Hurricanes are unpredictable, so preparation is important. In 2017, Hurricane Irma was forecast — four days before the storm actually hit Florida — to come up the middle of the state. But an unexpected turn to the west took the Category 3 hurricane, with sustained winds exceeding 110 mph, to the west coast. (See graphic below.) / Courtesy NOAA

By the U.S. Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing food safety recommendations for those who may be impacted by hurricanes.


Hurricanes present the possibility of power outages and flooding that can compromise the safety of stored foods. Residents in the path of a storm should pay close attention to the forecast. FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of food-borne illness during severe weather events.

This was the forecast track for Irma the day before the storm hit Florida. / Courtesy NOAA

Steps to follow in advance of losing power

Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure that temperatures remain food-safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer.

Freeze water in 1-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember: Water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.

Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.

Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.

Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.

Group foods together in the freezer—this “igloo” effect helps the food stay cold longer.

Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.

Steps to follow if the power goes out

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).

Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross-contamination of thawing juices.

Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency

Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.

Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or that feels warm to the touch.

Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that has partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below.

Never taste a food to decide whether it’s safe. When in doubt, throw it out.

FSIS has YouTube video on food safety

FSIS’ YouTube video Food Safety During Power Outages (youtube.com/watch?v=2vGAZ64T0uE&feature=plcp) has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated foods safe. The publication A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes can be downloaded and/or printed for reference during a power outage (https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/f0c8da84-9a44-4285-9893-8caefa9a23b4/Severe_Storms_and_Hurricanes_Guide.pdf?MOD=AJPERES).

An infographic is available at flickr.com/photos/usdafoodsafety/28150350474/in/album-72157671912703496 that outlines steps you can take before, during and after severe weather, power outages and/or flooding. FSIS provides relevant food-safety information during disasters on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety and on Facebook.

If you have questions about food safety during severe weather, or any other food-safety topics, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline, or chat live with a food-safety specialist at AskKaren.gov. These services are available in English and Spanish from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Answers to frequently asked question can also be found at AskKaren.gov.