September 17, 2008

Experts Emphasize Food Safety in Wake of Outage



Staff Writer

GLENMONT -- Two days after the power went out at the Glenmont General Store, owner Steve Rishel is keeping his ice cream case going on generators.

Rishel has been employing two generators full time to keep his dairy, deli and frozen dessert cases below 41 degrees, the safety threshold for bacteria, and using whatever power is left to offer his morning customers coffee. His soft drink cases were unplugged most of the morning to save power, but later turned back on.

Tuesday afternoon, Rishel had to drop raspberries from a customer's order after he found mold beginning to grow on them. Finding the right balance of available power and still offering something like his usual product line is wearing him out.

"It's mentally exhausting," Rishel said. "You're not working any harder physically, really, but it just wears you down."

Like many residents across the areas battered by Sunday's wind storm, Rishel is trying to save as much of his refrigerated goods as he can with limited resources. Being a store owner, however, Rishel knows more about safe handling temperatures than most.

To ensure residents are not exposing themselves to potential food poisoning in their own homes, Holmes County Health Commissioner Dr. D.J. McFadden and OSU Extension Educator Kate Shumaker are urging safety when it comes to food stored in freezers and refrigerators where interior temperatures have gone above 40 degrees.

Certain food items that have gone above 40 degrees for two hours or more should almost universally be discarded, Shumaker said.

"If you have been without power -- especially since Sunday, where most of us are -- unless you have a fully stocked freezer that is well packed, you're going to lose most of that food," Shumaker said. "If you are certain that thawed, raw foods in the freezer have not gone above 40 degrees for two hours, you can cook them and refreeze."

Shumaker said a free standing or chest freezer fully stocked will stay at safe temperatures for 48 hours without power. A freezer that is half full, or a full split freezer/refrigerator unit, usually stay at safe temperatures for half that time. The times are suggested for freezers and refrigerators that have not been opened and Shumaker recommends keeping doors closed for the entire period.

Bacteria that forms over 41 degrees cannot be killed by refreezing, McFadden said.

"There are some organisms that produce a toxin and refreezing is not going to affect that toxin," McFadden said. "There are foods that are potentially hazardous. Don't take a chance. Throw them out."

Down the street from Rishel, Michael Bretz and Lisa Mizer are tinkering with a new generator purchased with food preservation in mind. Bretz and Mizer purchased two generators, one to keep Bretz's chest freezer and refrigerator running, another for Mizer's mother. They began alternating a single generator Tuesday after one failed.

"We're going to have to take this one back," Bretz said. "We've been alternating between here and Lisa's mom's. She's got a large chest freezer full of food. She can't lose that."

Rishel said he has maintained safe temperatures for the dairy and deli product storage, but he has had to throw out some produce. He has made some decisions about what to keep and what to let go; on Tuesday, a refrigerated case that held produce sat empty and unplugged. He had to throw out the raspberries.

Shumaker encourages transporting food that has not thawed and has not gone above 40 degrees to an operating freezer or refrigerator, if possible. A cooler packed with ice can be used for temporary storage for a few items and ice used to keep temperatures low in freezers and refrigerators should be stored in such a way to catch liquid as the ice thaws.

Shumaker further stressed any food that has come into contact with raw meat juices should be thrown out.

Countryside Market Owner Henry Troyer had to throw away some of his refrigerated produce Monday after being without power overnight. Troyer said he was more worried about his own freezer, however, which is stocked full of food.

"I was scared," Troyer said. "Our freezer is jammed full and I would have hated to throw that out. I told my wife before we do that, I'm putting a sign out front that says, free food, help yourself."

The power came back on at the Troyers Monday night, well within the safe time for a full freezer.

Those with power and access to the Internet can find more information about foods and safe temperatures, visit the USDA Web site at keeping_food_Safe_during_an_emergency/index.asp

The Ohio State University further recommends two online fact sheets, "Eating Nutritiously When the Lights are Out" at http:// and "Attention Freezer Owners: In case of power outage DO NOT OPEN!!!" is available at Both contain information about meals that do not require refrigeration and tips for safely storing foods.

Reporter Nick Sabo can be reached at 330-674-1811 or e-mail [email protected]

Originally published by By NICK SABO Staff Writer.

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