Food Safety Tips During an Emergency

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Emergency situations can happen at any time. Think about what has happened in the last year with COVID. Think about what has happened in Texas with the power grids. Can you survive for a week under dire circumstances if your power was out or the food supply is drastically reduced? It’s not only important to have food and water stored in order to get through the emergency, but to also know food safety tips, especially if you don’t have the power to keep your food at the necessary temperature to keep it safe to eat. 

Emergency Food Supply

Before we delve into how to keep your food safe during an emergency, it’s important to discuss your food supply and what you should have incase of an emergency. 

Here’s the deal, it took 4 days before executive orders were signed and put into place to send relief to Texas. With that being said, some people didn’t have access to food or water or even heat for 4 days or longer! Opinions vary greatly when it comes to the amount of food and water you should have on hand. At the very minimum, you should have at least a week’s worth of extra food and water, however, I would recommend having at least a month and try to ultimately have up to six months available. In case you missed this post, Canned Foods I Highly Recommend You Store

A Clean Kitchen Is Awesome

Do you love a clean kitchen as much as I do? We never know when we will lose water or power during and after a disaster. It’s critical we stay on top of keeping our kitchens clean and sanitary. I’m sure most of you do, but there may be a few who need to be more aware of disasters and how they may affect their ability to properly clean countertops, faucets, stovetops, microwaves, refrigerators, freezers, and more.

We need to be one step ahead of the storm, so to speak. If I see dark clouds heading my way, I start doing ANY laundry I might have sitting in the hamper. I’m lucky I have several ways to do laundry after a disaster, but I like being ahead of the game. Please stock cleaning supplies, those will be the first to disappear in the grocery stores after an unforeseen emergency. Don’t forget some bleach, we will need it if the sewers back up and “stuff” ends up on your floors.

Food Safety Tips During an Emergency

What Food To Store for Emergencies

For the most part, I would say to store what you eat. However, what you eat may not be able to withstand not having electricity or the ability to cook your food. For that reason, I also recommend storing emergency foods. They may not be the most appetizing choices, but they will get you through a tough patch of time. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends having the following foods on hand for emergencies: 

  • Powdered milk in a box
  • Powdered milk in cans (lasts longer)
  • Dried fruit
  • Crackers
  • Potatoes
  • Condensed canned soups
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Canned fruit, juice and vegetables
  • Hard candy
  • Canned nuts
  • Wheat and flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • Soybeans
  • Instant coffee, tea and cocoa
  • Bouillon
  • Pasta and rice
  • Ready-to-eat meals and instant cereals

For longer term, you should also have the following: 

  • Canned and dried meats
  • Beans
  • Whole grains, which store better than flour
  • Spaghetti sauce (for all the dry pasta you have)
  • Spices will bring flavor to meals that are otherwise bland
Read More of My Articles  How To Stock Your Kitchen For Survival

In addition to these foods, don’t forget about food for babies and pets because they are a big part of your family. 

Food Safety Tips

When it comes to emergency situations, it is important to have non-perishable items you can rely on if there’s no electrical power or gas for cooking. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have perishable food in an emergency. If your power goes out, and you have food in your fridge and freezer, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Refrigerator time: If the power goes out and you don’t open the doors to the fridge, you can safely eat food for about 4-hours. 
  • Freezer time: If the power goes out and you don’t open the doors, you can safely eat food from the freezer for up to 48 hours. 
  • Keep the freezer packed: To get the most time possible out of your freezer, keep it as full as possible. The more tightly food is packed, the better it will stay cold for longer periods of time. 
  • Food temperatures: Meat, poultry, fish,and eggs need to be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. So, if the power goes out for longer than the time above and it’s less than 40 degrees outside, you can place your food outside to help save it longer. 
  • Dry Ice: 50 pounds of dry ice can keep your fridge cold enough for two days. 

Refrigerator Food Safety Tips

Once you are no longer able to keep your food cold, here are some steps to take to help determine if you can eat it or not:

  • Meat, Seafood, and Poultry: Anything with meat in it that has been at 40 degrees or hotter for more than two hours needs to be thrown out!
  • Cheeses: If it is a soft cheese, it should be treated exactly the same as the meat above. However, if it is a hard cheese, it is safe until it becomes moldy. 
  • Dairy: Once dairy has been at 40 degrees or higher for two hours, it should be thrown out. Butter and margarine are exceptions to this rule. 
  • Eggs: You should do the same with eggs. They should be thrown out after two hours of being in temperatures at or above 40 degrees. 
  • Casseroles, stews, and soups: If they were refrigerated and contain meat or meat broths, they should be discarded after two hours at or above 40 degrees. 
  • Fruit: Fruit and fruit juices, even if in the refrigerator, are safe until they rot. But, if it has been cut or sliced, it needs to be thrown out after two hours at or above 40 degrees. 
  • Vegetables: Typically, raw vegetables are totally safe to leave out. However, cooked vegetables can become dangerous. Keep raw veggies until they rot and throw out cooked veggies. 
  • Sauces and condiments: Throw out Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and horseradish after 8 hours above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Fish and oyster sauces, hoisin sauce, cream-based dressings, open spaghetti sauce, and Worcestershire sauce should be thrown out after 2 hours at or above 40 degrees. 
  • Pies and pastries: If they are filled with cheese, custard, or are chiffon pies, throw them out. 
  • Miscellaneous: Treat all other miscellaneous items as you would meat that was in the refrigerator. 
Read More of My Articles  Food Shortage: Why Shelves are Empty & What to Do

