DeKalb County issued health alert for food safety during Hurricane Irma

October 5, 2017

As Hurricane Irma’s high wind and torrential rain marched through Metro Atlanta, DeKalb County suffered severe power outages. Nearly 172,000 customers were left in the dark for days. The DeKalb County Board of Health responded by issuing a health alert about the potential hazards of spoiled refrigerator items during the power outage.

Public Information Officer Eric Nickens, Jr., provided tips on food safety during the power outage. WSB-TV Anchor and Reporter Carol Sbarge interviewed Nickens and a local family on the importance of food safety once power is restored. Nickens advised residents to toss perishables after four hours without power and freezer foods after 48 hours without power.

DeKalb County Board of Health’s Emergency Preparedness staff members Veronda Griffin and Karris Whaley stayed busy working with public health role to the response at the DeKalb Emergency Management Agency and Emergency Operations Center. Griffin and Whaley were part of a team that rotated shifts around the clock to meet residents’ public health and medical service needs.

Important and timely information disseminated through statewide media outlets, website, Facebook and Twitter helped to save many lives. WSB-TV disseminated the DeKalb County Board’s food safety tips to viewers during their five o’clock news and via their webpage.

"We don't want people already burdened with not having power to have to make a trip to the emergency room," said Nickens. "If you're in doubt, throw it out." 

Here is what you can do to keep food safe:

  • Once the power goes out, keep track of how long it is out.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperatures inside. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it stays closed. 
  • A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours or 24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed. 
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. 
  • Obtain block ice or dry ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is out for a prolonged period. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic-foot full freezer cold for two days. 

Here is what you should keep and what you should throw out if you lose power:

  • Never taste food to determine its safety.
  • Discard any perishable food that has been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. This includes meat, seafood, poultry, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, eggs, cut fruit, condiments, biscuits, cookie dough and pasta. 
  • Foods that are safe include butter, margarine, fruit juice, canned fruit, fresh whole fruits, jams, jellies, ketchup, olives, pickles, mustard, vinegar-based dressings, soy sauce, bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, bagels, waffles, pancakes, fruit pies, raw vegetables and herbs. 

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