USDA Tips on How to Keep Your Food Safe During a Winter Storm

USDA Tips on How to Keep Your Food Safe During a Winter Storm
Image: Pixabay
January 22, 2016

As snow and ice bear down on the Mid-Atlantic region, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing food safety tips for consumers.

Steps to follow in advance of losing power:

  • Be aware of temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer. The former should be 40°F or lower, while the latter should be 0°F or lower.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes so don't overfill the containers.
  • Group foods together in the freezer—this 'igloo' effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • On your trip to the grocery, purchase a few days' worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.
  • Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately—this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

  • Know what you want before you open the fridge. Keeping the door open longer than necessary will drastically cut down on how long your food will be kept safe. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • To avoid contamination from thawing juices, keep meat and poultry away from other items.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage.
  • The snow on the ground will keep your food safe, right? Wrong. Putting items outside could attract wild animals or thaw when the sun comes out.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

  • Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
  • And remember--when in doubt, throw it out!

Find more food safety tips at