Freezer Food Safety Tips

If food is in your freezer, it has a whole different set of guidelines to throwing it out. In fact, certain foods can even be refrozen after it reaches a certain temperature. Here are your food safety tips for your freezer food: 

  • Meat, Poultry and Seafood: Again, once this food is at 40 degrees for more than 2 hours, throw it out! However, if it still has ice crystals and feels cold to the touch when your power comes back on, it can be refrozen. 
  • Dairy: As long as it remains cold to the touch, it is safe to consume. If they are only partially thawed, they can be refrozen when the power comes back on. 
  • Fruit and Vegetables: As long as it doesn’t smell, it’s safe to eat. However, once totally thawed for 6 hours, you will want to throw your vegetables out. 
  • Bread: We all throw bread in the freezer. Bread is fine for a while after thawing and can just be thrown back in the freezer after the power comes back on. 
  • Miscellaneous: Things like flour, cornmeal, and nuts can be refrozen when the power turns back on and are good for weeks outside of the freezer. Waffles, pancakes, and bagels can be refrozen when the power comes back on. Discard the following after 2 hours at 40 degrees or above: casseroles, pasta and rice dishes, frozen meals, entrees, pizza, sausage, biscuits, meat pies, and convenience foods. 

Food Safety Rules and Advice

If an emergency happens, there are some rules to keep in mind to ensure you eat food that is safe:

  • NEVER taste food to determine if it is safe! 
  • If food begins to thaw examine it to see if it is too far along in the thawing process to refreeze.
  • You can’t put food in the snow to keep it cold during the day. The sun will warm the food up to above 40 degrees. 
  • If there is a fire, throw all the food away that got near the fire. 
  • In the event of a flood, you should throw out all food that came in contact with the water, including canned goods. 

In case you missed some of my other food preparedness posts, here are some others you may want to check out:

Final Thoughts

When it comes to having enough to eat in an emergency, it’s not just about having the food, but also keeping it at the right temperatures. If you don’t already have one, I would recommend getting a refrigerator/freezer thermometer to check your food in the event of a power outage. Remember, plan for the worst, and hope for the best! Finally, no matter what the tips above stipulate or suggest, if there is any question about the safety of a particular item, plan to follow the adage, “If in doubt, throw it out.” Please keep prepping, we must. May God Bless this world, Linda

Copyright Images: Kitchen Cleaning Concept Deposit photos_132192336_s-2019

5 thoughts on “Food Safety Tips During an Emergency

  • February 28, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    All good to know, Linda.
    There is condensed soup on the list of FEMA recommended foods to store. I would suggest that instead of condensed soup, we store soups that are ready to heat and eat without the addition of water in the event that we only have the water we have stored. I would save that water for other foods like the milk, coffee, tea and hot chocolate and drinking/cleaning!

    That being said, I do keep some condensed soups on the shelf but they would not be the ones I would purchase if I knew a storm was coming in that might disrupt electricity and water.

    Also, because of the issue for time with the refrigerated and frozen foods, my parents always said: eat the refrigerated foods first then the frozen. Of course, that will work in my case only because I keep a minimum of both – being single, feeding only myself! If I had a huge freezer full of meat, veggies and fruit, that would definitely be a different story. Also, when I was growing up, during the winter we lost power occasionally for a day or two and mom & dad always taped up the freezer (a large one) and wrapped it with heavy quilts to maintain the cold. If we had a lot of snow on the ground (and that was generally the case causing the power outage) dad had some forms that he packed with snow and wet down to create “ice” blocks that could then be used if the power was out longer. We were fortunate that we lived right on a river so if we couldn’t pump our water we were able to go to the river and chop through the ice to get water for all our needs. It was tedious and we generally had to let the water sit for hours to allow the sediment to settle but we never were without water.

    Other tips that I would suggest: If you know there is a storm coming your way, fill jars/bottles with water and pack in your freezer in plenty of time to freeze. This will help your freezer and frozen foods stay frozen or cold longer. Refrain from opening the refrigerator and freezer as much as possible – only open when you get things out to cook or make your meals.

    • February 28, 2021 at 4:52 pm

      I love hearing about people like you who don’t just roll up when it gets tough.
      Your folks showed you they way and that’s the way it should be.

    • February 28, 2021 at 5:01 pm

      Hi Leanne, it’s good you were taught the tools to survive the elements. Those of us who had parents that knew we needed skills taught us by example were the best! Life is good when we are self-reliant. Linda

    • March 1, 2021 at 6:34 am

      That brings back memories. My mother would always fill our biggest pots with water and keep them on the stove when a storm was heading our way, so we always had water. These days I have a stash of bottled water and eight of the 5 gallon water containers so if I’m caught out with no notice I still have a month of water on hand. With notice I can fill my WaterBob and our big kitchen pots to extend that time before I have to take some containers down to the river to resupply.

      And I totally agree about soups. I keep condensed soups on hand only for cooking – cream of mushroom, tomato, and cheddar cheese. Otherwise I get the Progresso ready to eat canned soups since it won’t eat into my stored water supply.

      Wanted to add one more option for milk…since the pandemic started I have a supply of ultra-pasteurized boxed milk – it tastes just like regular milk, because it is regular milk, just the natural bacteria in it have been killed so it can last for over a year from packaging with no refrigeration. I don’t have to worry about keeping it cold until I open a box. In my supermarkets it can be found near the powdered milk in the baking aisle.

      • March 1, 2021 at 7:04 am

        Hi Dmwalsh, great tip on the pasteurized milk, it’s a great reminder! Thank you! You know I love hearing you are prepared with water! Linda


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.