Did you end up throwing out all your food after storm Hurricane Sandy? I did.
The Food Safety arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that any food in refrigerator that has no power be thrown out after four hours. I knew about these guidelines for food safety so before the hurricane hit, we packed both our refrigerator and freezer with ice—actually Ziploc bags filled part way with water, then frozen—so that our food wouldn't spoil that quickly.
Our approach worked for the first 48 hours of our power outage. But after that we didn't want to take any chances with a food disaster (i.e. a food-borne illness) by eating spoiled food. So we threw everything out. But hey, look at my sparkling clean refrigerator shown here (left).
If your power has finally come back on and you're getting ready to restock the food in your refrigerator, I wanted to share with you these guidelines for food safety as they relate to food shopping.
To make sure that the food you bring home is as safe and delicious as it was at the store, it's important to know the best way to pack and transport your groceries. Instead of just throwing all of your food in a bag, follow these 5 food safety tips, courtesy of Jennifer McEntire, PhD, a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, an organization of food scientists:
- Bag Food By Type. In general, keep the foods that you are going to cook in one type of bag, and the foods that you are not going to cook in another bag. If possible, pack foods of the same temperature together to avoid spoilage or contamination. For example, place all of the frozen foods in one bag, refrigerated foods in another, and room temperature foods, or produce, in another. Separating these foods also makes it easier to put your groceries away.
- Don't Cross Contaminate Foods. Never pack meats with raw fruits and vegetables or other foods you are going to eat raw. Meat pathogens can easily transfer to and contaminate produce in a shopping bag. Cracked eggs could cause a problem, too. So even though these items may all be going in the refrigerator, they should be bagged separately.
- Bag Smart. If you only have one bag to use, be smart about how you pack your groceries. The best way to avoid any contamination is to do the following: place meats on the bottom of the bag within a plastic bag that is tied at the top. Then, put fruits, vegetables, and other items that won't be cooked on the top. And next time, don't forget to bring another bag!
- Be Careful When Using Reusable Bags. Some reusable, thermal bags can keep foods hot or cold for up to a couple of hours, as long as they are free of holes or tears. Also, it's important to wrap meats in a separate bag before placing them in a reusable bag in order to avoid spreading pathogens in these bags. Don't forget to keep your reusable bags clean.
- Unpack Immediately. Be sure to get perishable food such as meat and dairy into the refrigerator as soon as possible. Bacteria can reach dangerous levels in two hours at room temperature. Just because it's cold outside, the temperature inside your car might be warmer, especially if you've had the heater running. If you absolutely have to leave groceries in your car, keep them in a cooler with ice packs inside your car to keep them cold until you get home.