Mother Nature has had quite the attitude this year! From devastating fires and flash floods to hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes, she has been turning communities upside down. Thank heavens you can plan ahead for such tragic events. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have generated some tips to help restaurateurs make food safety part of their preparation efforts. If you have a game plan for when severe weather strikes you can prevent food loss and potential food borne illness in your establishment. Temperature controlled food storage can be difficult during a power outage if your commercial refrigeration loses electricity so make sure to stock up on dry ice, canned food, bottled water and batteries. Below are steps to follow if natural disasters are knocking at your door.
How to prepare for a possible weather emergency:
- Keep a refrigeration thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer at all times. Refrigerator and freezer thermometers will provide the internal temperature of your refrigeration in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food. Set freezers at 0°F or below and refrigerators as 40°F or below.
- Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold after power is out.
- Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry that you don’t need immediately to help keep them at a safe temperature longer.
- Plan ahead and know where you can get dry ice and block ice quickly.
- Store foods on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
- Have coolers available to keep refrigerated food cold if power is out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store in freezer for use in refrigerator or cooler. Freeze ice packs and blankets ahead of time to use in coolers.
- Group food close together in freezer to ensure foods stays cold longer.
Steps to follow during and after a weather emergency:
- Do not taste any of your food to determine if it is safe!
- Minimize how often you open your refrigerator and Freezer doors to maintain the internal temperatures as long as possible.
- A refrigerator will keep food cold for approximately 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep food at the proper temperature for about 48 hours. If it is half full is will keep food cold for 24 hours if the door is not opened.
- If your food contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below it may be refrozen.
- Obtain dry ice or block ice to keep your refrigeration as cold as possible if the power goes out for a long period of time. 50 pounds of dry ice should hold an 18 cubic food full freezer for 2 days.
- If the power has been out for several days you will need to check the temperature of the freezer with a refrigerator thermometer of food thermometer. If your food contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below the food is safe.
- If you do not have a refrigerator thermometer then you will need to check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals it is safe.
- Throw away or compost refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without electricity.
- If you are ever in doubt, get rid of the food.
How to determine what food to keep and what to discard:
- Do not keep or eat anything that may have been in contact with flood water.
- Discard any food that is not in a waterproof food container if it may have been in contact with flood water. (e.g Containers with screw on tops, snap lids, pull tops, and crimpled covers are not waterproof. Also discard cardboard juice boxes, baby formula boxes and home canned foods in they come in contact with flood water because they cannot be cleaned and sanitized)
- Inspect canned food and discard anything that looks damaged. (e.g Swelling, leaking, punctures, holes, fractures, rusting and denting represents can damage.)
- Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach per gallon of clean water.
- Thoroughly wash countertops with hot water and detergent then rinse with sanitizing solution.
How to remove odors from refrigeration:
- Get rid of all spoiled food.
- Remove shelves, crispers, and ice trays. Wash thoroughly with hot water and detergent then rinse with sanitizing solution.
- Wash interior of refrigeration including door and gasket, with hot water and baking soda. Then rinse with sanitizing solution.
- Leave the door(s) open for 15 minutes to allow free air circulation.
If the odor still remains:
- Wipe the inside with equal parts of vinegar and water. Vinegar destroys mildew.
- Stuff refrigeration with rolled newspapers, close the door(s) and leave for several days. Remove paper and clean with vinegar and water solution.
- Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in a large, shallow container in the bottom of the refrigerator and freezer.
- Place a cotton swab soaked in vanilla inside the refrigeration. Close door for 24 hours.
As you can see there are many precautionary steps you can take to protect your restaurant from food loss, food borne illness and odors that may turn customers away from your establishment. Weather emergencies are not always foreseen so make sure to plan ahead so you don’t go down with your ship!
If you still have questions about the safety precautions you should take before severe weather or what to do post disaster you can contact FSIS representative, Karen, at www.askkaren.gov or m.askkaren.gov on your smart phone. Ask Karen is available 24 hours a day!