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June 25, 2015

Survival Guide: Food Service Power Outages

Written by SmartSense | Food Safety

When dealing with power outages within food service, whether it is at a restaurant or school cafeteria, it can be a stressful situation with many decisions of what to do with food, what is safe, and when to discard. Sometimes during an outage, it’s hard to figure out what to do and how to deal with these decisions and whether or not the right one is being made. There are different solutions depending on what kinds of foods are being dealt with, whether it’s refrigerated, frozen, or being prepared. To prepare for these solutions, there are simple steps to follow for the guarantee for safe measures to follow. 

The first step in dealing with power outages is to take note of when the outage happens, as timing is everything when it comes to food safety. Secondly, cease all cooking that is happening. It’s good to note that if a power outage is two hours or less, it is not considered hazardous to food being handled under safe conditions. After two hours, any food that is being prepared, whether it is meat or cut fruits and vegetables, must be discarded. Do not put warm food into the refrigerators or freezers to avoid rapid temperature increase within the refrigerators. If warm foods are warming the area, it will only decrease the time before having to throw foods away. Whole foods such as uncut fruits or vegetables can be quickly put back into the refrigerator if needed and are still safe for consumption.

Once again, timing is everything. When dealing with refrigeration, there’s up to four hours of safe time that food will be kept cold during an outage if the refrigerator is not opened or opened minimally. After four hours, food must be discarded, or dry/block ice can be used to maintain the cool temperature for up to two days. If there’s no ability to get ice to keep the refrigeration cool, uncut fruits, vegetables, and processed cheeses do not have to be thrown away after the four hours pass, while foods such as meats, dairies, and opened jars should be tossed.

Figure 1: Keeping track of what’s in the fridges and freezers during a power outage to ensure safety measures for different foods are being taken.

With freezers, they can keep temperatures for up to 48 hours if minimally opened, and if it’s fully stocked. For half full freezers, they can last up for 24 hours, and it’s important to group food together to keep them colder for longer. If this happens, ensure to keep the food on its own trays, so if they begin to thaw the juices won’t touch the other foods. There are certain guidelines from the FDA for foods that can be refrozen if partially thawed.

Figure 2: FDA standards for refreezing or discarding of food depending on thawing status

It’s important to follow these refrigeration and freezer FDA guidelines while dealing with power outages in order to keep a high standard of food quality and safety. If there is ever uncertainty in whether or not a food is still safe, it’s better safe than sorry, so when in doubt, throw it out. If the food being prepared hasn’t reached the safe consumption temperature, throw it away. There is no way around having to throw half cooked food away during a power outage. Foods in the process of being cooked, especially cut, half cooked vegetables and meats are prone to bacteria and can quickly become harmful.

There are, of course, certain foods that can be kept safely at room temperature. Foods such as butters, hard cheeses, dried and fresh fruits, herbs, spices, breads and pastries can all be kept at room temperature without harm coming to them, although depending on what it is, the quality can decrease. Don’t worry if these foods are left out during the outage. 

Upon restoration of power, it’s important to identify any hazardous foods that still need to be discarded, and check internal temperatures of potentially dangerous foods. If anything falls between being above 41°F or below 140°F, and has been for longer than 4 hours, it must be tossed. If it becomes worrisome that food in the refrigerator needs to be cooled at a faster rate, transfer it to the freezer for faster cooling.

Using a cellular temperature monitoring can help prevent any surprises or temperature rises during an outage. With TempAlert, if there is a power outage, a text message will be sent to notify you of the outage. If temperatures begin rising at an alarming pace, a phone call alert is sent. With these alerts, it gives you the ability to begin corrective actions and prevent losses.

Maintaining a safe environment is easy during a power outage. Following protocols from HACCP and the FDA ensure that there will be no issues upon the power returning. Throw away what needs to be tossed, and keep the fridge and freezer doors shut as much as possible. For tips on how to deal with school power outages, retail store power outages, and restaurant power outages; be sure to check for the next parts of the power outage survival guide series. 

Topics: Food Safety

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