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Many Don't Toss Perishables After Long Power Outage: Poll

Most Americans not prepared to keep their food safe during an emergency

THURSDAY, July 21, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Most Americans are not prepared to keep their refrigerated food safe in the event of a power outage that lasts for more than a day, the results of a new survey suggest.

And the reasons for this poor preparation stem from a lack of storage space, cash and concern, according to researchers at RTI International, Tennessee State University and Jackson State Community College.

"Americans are not prepared to ensure food safety during extended power outages and other emergencies despite widely available information on emergency preparedness and response," study author Katherine Kosa, a research analyst at RTI International, said in an RTI news release. "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."

In conducting the study, researchers used an online survey of more than 1,000 people across the United States to gather information on their knowledge and use of recommended food safety practices, such as when to discard perishable foods either during or after long power outages and other emergencies.

The study, published in the July issue of Food Protection Trends, revealed few people followed recommended guidelines on how to keep food safe after 24 hours or more without power. In fact, only 37 percent of participants said they discarded frozen food that had thawed during a power outage, and only 31 percent discarded refrigerated perishable foods after losing power for an extended period of time.

Moreover, 65 percent of those surveyed said they used their sense of smell to determine whether food was safe to eat, a practice that is considered potentially unsafe. Of those polled, 15 percent admitted storing food directly in snow or exposed it to cold outdoor temperatures during a power outage, which is another practice thought to be unsafe.

The researchers also found that just one-third of participants knew to toss refrigerated perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, milk and eggs, in the garbage after four hours without power. Meanwhile, 60 percent of those surveyed knew to throw away frozen food that had partially or completely thawed during an outage.

Overall, the investigators found that only 15 percent of survey participants were fully prepared to keep food safe during an extended power outage.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides more information on food safety.

SOURCE: RTI International, news release, July 14, 2011
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