DPH Irene tips: When in doubt, throw it out

With hundreds of thousands of households without power in the aftermath of tropical storm Irene, the state Department of Public Health is urging residents to take steps to avoid getting sick from spoiled food or contaminated water. One key rule to remember: When in doubt, throw it out.

Some other tips:

A refrigerator will keep food at the proper temperature for about 4 hours if the doors are not opened. A full freezer will keep a safe temperature for about 48 hours. If it’s only half full, it will hold a safe temperature for 24 hours.

If the temperature in a refrigerator or freezer goes above 40 degrees, all perishable food should be thrown out. That includes meat, eggs, dairy and cut fruits and vegetables.

Food can be safely refrozen if it has ice crystals on it or has stayed below 40 degrees.

Don’t eat any food that might have come into contact with flood water. That includes packaged foods in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth or similar containers that might have been water damaged, and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, soda bottle lids, twist caps, flip tops and home-canned foods. These tops cannot be disinfected properly.

If you live in a flooded area and have a private well that has flooded, consider it contaminated. DPH has information on disinfecting flooding wells here.

Listen for reports from local authorities about whether your water is safe for drinking and bathing. If an advisory has been issued, use only bottled, boiled or treated water for drinking, cooking, food preparation and hand-washing.