SIMCOE, NOVEMBER 25, 2014 – As damaging winds have resulted in numerous power outages throughout the area, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is once again reminding homeowners and operators of food premises that power outages can pose a threat to the safety of food supplies.
Without electrical power, refrigerators and freezers will lose the ability to store foods at safe temperatures. Foods stored in fridges must be at 4°C or less and freezers should store products at -18°C or less to hinder the growth of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause food poisoning.
“In order to help maintain the proper storage temperatures for as long as possible, people should keep their fridge and freezer doors closed as much as they can during a power outage,” says Kris Lutzi, Sr. Public Health Inspector and Emergency Planner for the HNHU. A refrigerator without power should keep food cool for about four to six hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer without power will keep items frozen for about two days. A half full freezer will keep items frozen for about one day.
Even after the power has been restored, the HNHU encourages people to check the temperature of their perishable foods, to consider how long it may have been out of the safe temperature range, and to err on the side of caution. “When in doubt, throw it out” says Lutzi. “If a fridge or freezer has been without power for an extended period of time, and you are unsure about the safety of your perishable foods, discard them.”
The HNHU offers other helpful tips to ensure your food remains safe during a power outage:
- Note the time the power outage started in order to track how long your refrigerator(s) and freezer(s) have been without power; knowing this will help you determine which foods may be safe to eat and which ones are not.
- Place perishable items such as meats, dairy and seafood in the coldest section of the fridge while the power is out. Better yet, meats and seafood may be stored in the freezer.
- Throw out perishable foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, soft cheeses, milk and leftovers if they have been at temperatures above 4°C for more than two hours.
- Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat if it still contains ice crystals or is at 4°C or below. You will have to evaluate each item separately.
- Ice inside fridges and freezers should help keep them cold.
- Contact your doctor or pharmacist for information about proper storage of medication that requires refrigeration, such as insulin.
“Extreme weather events are not new to the area,” says Lutzi. “This sort of weather is a reminder why people should have their own 72 hour Emergency Kits and seriously consider purchasing a generator.” For more information on creating an emergency kit, visit www.emergencymanagementontario.ca.
The Health Unit is also encouraging community resilience and asks that neighbours check on each other especially the elderly and those that need special care.
If anyone is aware of someone still without power they should notify their electricity distribution company given that there may be some localized issues.
For more information on food safety, local residents can contact the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit at 519-426-6170 or visit hnhu.org.
Kris Lutzi, BHS, BASc, CPHI (C)
Sr. Public Health Inspector/Emergency Planner, Environmental Health Team
519-426-6170 Ext. 3261