SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — In the wake of multiple power shutoffs, the US Department of Agriculture is urging Californians to heed food safety warnings and not take any chances with food that may have been stored at warm temperatures in refrigerators during the blackouts.
Janell Goodwin, technical information specialist at USDA, said the agency has been monitoring news of the high winds, and issued food safety warnings similar to that of hurricane victims who also lose power.
According to USDA guidelines, perishables like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers that have been kept above 40° Fahrenheit for more than two hours, should be thrown out.
The agency says there is little flexibility in the rule. By pushing the time window to 2 1/2 or 3 hours, or elevate the temperature even slightly raises the risk of potentially deadly bacteria like listeria to grow at a more rapid pace.
“You definitely will be pushing it. Even if it was at 43 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours, or more that would still be compromising the safety of the product,” said Goodwin.
Heavily salted foods commonly thought to be able to withstand prolonged warm temperatures, like bacon, should also be tossed out if kept beyond the two-hour and 40° constraints. The rule also applies to precooked items like deli meat.
“You don’t want to risk it. It’s better to err on the side of caution. You can always go out and replace meat products. But being sick and hospitalized is never worth that,” said Goodwin.
As a rule of thumb, refrigerators can maintain 40° for about four hours without power, a full freezer can stay frozen for about 48 hours if the doors are kept shut.
if frozen foods partially thaw, they are still safe if ice crystals can be seen inside them, or if the food is still below 40°.
Debby Diaz, who was without power for 1 1/2 days, took extra precaution and stored food on ice in multiple coolers. She only had to toss out eggs, broccoli, salad greens, and a box of frozen fish sticks
“I’m not taking any chances,” said Diaz, “Not worth it, no. Who wants to get sick?”