Food safety in an emergency

Food may or may not be safe after an emergency situation such as a:

  • power failure
  • flood
  • bushfire
  • severe weather.

Always remember:

When in doubt, throw it out!

However, appearance or smell is not always a reliable indicator. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been warm too long, they may contain enough bacteria to make people ill.

Keeping your food cool

If you experience a power failure during any emergency event, there are several steps you can take to limit the amount of spoilage to refrigerated and frozen food. In the event of a power failure that lasts longer than several minutes:

  • take note of the time
  • keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep the air temperature colder for longer. A closed refrigerator/freezer should keep your food cool for 4 to 6 hours.
  • quickly move perishable food from the refrigerator to the freezer
  • meat, poultry and fish should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator

When power is restored

After the power has been restored you should check the temperature of perishable food in your refrigerator to see if the temperature is 5°C or below.

Less than 2 hours

If it perishable food is above 5°C and the power has been off for less than 2 hours you can re-refrigerate the food or use it immediately.

More than 4 hours

If the food temperature is above 5°C or has defrosted in the freezer certain foods may be unsuitable to consume if stored above 5°C for more than 4 hours. They include:

  • raw or cooked meat
  • meat topped pizza
  • manufactured meats
  • casseroles, stews or soups
  • milk, cream, yoghurt, soft cheese (for example camembert and brie), most dips
  • mayonnaise, tartare sauce, creamy dressings, aioli and other salad dressings
  • cooked pasta, potato, rice and salads prepared from these foods
  • sweet baked foods with cream
  • custard.

Safe foods

Certain foods can be safely stored at room temperature (above 5°C) for longer periods of time and still be safe to eat. These foods include:

  • Butter and margarine
  • hard cheese
  • fresh fruit and vegetables
  • dried fruit and nuts
  • fresh herbs and spices
  • open jars of salad dressing, peanut butter, relish sauce
  • mustard
  • bread, rolls, cakes and muffins.