If you lose power during the hurricane, University of Florida food safety experts say you need to keep the food in your fridge out of the danger zone, or it could make you sick.
UF experts estimate that most refrigerators without power can keep food safe for about 4 hours, and a freezer will keep food safe for approximately 48 hours. But once perishable food gets warmer than 40 degrees and stays cooler than 140 degrees, it’s in the danger zone. That means it’s at risk of developing foodborne pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli. UF experts say it’s much more likely that the food will just develop spoilage, and you won’t want to eat it. And while spoilage organisms might make food gross, it’s not usually dangerous.
“They may make things taste sour," says Dr. Keigh Schneider, a food safety expert at UF/IFAS. "They may make things taste slimy but are not necessarily going to cause foodborne illness. They are completely different from Salmonella and E. coli. Now again, if you have a lot of spoilage, then there is the potential for having some of those other pathogens. But spoilage organisms by themselves are not necessarily going to cause a foodborne illness."
UF/IFAS experts recommend keeping a thermometer inside the refrigerator, so you’ll know when your food is in the danger zone. Keeping the door closed and using dry ice in the fridge can help to extend the amount of time that food will stay safe. But they say if you have any doubt about how long your food has been in the danger zone, then it’s best to throw it out. Experts also recommend stocking up on shelf-stable canned food that can be safely eaten without power or heat.
“Obviously, for sensory aspects, some of them are better warm than cold," says Schneider. "But yeah, most canned foods, in fact, have already been cooked to a temperature which is safe, so you can eat them straight out of the can if you need to.”
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