Sunday, July 1, 2012

Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Power Outages


by Juliet Bodinetz-Rich

The National Restaurant Association had their annual campaign of National Food Safety Education Month in September. If you have not had a chance yet, please take a moment and check out their FREE and invaluable down loads for this year’s campaign “Lessons learned from the Health Inspection” available in English or in Spanish at:  www.servsafe.com/nfsem. The Partnership for Food Safety Education’s campaign was “Home Food Safety Mythbusters program for consumers” with free downloads again available in English or in Spanish at www.fightbac.org .

Personally, I wasn’t sure if the timing of National Food Safety Education Month seemed ironic or right on track. Locally, we got clobbered consecutively with an earthquake, a hurricane, and flooding. Then to further the indignities, Ocean City had a small tornado (with no warning) to wind down the season. Many of you suffered with power outages in your homes and food establishments. Our household was lucky enough not to experience a power outage, but I do remember very well, Hurricane Isabel from 2003 where we were without electricity for over a week.  

What do we do with our food when the power goes out?!? To be clear and direct, we have to keep it cold or throw it out.

Cold food has to be held in your refrigerator at a maximum internal temperature of 41°F. Following what I call the “magic rule,” food has to be kept out of the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ) (41°F-135°F) and must be discarded after an accumulative time period of four hours. So translated, that means, food cannot measure an internal temperature between 42°F-134°F or it has to be thrown out at four hours. Bacteria levels have increased to such an unsafe number at four hours that there is nothing we can do to kill enough of them off to make the food safe to eat. Our only corrective action to avoid a foodborne illness is to discard the food.

Let’s imagine the scenario: You enter your food establishment this morning and the power is out. You open your refrigeration unit and take an internal temperature check of some of the foods and they are all measuring inside the TDZ at around 50°F.  I am sorry to tell you that you are going to have to throw all your refrigerated food away. I am going to presume that when you measure the internal temperature of the food in your refrigeration unit that you do not know the precise hour the outage occurred, so unfortunately, it’s best you presume that it was more than four hours ago and that you correct the situation by discarding the food that can be presumed to have been more than four hours in the TDZ.

For your records, you should inventory everything you throw away for your internal food and beverage control accounting or for insurance purposes if applicable.

Now let’s say, you have the same scenario, but when you check the internal temperatures of some of your foods in your refrigeration unit that is not working because the power is out, and you are lucky! The foods are still out of the TDZ with internal temperatures measuring around, 38°F. Now the race is on!  You don’t know when the electricity will come back on and you don’t want to lose your food and monies by having to throw it out after four hours in the TDZ. So now what can you do to keep it cold?

  • The most obvious, keep the refrigerator door closed.  (That won’t last for long though)
  • Buy Dry Ice. If you have enough Dry Ice, it will keep your fridge cold.
  • Use a generator if you have one.
  • If you have room, put your food in the freezer.
  • If your neighbors have electricity – you could use their electricity if you have an extension cord that is long enough to extend the distance.  (I saw that a lot)
  • I was very impressed to see one of our customers rented a refrigerated truck to keep their food safe during their power outage. That impressed me as I’d not personally thought of that one before.
 It’s going to be important that you also keep your freezer door closed.  It’s important to keep frozen food frozen solid. Signs of refreezing are frost bite or ice crystals on the food.  Throw out any food showing signs of refreezing. A full freezer will stay colder longer than a half empty freezer.  You can group packages of food together to consolidate the cold in one section if it’s not full enough.

If you suffered any building damage or flooding, it’s important to throw away any food that got contaminated by the flood waters.  You could save the cans if they are not dented or damaged by washing them before you open them. 

Worst Case Scenario:  You are losing the battle to keep the food cold, BUT you are lucky enough to have a gas stove, I recommend that you start cooking and have the BEST block part ever! 

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area. www.bilingualhospitality.com, juliet@bilingualhospitality.com or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

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