Food Safety in the Wake of Winter Storm Uri
Beginning around February 13, 2021, an arctic blast from the North Pole blew coast-to-coast across the United States, particularly affecting the Midwestern and Southern states－some of which are rarely affected by winter storms of this scale－such as Texas. Uri brought record-breaking low temperatures, amounts of snow and ice, and power and water outages for southern states, like Texas. Among the most pressing issues people faced during the power outages were the frigid temperatures, even inside their homes, and the lack of clean drinking water. Now that the arctic blast has subsided, power companies are hard at work restoring power to the areas still affected by the outages. In the wake of the storm, it is essential that people realize that the safety of their perishable refrigerated and frozen foods was likely compromised in the prolonged power outages. The following instructions explain how you should safely deal with your perishables after the power outages.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that even within 4 hours of a power outage, the safety of perishable refrigerated and frozen foods, such as meat, fish, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, and leftovers, should be considered compromised and discarded. If you were able to plan ahead and use a cold source, such as dry ice, the safety of the perishable food would persist until the source depleted and any noticeable temperature increase occurred. The temperature of any perishable food kept on a cold source or in the refrigerator during the power outages must remain at 40°F or lower in order to be considered safe for consumption. The reason for this is that bacteria are known to rapidly multiple between 40°F and 140°F, and some of which, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, can cause moderate to severe illness when consumed via food.
It is important to recognize that the power outages due to winter storm Uri were extremely prolonged for most people, lasting anywhere from one to several days, at which point the safety of any perishable food should be considered compromised and be discarded. The CDC emphasizes that people should not taste food to see if it is spoiled, rather, “when in doubt, throw it out”.
Power outages can be extremely inconvenient and frustrating, especially when you have to throw out once good food. Nevertheless, it is important to follow the proper precautions in order to avoid a nasty case of food poisoning on top of the already difficult circumstances.