Skip to main content
woman eats corn on the cob

After the storm: food safety

As we have seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, severe storms often result in extended power losses and flooding. Many of you did a tremendous job of preparing for these calamities, protecting your health and keeping your food supply safe by taking the necessary precautions. Now, though, as we look to an extended cleanup and recovery, it’s important to know what foods that we stockpiled remain safe to eat.

Here are some guidelines to follow to be certain that you and your family are eating foods that are safe:

  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!
  • Keep refrigerator/freezer doors closed to maintain cold temperatures.
  • Food in an unopened refrigerator should be safe for four hours.
  • An unopened, full freezer should hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours; 24 hours, if half full.
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If there is no freezer thermometer, check each package. If the food contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
  • Discard any items that have contacted raw meat juices.
  • Following an evacuation, if you suspect that the food has been thawed and refrozen over time, the safest plan is to discard the food.
  • Discard meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers, deli items, and any perishable foods if the refrigerator temperature has risen above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.
  • Remember, you cannot rely on appearance or odor.
  • Drink only bottled water if flooding has occurred.
  • Discard any food that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Discard cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers. There is no way to safely clean them.
  • Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, glasses and utensils with soap and hot water.
  • Sanitize items by boiling (rolling boil for one minute) or immersing them for 15 minutes in three tablespoons of chlorine bleach per one gallon of water. Allow to air dry.
  • Dispose of any questionable items.

– U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Food Safety for Consumers Returning Home After a Hurricane and/or Flooding
– U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service: “USDA Consumer Alert: Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency
– University of Florida, Electronic Data Information Service (EDIS) publications
– FEMA / American Red Cross: “Food and Water in an Emergency
UF/IFAS Extension offices (local)

2 Comments on “After the storm: food safety

  1. Question: What effect, if any, do trees play in either diverting or modifying damaging hurricane force winds?
    PS: Thank you for the University of Florida, IFAS Extension document titled, “Wind and Trees: Lessions Learned from hurricanes” written 2007 and revised June 2017.

    • Hi, Robert. That’s a little outside the scope of what we do here, but you might be able to find answers by checking with someone with the emergency management program at Sarasota County. Your best bet would be to check with the county’s Call Center phone line (staffed 24/7) at 861.5000 and explain to them your question. They then can guide you to a contact in emergency management (or, perhaps, another department).