OKC County Health Department Offers Food Safety Tips During Power Outages

Tuesday, August 9th 2011, 4:43 pm
By: News 9


OKLAHOMA CITY -- Due to Monday night's storm, power outage continue to be a problem in some parts of the metro area. The Oklahoma City County Health Department is reminding people that unrefrigerated fresh and frozen food can spoil quickly during hot weather.

"People need to be aware of how long food will keep when the power is out," says OCCHD Public Health Protection Chief Phil Maytubby. "You can't rely on appearance or odor to tell whether the food is still safe to eat. And people should never taste food to find out whether it's gone bad. That could be a recipe for a case of a foodborne illness such as salmonella poisoning."

According to the health department, foodborne bacteria can begin to multiply in perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and mayonnaise after it's been kept above 40 degrees for more than two hours. Generally, if the power is off for four hours or less, food in an unopened refrigerator will stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and should be fine to use. A full freezer will keep food at an acceptable temperature for about 48 hours if the freezer door remains closed.

Frozen food is usually safe to cook or refreeze, if the power hasn't been off any longer than 24 hours. The health department suggests that if you have an appliance thermometer in your freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on, if it reads 40 degrees or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If you don't have an appliance thermometer, check each item individually. If the food still contains ice crystals it's safe to refreeze or cook.

It's important that each item is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria are destroyed. However, the health department says even thorough cooking may not destroy all the bacteria in perishable food that's been left warmer than 40 degrees for longer than two hours. So if you take a chance and eat it, you may become seriously ill.

The United States Department of Agriculture also provides guidance for various types of food, See a complete list here.