July 14, 2011

Most Americans Are Not Prepared to Ensure Food Safety During Power Outages

Highlights

  • 15% of participants reported that they are fully prepared to keep food safe during an extended power outage
  • Only 37% of participants said they discarded frozen food that had thawed during a power outage
  • Only one-third of participants knew to discard refrigerated perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, milk, eggs and deli items after four hours without power

Media Contacts

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Katherine Kosa
Katherine Kosa

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—With hurricane season under way, a new study by researchers at RTI International, Tennessee State University, and Jackson State Community College finds that most Americans are not prepared to ensure food safety during an extended power outage.

The study, published in the July issue of Food Protection Trends, found that few respondents followed recommended practices to keep food safe during and after an extended power outage (24 hours or more).

Only 37 percent of participants said they discarded frozen food that had thawed during a power outage, and only 31 percent said they discarded refrigerated perishable foods after an extended power outage.

Sixty-five percent of participants said they smelled food to determine whether it was safe to eat after a power outage and 15 percent reported that they stored food directly in snow or cold weather during a power outage, both potentially unsafe practices.

The researchers found that only 15 percent of participants reported that they are fully prepared to keep food safe during an extended power outage. Participants reported a lack of thought, concern, storage space and money as barriers to not being fully prepared.

According to the research, only one-third of participants knew to discard refrigerated perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, milk, eggs and deli items after four hours without power. Sixty percent of participants knew to discard frozen food that had partially or completely thawed before power is restored.

"Americans are not prepared to ensure food safety during extended power outages and other emergencies despite widely available information on emergency preparedness and response," said Katherine Kosa, a research analyst at RTI and the study's lead author. "Public health officials and educators need to address barriers and misconceptions and target specific practices and demographic groups to help reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses."

The researchers conducted a nationally representative web-enabled survey of more than 1,000 people to understand consumers' knowledge and use of recommended food safety practices during and after extended power outages and other emergencies.

The study was funded through a grant from the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture's Cooperate State Research.