WITH POWER OUTAGES widespread across Ocean County caused by Tropical Storm Isaias, residents and visitors may be questioning whether food in their refrigerators and freezers is still okay to eat.
"This storm has left thousands of people in Ocean County without power," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. "It's important to take proper precautions when it comes to the food in your refrigerator and freezers."
According to the website Foodsafety.gov, a federal food safety information site, if the power goes out the rule of thumb is to keep closed the refrigerator and freezer doors as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
Foodsafety.gov suggests that if you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish, or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, it is important that each item is thoroughly cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40º F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 º F) — discard it.
Vicari, who is liaison to the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs, also suggested residents look into filing a claim with their insurance company over the loss of the food.
"As we continue to work through the coronavirus pandemic, and with so many people unemployed because of it, I know that the thought of throwing away food is of great concern," Vicari said. "Food is expensive but we also do not want people getting sick from eating food that has spoiled."
Foodsafety.gov notes that perishable food that has not been refrigerated or frozen properly due to power outages should be thrown away. In addition, food that may have come in contact with floodwater or stormwater, and food with an unusual odor, color or texture should all be thrown away. A complete list of what to keep and what to toss can be found at Foodsafety.gov.
After a Power Outage steps you can take to determine the safety of your food:
• If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
• If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can't rely on appearance or odor alone. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
• Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that has been at temperatures above 40° F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90º F).
"The best rule to go by is when in doubt throw it out," Vicari said.
According to Allstate Insurance, homeowners insurance may offer reimbursement for food lost during a power outage in some cases. However, it's important to understand what your homeowner's insurance policy does and does not cover when it comes to spoiled food.
The cause of the power outage may play a role in whether your homeowners insurance will cover the spoiled food. Oftentimes, insurance may help reimburse you for the cost of the spoiled food if it's the result of a covered risk (frequently referred to as a peril), such as a tree that fell on your home's roof and severed your power line. However, if you accidentally cut your own power line during a do-it-yourself project or fail to pay your power bill, your homeowners insurance policy likely won't cover food-loss expenses.
In addition, some insurers' policies may cover food that spoils if the power outage affects only your residence, while other providers may offer coverage if the entire neighborhood is without power. In either case, though, the outage would likely have to be caused by a covered peril. Your agent can help you understand what your policy may cover.
If you do end up making a food spoilage insurance claim, take pictures of the food if you can. If your claim includes expensive food items like a whole side of beef, your insurance company may also require you to submit receipts.
It's important to keep in mind that coverage limits typically apply. So, for instance, even if you have $700 worth of spoiled food, your homeowners insurance policy may only cover up to $500. In addition, you'll usually have to pay a deductible before receiving reimbursement. Limits and deductibles can vary, so be sure to read your insurance policy or ask your agent to learn about the specifics of your coverage.
"It's important to review your insurance policy to determine the best option for you," Vicari said. "Call your insurance agent or contact the utility company to review your options."
In the meantime, Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) continues to restore service to customers who lost power and has activated its retail water and ice program. For those customers remaining without power for 24 hours or more, JCP&L is offering free water and ice at the following locations in Ocean County:
· 1 Perlmart Shop Rite 427, 429 Atlantic City Blvd., Store 663 Bayville
· Perlmart Shop Rite, 328 Route 9, (Lacey) Store 655, Lanoka Harbor
· Perlmart Shop Rite, 1001Route 70W, Store 659, Manchester
· Acme Supermarkets, Route 35 & Washington, Ortley Beach/Seaside Heights
· Perlmart Shop Rite, 860 Fischer Blvd, Store 656, Toms River
· Saker ShopRites, Inc., 2 Route 37 West, Toms River
· Perlmart Shop Rite, 100 Town Center, Store 665, Waretown