Hurricane Survival

What to do with spoiled food after a power outage

A few tips to help you and your family stay safe
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by Erin Silver

When I lived in Australia, I committed a cardinal sin: after enjoying prawns at Christmas, I threw out all the shells in the garbage and left them there in the summer heat until garbage day. After a few days, my neighbours came knocking. I had no idea that in hot climates, rotting food could attract maggots. 

Similarly, after a hurricane in Bermuda, when the power could be out for hours, if not days, and garbage collection might be delayed, it’s important to know what to do with food that’s spoiled—and how to tell if it’s gone bad.

First, make sure as much food as possible stays safe. Don’t open the fridge or freezer to lock in in the cold. Perishable foods, like dairy and meat, should not be allowed to go above 40°F for more than two hours. If a power outage is two hours or less—or if you have a generator to keep it going—your food should still be safe to eat. If the power is out for longer, pack it into a cooler with ice. This should help maintain your food quality. Non-perishable shelf-stable foods, like canned tuna or meat, condiments and pasta will remain safe to eat. 

Be sure to use your senses, and common sense, to decide whether or not fresh foods like meat, cheese, milk and vegetables have gone bad. Is there mould? Does it smell? Has it gone green? These are all signs to look for. When in doubt, throw it out.

If food has gone off, you will need to throw it out and clean your fridge and freezer. Be sure to have latex gloves handy so you don’t get sick from bacteria or contaminate other surfaces. It’s hard to clean without water. Instead, if you find yourself without running water, use disposable antibacterial wipes or cleaning detergents. Make sure the entire area is sanitized. Surfaces should be left for about 10 minutes for the cleaning agents to work. To get rid of any lingering smells, place a bowl of coffee grounds, baking soda, vinegar or lemon slices in the freezer or fridge for a while to absorb bad odours. When the power goes back on, you can re-stock your fridge and freezer.

Spoiled food should be double bagged and only placed in your bin and put to the curb on garbage day. That’s the law. If garbage day isn’t for several days, you’ll want to avoid attracting rats by leaving it to rot in the summer heat. Residents can bring their spoiled food to the Tynes Bay Public Drop Off once it’s safe to leave your house and use the roads again. The public will be alerted to this by Bermuda’s Emergency Measures Organization. (As an aside, any foliage, branches and trees you collect can be dropped off at the Marsh Folly Dump.)

If you can’t take the waste to the dump yourself, listen for government advisories about residential waste collection. The current Waste and Recycling calendar is available at or you can call 295-5151.

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