Power outages are bound to happen, as no one is immune to the havoc that nature can create from time to time, so it’s important to prepare for this eventuality so you know what to do when the power goes off. It’s important to remember that loss of power can happen at any time of day or night, putting your food at risk. The best way to make certain that your food stays safe is to have a plan in place prior to the outage.
Create a plan to keep food safe if the power goes out and make certain your entire team knows where to find it.
Always keep refrigerator and freezer thermometers in the refrigeration equipment and maintain temperature logs. Maintaining this information will enable you to ensure that the refrigeration is working properly before the power outage. Maintain refrigeration temperatures at or below 39⁰F and the freezer at or below 0⁰F.
• Know where you can get dry or block ice.
• Keep extra coolers on hand.
• Keep a few extra days of ready-to-eat foods on hand in the dry stock area. These foods will not require any cooking or refrigeration.
• Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately and group food items together (poultry with poultry, whole muscle meat with whole muscle meat, ground meat with ground meat, etc.) in the freezer. In the event they begin to thaw during a power outage, the juices won’t cause cross-contamination.
• Purchase insulated refrigeration blankets for mobile refrigeration or any open-air units.
During the Outage
Cold temperatures will slow the growth of harmful bacteria, so it is critical to keep foods at safe temperatures to reduce the risk of foodborne illness or even death.
• Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Opening and closing the door allows cold air to escape which means the food will spoil much more rapidly. The refrigerator will keep food cold for approximately four hours, and a full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if unopened.
• Use ice (dry or block, ice cubes, and frozen containers of water/gel packs) to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible.
• Cover mobile refrigeration units with insulated refrigeration blankets, and keep covered throughout the power outage. Cover open-air units with the appropriate insulated blankets as well.
• Use back-up generators, if available, to keep refrigerators and freezers running – and to protect the safety of your refrigerated and frozen foods – during a power outage.
When Power is Restored
Before serving any food after a power outage, check the temperatures inside your cold units.
• If the freezer thermometer reads 41⁰F or below, food is safe and may be refrozen. If you did not have a thermometer in the freezer, check every package to determine its safety; you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 41⁰F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook. The quality of the item may be affected but it will be safe if you follow these guidelines.
• If the power was out for no more than four hours, refrigerated food should be safe as long as the doors were kept closed. However, it is still imperative that you take the temperature of the product to make such a determination. Cold food must be 41⁰F or below. Check your temperature log to see what the temperature was prior to the power being disrupted. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 41⁰F for two hours or more. If you are uncertain, the product must be discarded. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
• Be aware that perishable foods that are not kept sufficiently refrigerated or frozen may cause foodborne illness and/or death if consumed, even after they are thoroughly cooked.
Golden Rule: When in Doubt, Throw it Out
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to food safety, you can never be too prepared or too cautious. Plan ahead, train your team, purchase the necessary supplies and know where they are stored. This type of preparedness can save you thousands of dollars in product, wages, insurance dollars, and potential litigation fees. Plus, most importantly, it will go a long way in keeping your guests safe.
About the Author
Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more.