Did you know that a flood, fire, natural disaster or the loss of power from high winds, snow or ice could jeopardize the safety of your food? Knowing how to determine if food is safe and how to keep food safe will help minimize the potential loss of food and reduce the risk of food-borne illness. The Carroll County Health Department reminds residents on staying healthy and safe during an emergency.

ABCDs of keeping food safe in an emergency


A: Always keep meat, poultry, fish and eggs refrigerated at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit and frozen food at or below 0 degrees. This may be difficult when the power is out.

First and foremost, note the time that the power goes out. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. Make sure to monitor the temperature of your units every four hours with a thermometer. According to the USDA, the refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot-full freezer for two days. Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

If the food in the refrigerator or freezer has been above 41 degrees for more than four hours, discard all potentially hazardous foods, which are foods that require refrigeration. When in doubt, throw it out! For a list of food items that may need to be discarded, check out the USDA website URL at the end of this article.

B: Be prepared for an emergency by having items on hand that don't require refrigeration and can be eaten cold or heated on the outdoor grill. Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water and canned goods should be part of a planned emergency food supply. Make sure you have ready-to-use baby formula for infants and pet food. Remember to use these items and replace them from time to time. Be sure to keep a hand-held can opener for an emergency.

C: Consider what you can do ahead of time to store your food safely in an emergency. If you live in a location that could be affected by a flood, plan your food storage on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water. Coolers are a great help for keeping food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours — have a couple on hand along with frozen gel packs or ice. If you live in a rural area where power tends to stay out for longer periods of time, invest in a generator. When your freezer is not full, keep items close together and/or freeze gallon water jugs — this helps the food stay cold longer.

D: Digital, dial or instant-read food thermometers and appliance thermometers will help you know if the food is at safe temperatures. Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. When the power is out, an appliance thermometer will always indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer no matter how long the power has been out. If you're not sure a particular food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer.

Be prepared and be ready. For more information, visit the USDA.gov website, http://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Severe_Storms_and_Hurricanes_Guide.pdf or the Carroll County Health Department at http://www.carrollhealthdepartment.dhmh.md.gov.

Cheryl Chaney is program manager of Community Hygiene at the Carroll County Health Department.