Food Safety And Preparedness During Hurricane Season

By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension

Hurricane season begins just around the corner on June 1st and continues through November 30th. It is best to prepare early rather than waiting until the last minute. Stores quickly deplete of water, bread, and canned goods prior to major storms arriving. During hurricane season, it is common for residents of eastern North Carolina to experience a power outage. In preparation for hurricane season, follow these tips in preparation ahead of the storm.

First, purchase a digital food thermometer. You can purchase these at grocery stores or kitchen supply stores. Food thermometers are typically found near the kitchen utensils. You will need a digital thermometer in order to monitor food temperatures for safety. Cooked vegetables and grains, cooked and raw meats, as well as cut melons and tomatoes support the growth of foodborne illness pathogens after being held above 41 degrees for more than 4 hours. If you lose power for less than four hours, the foods in your refrigerator are still safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the freezer and refrigerator doors closed as much as possible. If the freezer goes out or you lose power, a freezer full of food will generally keep for 2 days if the doors are left closed. A half-full freezer will only last about one day. If ice crystals remain on the foods or they are still half-frozen, the temperature has likely not dropped below 41 degrees and the food is safe to consume. If your freezer is only half-full, freeze containers of water to fill up the freezer. This will provide you with water and ice in an emergency as well as help your frozen foods last longer during a power outage. Preparing coolers and ice ahead of a storm is also a key step in storm preparation. When choosing foods to eat during a power outage, only open enough canned food to eat at the time of consumption. If necessary, replace fresh milk with powdered or canned milk during an emergency.

Additionally, consider cooking methods you will have available during a power outage. Outdoor grills should not be brought inside for use during a storm. Choose foods that can be cooked quickly to conserve resources during a storm. Frozen foods take longer to cook, so use thawed or canned foods for quicker cooking. If water supplies are low, you can substitute water in cooking with canned broths our soups as well as liquid from canned vegetables and fruit. If you have leftovers from cooking, they should be tossed out after four hours in order to avoid foodborne illness. If you are in need of water and boiling water before consumption is not an option, clear water can be treated after a storm using a solution of 1/8 teaspoon of unscented bleach per gallon of water. Allow the water to stand for 30 minutes before cooking or drinking. If the water you are treating is cloudy, use ¼ teaspoon of unscented bleach per gallon of water.

After a major storm, I usually get lots of calls concerning foods that may be kept even if the power has been out for longer than 4 hours. Foods that may be kept after a prolonged outage include butter, margarine, hard cheeses (cheddar, Colby, swiss, etc.), processed cheeses such as Kraft Singles, unopened commercially made yogurts, jellies, jams, condiments, and opened vinegar dressings. You may also keep breads, cakes, waffles, and pancakes in addition to unopened fruit juices (excluding pear juice), opened canned fruits (excluding pears), fresh, candied, and dried fruits, as well as mushrooms, herbs, spices, and vegetables (excluding cut tomatoes and melons). For a full list of foods to keep or  toss, visit

For more information, please contact Cassidy Hall, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, for Johnston County at the Johnston County Cooperative Extension office (919-989-5380). If you are interested in home-canning workshops to preserve foods in case of a power outage, please call the Johnston County Cooperative Extension office or visit their website: