So can I sell food after a blackout? Unfortunately the answer is not a simple yes or no.
The answer depends upon what food we are talking about and how long the blackout lasted.
Potentially hazardous foods should be stored below 5C (41F) to achieve the use by date on the labels, and any time over this temperature reduces this shelf life. The Food Standards Code in Australia and New Zealand (and similar law in other counties) requires that any potentially hazardous foods that have been above that critical temperature for four hours must be thrown out. This is because the amount of bacteria present in them is likely to be above the legal allowable amount, and will most likely make people sick.
So if a fridge has not had power for more than four hours, it is essential that the food temperature be checked and if above 5C (41F), the food must not be sold or used. If a fridge is operating well and the door is left closed during a blackout, it may keep food below the critical temperature for four or more hours but it should be checked before sale or use.
This is why after a recent day long power blackout in South Australia, Health Inspectors were surprised to find nearly 40 food businesses either selling, or prepared to sell, potentially hazardous foods.
Health Authority chief executive Michael Livori said; “It’s a combination of lack of appropriate knowledge in relation to what they should do in those sort of circumstances and the economic issue about having to throw that food out if they’ve been without power for an extended period. It seemed incredible to us, there was one particular business where we ended up making four visits before we got all of the food that we thought was suspect removed from the premises.”
Only potentially hazardous foods are the issue when it comes to blackouts, as shelf stable foods do not allow for the growth of the food poisoning bacteria.
Throwing food out is not something that food businesses really want to do as it is an economic issue, but if that food is not going to be safe for sale or use, then it must be disposed of. Food lost in blackouts is usually covered in business insurance, so even if it is a short term cost to throw the food out, it is a long term investment in protecting the business, with insurance usually covering the loss.
Written by Rachelle Williams – the Green Food Safety Coach