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Feb. 3, 2023
By John LovettUniversity of Arkansas System Division of AgricultureArkansas Agricultural Experiment Station
Download related PHOTO
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Food safety is on the minds of many Arkansans this week, with
over 72,000 customers losing power during the icy weather.
The food safety clock is ticking on their food in fridges and freezers. For many,
it may already be too late to save. Perishable foods with temperatures above 40 degrees
or below 140 degrees are in what food scientists call the “danger zone,” where pathogens like Listeria and Staphylococcus multiply rapidly.
There were more than 52,000 customers still without power in Arkansas Friday morning,
according to PowerOutage.us, with most of those being in Jefferson County. Entergy, a primary provider in Arkansas,
showed no electrical power with 33,321 customers at noon Friday. Brandi Hinkle, an
Entergy spokesperson, said 2,800 crew members were working to restore power and they
expected most of their customers to be reconnected by 10 p.m. Friday.
“There are serious consequences to your health if you eat contaminated food,” said
Philip Crandall, professor of retail food safety for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment
Station. “Follow the precautionary principle. When in doubt, throw it out.”
Food should not be tasted to determine its safety, he added.
Listeria monocytogenes has a mortality rate of 16 percent, and Staphylococcus aureus produces a toxin that typical cooking temperatures do not destroy, Crandall said.
“Once staph grows and produces its toxin in food, you could boil it for 30 minutes and still
get sick if you eat it,” Crandall said.
Crandall said Listeria monocytogenes could grow to an infective dose at refrigerated temperatures, albeit slowly, and
is particularly deadly to very young children and senior citizens.
After the power is out, most refrigerators will keep food safe for up to four hours. If the door remains closed, foods in a full freezer will stay safe for up to 48 hours or 24 hours in a half-full
freezer after losing power. According to this Arkansas Emergency Preparedness Resources website, transferring perishable foods from the fridge to the freezer is one option to keep
them below 40 degrees longer.
Dry ice or block ice may also be used to keep temps down in a freezer. Fifty pounds
of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot freezer for two days. Remember, do not touch
dry ice with bare hands or place it in direct contact with food.
Crandall recommends monitoring temps with an appliance thermometer placed inside the
freezer or fridge.
An ice chest may also keep foods safe if there are enough ice or gel packs to keep
the food at or below 40 degrees.
Crandall said that being prepared to save the food before it becomes a food safety
issue is the best course of action. Having a source of back-up power to operate freezers
and fridges is optimal. If the temperature outside is below freezing, it may also
be stored outside in a location protected from pests until power is restored.
Download the fact sheet Planning for Food After a Disaster for additional information on food handling.
Crandall is also part of the Center for Food Safety at the experiment station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas System
Division of Agriculture. The Center for Food Safety's mission is to discover practical,
evidence-based solutions to food safety issues within Arkansas and beyond through
research, innovation and collaboration between the public and private sectors.
For more information on food health safety, contact your local Cooperative Extension
Service agent. The extension service’s health specialist is Bryan Madder, and the
nutrition specialists are Josh Phelps and Christine Sasse.
FoodSafety.gov also offers a guide to evaluate what foods may be kept or thrown out after a power outage.
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural
Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture,
visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas,
contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: John LovettU of A System Division of AgricultureArkansas Agricultural Experiment Station(479) email@example.com