Iowa winters bring with them cold, snow, and the occasional loss of power. Try these food safety tips for when your power goes out:
Make sure you have a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. When the power goes out, check your thermometers for safe temperatures: refrigerator below 40°F, and 0°F or lower for freezer.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed. When kept closed, a refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours; a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours; a half-full freezer will hold its temperature for 24 hours.
Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags now. These can be used in the refrigerator and freezer to help food stay cold and be a source of fresh water for you to use.
When in doubt, throw it out. Any perishable food that has been above 40°F for two hours or more should be thrown out. Frozen food with ice crystals may be safely refrozen.
Source: Food Poisoning Bulletin
Convenience means different things to different people; to many it means saving time. Food delivered by mail is a popular, convenient gift idea. Because ordering food through the mail may cause concern about food safety, it’s imperative to develop some mental checklists for how both food and packaging should look when it arrives. This is especially true for perishable foods that must be handled in a timely manner to prevent foodborne illness.
The following will help determine if the foods have been handled properly.
- Make sure the company meets state or federal requirements for mail delivery.
- Make sure the company sends perishable foods with a cold source, such as dry ice.
- Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled “Keep Refrigerated” to alert the recipient. Food should be delivered as quickly as possible – ideally, overnight.
- Open packaged food marked “Keep Refrigerated” immediately and check temperature of items:
- The food should arrive frozen or with ice crystals still visible or refrigerator cold—below 41°F as measured with a calibrated food thermometer.
- Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it still is a perishable product and must be kept cold.
- If perishable food arrives warm — above 41°F, notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste suspect food. Responsible companies will reimburse you or send another package.
- Don’t have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know it will arrive on a work day and there is refrigerator space available to keep it cold.
If mail order foods arrive in a questionable condition, the following organizations can provide help.
- USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline, weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (1-888-674-6854) (meat, poultry, and egg products)
- FDA Outreach and Information Center 1-888-723-3366 weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (any foods other than meat, poultry, and egg products)
Research suggests the color of meat and its juices are not accurate indicators of doneness. Ground beef may turn brown before it has reached the temperature at which bacteria are destroyed.
Preparing hamburger patties and relying on visual signs such as color to determine doneness increases the risk and likelihood of food poisoning.
A hamburger cooked to 160°F (165°F for ground poultry) measured with a food thermometer throughout the patty, is safe — regardless of color.
Source: Food Safety and Inspection Service
Hot or Cold?
Warm weather and outdoor celebrations increase foodborne illnesses. The most important principle of keeping food safe is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Bacteria grow best between temperatures of 40°F and 140°F so it is essential to keep food out of this temperature range.
For warm weather travel, it is best to transport chilled foods.
- Refrigerate or freeze the food overnight.
- For a cold source, bring frozen gel-packs or freeze some box drinks.
- The drinks will thaw and keep your meal cold at the same time.
If you are keeping hot foods hot while traveling, you can use the new insulated casserole dishes, which will keep food hot for an hour or so. Use a food thermometer and follow the new recommendations for safely cooking meat, including grilling. Take the temperature in the thickest part of the meat without the thermometer touching bone while it is still on the grill. When it comes to safely grilling meat, remember these three numbers:
- 145°F for all whole meats PLUS three minutes rest time (This is a new recommendation for pork.)
- 160°F for ground meats
- 165°F for all poultry (including ground poultry)
Hot or cold, plan ahead: decide what you are going to eat, how it will be prepared, and how you will transport and store it.
- Pack safely: use a cooler with a cold source if picnicking, camping, or boating; pack foods in the frozen state with a cold source if hiking or backpacking.
- Keep raw foods separate from other foods.
- Never bring meat or poultry products without a cold source.
- Toss leftover food unless your cooler has enough ice to maintain foods below 40°F.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food.
- Pack cold beverages separately from food to prevent food being exposed to frequent opening/closing of cooler.
- Never use the ice used for cooling for consumption.
Adapted from USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS)