Power outages are inevitable, so prepare accordingly.
- Use refrigerator and freezer thermometers and keep temperature logs. Maintain refrigeration temperatures at or below 4°C (40 °F) and the freezer at or below
-18°C (0 °F).
- Know where you can get dry or block ice.
- Keep extra coolers on hand.
- Store a few extra days of non-TCS ready-to-eat foods on hand in the dry stock area. These foods will not require any cooking or refrigeration.
- If you have advance warning of an impending storm, freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately and group food items together (poultry with poultry, etc.). In the event they thaw during a power outage, the juices won’t cause cross-contamination.
DURING THE OUTAGE
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Opening and closing the door allows cold air to escape, so the food will spoil 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. Ultimately, checking the temperature is the only way to know for certain if the food is safe. If in doubt, throw it out!
- 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 and open-air units with insulated refrigeration blankets, and keep covered throughout the power outage.
- Use back-up generators to keep refrigerators and freezers running during a power outage.
WHEN POWER IS RESTORED
- Check temperatures inside your cold units. Product temperatures must be checked to determine safety. Refrigerated items must be 4°C (40 °F) or below and frozen food must be thawed and used within the proper guidelines if it has begun to defrost. Check every package to determine its safety; you can’t rely on appearance or odour. If the cold food is 4°C (40 °F) or below, it is safe to cook.
- Determine how long power was out. If the power was out for no more than four hours, refrigerated food should be safe if the doors were kept closed. However, it’s still imperative that you take the temperature of the product to make a determination. Cold food must be 4°C (40 °F) or below.
- Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 4°C (40 °F) 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 not kept sufficiently refrigerated or frozen may cause foodborne illness and/or death if consumed, even after they are thoroughly cooked.
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, and potential litigation fees – and it will help keep your guests safe.
Francine L. Shaw is President of Savvy Food Safety, Inc. (formerly Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.) which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, food safety education, food safety inspections, crisis management training, writing norovirus policies for employees, writing norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. The Savvy Food Safety team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos, and convenience stores and has helped numerous clients prevent foodborne illnesses. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News, Food Management Magazine and Food Service Consultants Society International.