Food safety best practices during a power outage
Friday, Jan 24th 2014

The 2013-2014 winter season has caused inclement weather all over the United States. Besides the bitter cold, it caused a number of logistical problems, including power outages and interrupted utility  services due to freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall.

AccuWeather stated that in the Indianapolis area, thousands were without power earlier this month. In late December, freezing rain caused electricity outages for nearly 10,000 New Hampshire residents, according to the Union Leader. The Dallas Observer also reported on winter storm Cleon's effects in Texas, where the Dallas-Fort Worth area experienced 240,000 documented outages.

A lack of electricity service can wreck havoc on a number of vital operations, especially  in the foodservice industry. When grocery stores, food vendors and restaurants go without electricity, their edible inventory is at risk of spoiling and becoming unusable. However, there are several best practices that organizations can follow to mitigate the damage of a power outage.

Best practices for food safety
According to FoodService Warehouse contributor Monica Parpal, one of the best ways to prevent damage from an interruption in electricity service is to plan for the event before it ever happens. In this way, employees and managers are better prepared and can respond quickly.

However, when an outage occurs, the first step to take is to discontinue all food preparation or normal processes and record the time when power was lost, advised the Minnesota Department of Health. It will help to know later when service was interrupted to better determine the safety of stored food items. Any food that was in the process of being cooked should be discarded, and items that have finished cooking should be kept hot with canned heating apparatuses or chafing dishes.

One of the main issues with a power outage relates to cold stored items. The Minnesota Department of Health stated that refrigerated foods should be kept at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, and frozen foods must be kept as such. To help maintain internal temperatures of food storage units, employees should refrain from opening refrigerator or freezer doors. If systems are kept closed, food items should be safe as long as power is restored within four to six hours.

Restaurants should also utilize temperature monitoring systems to oversee the internal temperature of storage units. Once power service comes back on, these systems can be used to determine if food went outside of the recommended temperature range, as well as to monitor storage units and ensure they return to the correct level.

Above all, employees should utilize the "when in doubt, throw it out" rule. If workers are unsure of the usability of certain foods, they should discard them rather than risk patron safety with improperly stored or refrigerated items.