Is your food safe to eat after Hurricane Irma power loss?

Health officials: Safe bet is to toss it; Restaurants, stores follow that rule

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With power still out for hundreds of thousands of Northeast Florida residents, many are likely starting to wonder if they can still eat what was left in their refrigerator or freezer when the electricity cut off.

The short answer is probably not.

According to Lindsay Malone, R.D., of Cleveland Clinic, the amount of time that food has before it goes bad during an outage might be shorter than most people think.

“As long as the time is less than four hours, the food inside your refrigerator should be okay,” said Malone. “For the freezer it’s more like 24 hours.”

Officials with the Florida Health Department – Duval County said the mantra to remember is “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Even many local grocery stores and restaurants are following that advice, tossing out the food from their freezers by the cart-load.

The risk of food poisoning is heightened when refrigerators and ovens are inoperable. Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. 

The Red Cross also suggested that coolers filled with ice can preserve food slightly longer during a power outage.

Officials suggested having a digital thermometer to check the internal temperatures of food to ensure they're cold enough to use safely.

Other food safety tips:

Wash hands frequently with soap and running water

  • After using the bathroom 
  • Before handling food 
  • When switching between raw and cooked foods 
  • After eating, drinking, or smoking 
  • After changing a diaper 
  • Whenever hands become contaminated 
  • Between changing gloves 
  • Make sure to keep soap and paper towels at all handwashing sinks 

Wear gloves properly

  • Wash hands and put on new gloves before handling food 
  • Never re-use or wash gloves 
  • Change gloves once they become soiled or discolored 
  • Change gloves when switching between raw and cooked foods 
  • Change gloves whenever hands become contaminated 
  • Always wash hands before changing into a new pair of gloves 
  • Remove gloves before eating, drinking, smoking, or taking out the garbage 

Thaw foods in the refrigerator before cooking, serving

  • Keep cold foods at 41 degrees F or below 

Cook foods thoroughly (for a minimum of 15 seconds as indicated below) 

  • Chicken and other poultry and stuffed meats -- 165 degrees F 
  • Ground beef and other ground meats -- 155 degrees F 
  • Pork, beef, eggs, and other meats -- 145 degrees F 
  • Once cooked, keep hot foods at 140 degrees F or above 
  • Cool hot foods rapidly to 41 degrees F, or below, within 4 hours of serving

Handling foods

  • Do not touch ready-to-eat foods with bare hands 
  • Use utensils to handle food, whenever possible 

For more information, please contact DOH-Duval at 904.253.1000 or visit www.floridahealth.gov or www.floridadisaster.org

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