Power outages can be costly to restaurants and food vendors. If food isn’t properly stored, the food could spoil and require disposal. The following tips are ways you can properly handle food storage during emergency situations.

Before Storms

Preparation is key to handle any power outages. If the weather forecast calls for severe weather, take precautions ahead of time. Check all refrigerator and freezer units to ensure working thermometers are in place. Freezers should remain at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below and refrigerators should remain at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Freeze quart-sized plastic bags of water ahead of the storm. These containers will help you keep food items cold in case of power outages. Remember to have several large coolers on hand to transfer food for storage. The bags of ice and frozen gel packs can be used inside the cooler until power is restored.

Any perishable food items that you’re not likely to need right away can be frozen to extend shelf life. This includes milk and meats. Remember to place trays under items since when they thaw the juices could drip on other foods. Keep in mind that foods toward the front of the freezer will thaw at a much faster rate than foods kept to the back or bottom of the freezer.

During Power Outages

Keep freezer and refrigerator doors closed as long as possible if the power goes out. If the door is open and closed too often, the interior temperature will surge and food spoils quicker. If unopened, refrigerators will keep food at a safe temperature for a maximum of four hours. The amount of food kept in a freezer determines how long you can store items. If the freezer is full, food is safe for a maximum of 48 hours. If the freezer is half full, that time reduces to 24 hours.

In cases of prolonged power outages, use the coolers and frozen quart-sized bags to keep refrigerated food at safe temperatures. Dry ice can also be purchased to keep freezer items frozen. Fifty pounds of dry ice will last for an average of 48 hours in an 18-foot freezer. Never move food items outdoors in freezing temperatures as a way to prevent spoiling. This may attract animals. Also, thawing may occur and make the food items unsafe to consume.

After Power Outages

Once power is restored, take inventory on all food items. Discard any meat and dairy items that have been stored above 40 degrees for more than two hours. Fruits, fruit juices, and raw vegetables are typically safe if held above 40 degrees longer than two hours. However, never taste food to determine safety. Instead, check refrigerator and freezer thermometers to confirm that the units remained at a safe temperature while the power was out. Perform a close examination of each food item. If the appearance or odor is off, then discard the food item. Throw away any food that feels warm to the touch. If you see any ice crystals on frozen items, they are still safe to refreeze. Dispose of any food too that may have been contaminated by juices dripping from thawing meats.

Best practices require that you remove all trays from the units and wash them with soap and hot water. Sanitize all shelving and trays with a rinse made up of one gallon of water and one tablespoon of bleach. Baking soda helps remove any lingering odors.

The Food Safety of America Institute has designed comprehensive courses to train food industry professionals on how to properly handle food items safely. Contact us for more information on how we can guarantee your staff knows how to properly prepare and serve food and beverages to your customers.