Key messages

  • Emergencies may result in situations where it is harder to keep food safe.
  • There are basic precautions to take to make sure food remains as safe as possible during an emergency.
  • Emergency catering supervisors and food handlers can follow some basic rules to increase the chances of the food they are preparing staying safe.
  • A power failure is another situation during which basic rules should be followed so that food can stay as safe as possible.

In emergency situations, such as bushfires, natural disasters and power failures, it is important that good food safety practices are continually followed, to avoid food poisoning in vulnerable and affected communities.

Emergency power failures 

The most important thing is to try to keep cold and frozen food cold. If food is still cold to touch (less than 5 °C), it is safe to use.

Before and after a power failure:

  • Once cold or frozen food is no longer cold to touch, it can be kept and eaten for up to 4 hours and then it must be thrown away.
  • If it is raw meat, it should be cooked and eaten. 
  • Eat hot food within 4 hours of it being heated or throw it away.
  • If power is restored when frozen food is still frozen solid the food is safe.

During a power failure, the following actions will keep frozen and cold food frozen or chilled for longer:

  • Move food from the fridge to the freezer.
  • If available, put bagged ice under food packages and trays stored in freezers and fridges if power failure lasts more than 1 hour.
  • Place an insulating blanket over cold or frozen food, where possible.
  • Only open fridge and freezer doors when absolutely necessary, this will keep the food and air temperature colder for longer.

Emergency catering

Emergency catering refers to people who are providing catering services to assist in an emergency response.

During an emergency, many volunteers or people not used to handling food may find themselves working with food. This page explains some food safety basics that are especially applicable during an emergency.

Food supervisors checklist

In an emergency, follow these tips to make sure food is as safe as possible:

  • Use refrigeration to keep cold food cold – fridge, mobile cool rooms, insulated coolers or insulated boxes with ice.
  • If storing frozen food, you must use a freezer.
  • Provide handwashing facilities with running water – a container with a tap, soap and paper towels. Make sure plenty of hot and cold water is on hand.
  • Provide sinks and containers big enough to clean cooking equipment and utensils.
  • Ensure adequate bench and table space is available for food preparation.
  • Use covers to protect stored food from pests and dust – a clean cloth will do.
  • Provide cleaning equipment, detergents and sanitisers.
  • Ensure there is a place to store food that is safe from animals and insects.
  • Provide enough rubbish containers to collect and store all waste.

Food handlers checklist

In an emergency, follow these tips to make sure food is as safe as possible:

  • Wash and dry your hands before you touch food.
  • Clean work areas before you start work.
  • Keep raw food separate from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Clean your utensils, bowls, chopping boards and cutlery before you start work.
  • Hold foods at the right temperature
    • cold foods need to be below 5 °C
    • hot foods need to be above 60 °C.
    • cook and reheat foods to at least 75 °C.
  • Wash your hands, utensils and equipment after making one food and before you make another food.
  • If you have a cut or wound, make sure it is completely covered by a waterproof wound strip or bandage, and wear a clean glove over the top.
  • Do not work if you are sick.

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