With Hurricane Sandy threatening to cut power, many people are worried how long their food can last in the refrigerator and freezer without electricity. But, there's other food safety issues that people should be concerned about.
The USDA has compiled a list of tips to help you sort through what is safe to eat in order to avoid food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses in the event of a power outage.
The top three things to remember are:
Meat, poultry, fish and eggs should stay at or below 40 degrees F and frozen food should remain below 0 degrees F.
If you keep your refrigerator up, you will be able to keep your food cold for up to four hours. A full freezer will keep its temperature for at least 48 hours if full, 24 hours if half full.
Putting food together in your fridge and freezer can help keep it cold, the FDA points out.
The FDA also said coolers can help keep refrigerated food keep cold once the power cuts out.
Make or buy dry or block ice while you can. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic foot full freezer for two days.
You'll have to discard most foods in your fridge, but hard cheeses -- including Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano - butter or margarine; opened fruit juices; opened can fruits; Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates; most spreads that do not include milk products; breads; pies; and raw vegetables may be safe even if not kept cold. For a full list of foods, check out FoodSafety.gov's list.
If the item has ice crystals and feels as cold as it had been refrigerated, you can refreeze hard cheeses; breads, rolls, muffins, cakes without custard fillings; fruit juice; vegetable juice; cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling; casseroles - pasta, rice based; flour, cornmeal, nuts; breakfast items including waffles, pancakes, bagels; and frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods). However, most food will have to be thrown out if it has thawed for over two hours and is over 40 degrees F. A checklist can be found at FoodSafety.gov.
Stock up on foods that can be eaten cold or heated with a gas stove.
Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods should all be safe to eat in case of an emergency.
Have a stock of ready-to-use baby formula and pet food if you need it.
Food tainted by flood water, which contains bacteria, is not safe
Throw away any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is a possibility it touched flood water. This includes screw-cap bottles, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Food in cardboard boxes is not safe.
Any cans that are swollen, leaking, punctured, rusted or crushed so badly they cannot be stacked should also be discarded.
Remove labels on cans that are waterproof because they can contain dirt and bacteria.
Wash all the cans with soap and water. Hot water is best if available. If possible, place them in boiling water for two minutes or a solution made from 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach to one gallon of drinking water for 15 minutes. Air dry cans for at least 1 hour before opening or storing them. Use salvaged food as soon as possible, and mark which cans were cleaned and sanitized with a pen.