food safe during an emergency

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