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Keeping Food Safe After A Disaster Or Emergency

California Poison Control System (CPCS) reminds California residents that earthquakes, fires, floods, and high winds causing power outages can happen at any time. Without electricity, foodborne illness is more likely.

“If you are in a disaster or lose electricity to your refrigerator and freezer, it’s important that you take steps to prevent illness from unsafe food,” said Cyrus Rangan, M.D., a pediatrician and medical toxicologist with California Poison Control System. “You can’t always tell by how food looks or smells, so when in doubt, toss it out.”


Throw away any foods that:

Are perishable and have not been refrigerated or frozen;

Perishable foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers, as well as food from the freezer that thawed;

Canned foods that are bulging, open, or damaged, and any home-canned foods, as they can’t be disinfected;

Have an unusual odor, color, or texture;

Any food containers, including cans, that spurt liquid or foam when opened or contain food that is discolored, moldy, or smells bad.


Food can last longer during and after a power outage if refrigerator and freezer doors are kept closed. Full freezers will keep food safe for 48 hours; 24 hours if half full. If the freezer isn’t full, move the items close together; it will help keep food cold longer. Refrigerators will keep food safe for up to four hours.

After a disaster or emergency, if any food in the freezer still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if it were refrigerated, it can safely be refrozen or cooked.

Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 (number is the same in all states) for questions about poison encounters. Trained pharmacists, nurses and other providers are available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is free, confidential and interpreters are available.

California Poison Control System is part of the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy and is responsible to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority.