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DC Department of Health Urges Residents to Ensure Safety of Food, Medical Supplies and Pets

Sunday, August 28, 2011
The loss of proper refrigeration or exposure to water jeopardizes the safety of foods and medicines, thus making them improper and unsafe to consume.

With power outages affecting significant portions of Washington, DC, and the surrounding jurisdictions, the DC Department of Health (DOH) encourages residents affected by the power outage to take precautions for ensuring the safety of their food and medical supplies for themselves and their pets. The loss of proper refrigeration or exposure to water jeopardizes the safety of foods and medicines, thus making them improper and unsafe to consume.

At this time residents are advised to do the following during and after a power outage:


  • Do not eat food that may have come in contact with flood water. Discard food containers that are not waterproof, such as those with screw caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps. Also discard cardboard juice, milk and baby formula boxes and home-canned foods.
  • A refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours (24 if it's half full and the door remains closed).
  • Throw away the following refrigerated food that's held above 40 degrees for more than two hours:
    • Dairy
    • Raw or leftover meat, poultry or seafood
    • Lunch meat, hot dogs, bacon, sausage
    • Pizza
    • Shredded and soft cheese, such as cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella and Monterey Jack.
    • Eggs
    • Casseroles, soups, stews
    • Cut fresh fruit
    • Opened spaghetti sauce or creamy-based dressings
    • Refrigerated biscuits, rolls, cookie dough
    • Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes
    • Pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged greens
    • Cooked vegetables
  • The following refrigerated foods are safe:
    • Hard cheese (such as cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan and provolone)
    • Butter, margarine
    • Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, pickles
    • Opened vinegar-based dressings
    • Fresh mushrooms and raw, whole vegetables

Food Preparation

  • Don't use generators or grill inside your home. Fumes can kill
  • Keep generators 25 ft outside and away from doors and windows.
  • If you must use candles, use safe holders far from burnable things


  • Medicines stored in the refrigerator should be discarded.  
  • For lifesaving drugs exposed to water, when replacements may not be readily available, if the container is contaminated but the contents appear unaffected –if the pills are dry—the pills may be used until a replacement can be obtained. However, if the pill is wet it is contaminated and should be discarded. 
  • Other drug products (pills, oral liquids, drugs for injections, inhalers, skin medications)—even those in their original containers—should be discarded if they have come into contact with flood or contaminated water. In the ideal setting, capsules, tablets, and liquids in drug containers with screw-top caps, snap lids, or droppers, should be discarded if they are contaminated. In addition, medications that have been placed in any alternative storage containers should be discarded if they have come in contact with flood or contaminated water. 
  • As a general rule, insulin loses its potency according to the temperature it is exposed to and length of that exposure. Under emergency conditions, you might still need to use insulin that has been stored above 86 °F. Such extreme temperatures may cause insulin to lose potency, which could result in loss of blood glucose control over time. 
  • In any case, you should try to keep insulin as cool as possible. Try to keep insulin away from direct heat and out of direct sunlight, but if you are using ice, also avoid freezing the insulin. 
  • When properly stored insulin becomes available, discard and replace the insulin vials that have been exposed to these extreme conditions.


  • If you have to leave your home, take your pet with you, if at all possible. You are the best person to take care of your pet. 
  • Pets should be contained in a carrier or on a leash. 
  • Emergencies can make pets display unexpected or uncharacteristic behaviors. It may take several weeks before your pet's behavior is back to normal. 
  • Allow your pet plenty of time to rest and get used to new surroundings. Provide familiar toys, if possible.