Most food service operators will at some time face a power outage as a result of a snowstorm, ice storm, natural disaster or flooding. These emergencies may create a problem with food safety depending on how long they last. During a power failure, bacteria can multiply rapidly in foods held in the temperature danger zone between 4 °C (40 °F) and 60 °C (140° F).
In the case of a power outage, food service operators should consider the following:
- Record the time the power outage starts.
- Discard any food that is in the process of being cooked if it does not reach the proper temperature in the recommended time frame.
- Discontinue all food preparation.
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- Do not put hot food in refrigerators or freezers.
- Ensure that raw meat, poultry and fish are stored in refrigerators separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination.
- It is a good idea to keep an appliance thermometer in you refrigerator or freezer at all times. This will let you know how cold your unit remains during the power outage.
Is My Food Safe…Knowing What to Keep ?
If the refrigerator and freezer doors have remained closed to minimize temperature loss, many refrigerated and frozen foods may be salvageable depending on the duration of the outage. Follow these guidelines and remember- “When in doubt, throw it out!!!”
The following foods are often associated with food-borne illness and should be discarded if stored above 4° C for two hours or more:
- raw or cooked meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and luncheon meats
- dairy products including milk, sour cream, yogurt or soft cheeses
- desserts containing dairy products such as cheesecake or cream fillings.
- casseroles, stews, soups and sandwich fillings
- homemade mayonnaise, mayo type dressings or creamy salad dressings
- cooked pasta, potatoes or rice
- prepared salads made with mayo or vinegar base
Foods that can be stored above 4° C for 24 hours to several days include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- mustard, ketchup, relishes, olives, jams, jellies, barbeque sauce and salad dressings (vinaigrette type)
- butter and margarine
- hard or processed cheeses- ie cheddar, parmesan or swiss
- fresh herbs and spices
- bread, rolls, cakes and muffins
- fruit pies
Frozen foods in a fully stocked freezer can stay frozen for up to two days, in a half stocked freezer about one day. Keep the freezer door closed as much as possible. Foods may partially or completely thaw before power can be restored. The following will help you decide what to keep and what to discard:
- Discard any foods where the temperature has been above 4° C for longer than two hours.
- Food that still contains ice crystals, feels cold as if refrigerated and is below 4°C may be refrozen. Refreezing may affect product quality.
- Ice cream, frozen dinners, and desserts that have thawed should be discarded.
- Fish and shellfish should not be refrozen if they have completely thawed.
By Suzanne Berryman, R.D.
Health Care Manager,
Sysco Food Services of Atlantic Canada
Power Failure Food Safety Tips. Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. www.crfa.ca
Food Safety After a Power Outage. NS Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. http://www.gov.ns.ca/nsaf/foodsafety/factsht/powerout.shtml.
Saving Foods When My Power is Off. Fact Sheet. http://www.gov.ns.ca/nsaf/foodsafety/pdfs/poweroff.pdf