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The Tidelands Health Newsroom

Published on September 08, 2017

Hurricane Irma: How to protect your food in a power outage

Although the most recent Hurricane Irma forecasts keep the storm to the south of our region, the National Hurricane Center warns there’s still a risk she could swing in our direction.

Regardless of which path Irma takes, we may still be subject to high winds, rain and the threat of tornadoes and flooding. Accompanying power outages are also possible.

Take steps now to minimize food waste and reduce the risk of foodborne illness in case an outage affects your home. Food can quickly spoil without the electricity needed to operate refrigerators and freezers.

Before losing power:

  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to the storm. These containers are small enough to fit around food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower in the refrigerator, and zero degrees or lower in the freezer.Woman holds nose at rotten food
  • Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk, fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately to help keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
  • Have coolers and ice 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 several days’ worth of water and ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.

If the power goes out:

  • If in doubt, throw it out: Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Never taste food to determine if it’s safe.
  • Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water.
  • Freezers, if left unopened and full, will typically keep food safe for 48 hours (24 hours if half full). Refrigerators can typically hold perishable foods at a safe temperature for up to four hours.
  • Thawed food that contains ice crystals can be refrozen or cooked.
  • Throw away canned foods that are bulging, opened or damaged.
  • If canned foods have come in contact with floodwater or storm water, remove the labels, wash the cans, and dip them in a solution of one cup of bleach per five gallons of water. Re-label the cans with a marker and make sure to include the expiration date.
  • Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, wash your teeth or make baby formula.



Tidelands Health is the region’s largest health care provider and MUSC Health affiliate, serving the Carolinas at four hospitals and more than 70 outpatient locations. More than 2,500 employee, physician and volunteer partners work side by side with our communities to transform the health of our region – promoting wellness, preventing illness, encouraging recovery and restoring health.