Hurricane Irma Update for Georgia Food Industry
This is an update for Georgia’s food industry regarding what to expect during a post-disaster visit from a Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) Food Safety Inspector. Hurricane Irma’s current track represents a major threat to the State of Georgia with the effects being felt early tomorrow and into Tuesday. This storm is expected to enter SW Georgia as either a Category 1 hurricane or a strong tropical storm, bringing the potential for damaging winds, heavy rains and flash flooding, storm surge and possible tornadoes, all of which may cause widespread power outages, injury, and other damage.
POTENTIAL HAZARDS & IMPACTS TO INDUSTRY
- Food Facility Flooding
- Food Facility Structural Damage
- Power Interruption/Power Loss at Food Facilities
- Water Interruption at Food Facilities
GDA Food Safety Inspectors from both the retail and manufactured food programs will be tasked with visiting food establishments in areas impacted by the storm, once it is safe to do so. The GDA inspector will review an assessment checklist, which covers six primary areas aimed at assessing the damage within a facility related to food products. It is important to realize this is not an “inspection;” rather, the visit is designed for the inspector to quickly determine if an establishment is safe to be open for food sales and/or food processing. The following areas will be assessed during an on-site visit:
REMINDERS ABOUT POWER LOSS
- Building Condition: Has physical damage occurred? If so, is it minor, moderate or extensive?
- Electricity: Is the electricity currently on, and how is it supplied (municipal vs. generator)? Was power lost at any time? If so, when was it lost and when was it restored?
- Water: What is the current source of water? Are any Boil Water Advisories in effect? If so, how is that being handled?
- Waste Disposal: What type of sewage system is used, and is it operational? Is garbage collection occurring?
- Food Preparation/Processing/Storage: Is the facility preparing food, or serving prepared food? Are food prep/processing/storage areas free of contamination? Is cold storage, refrigeration and/or freezer equipment operational? Are people able to properly wash their hands?
- Condition of Food Products: Any foods damaged, adulterated, or time/temperature abused? If so, have those products been segregated? What will the facility do with the segregated products (recondition, voluntarily destroy, undecided, etc.)? Has the facility already disposed of any damaged, adulterated or temperature abused food products? If yes, how and when? How much product was destroyed (pounds and/or value)?*
- Before loss of power: Be sure you have a thermometer in all refrigerators (at or below 40°F) and freezers (at or below 0°F). Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep cold in the fridge/freezer/coolers if loss of power occurs. Group food together to help it stay colder longer; dry or block ice can help in event of prolonged power outages.
- During a power outage: Keep the doors to the fridge/freezer closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. Food will remain cold in the refrigerator for ~four hours if unopened. Past this time, without a generator, food products for retail sale are considered adulterated and will need to be disposed of.
- Once power is restored: Check the thermometer in the freezer, if it reads 40°F or below (or contains ice crystals still), the food is safe and may be refrozen or cooked. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than ~four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food that has been at temperatures above 40°F for more than ~two hours. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out!
In the event of flooding, local water supplies may be compromised and Boil Water Advisories issued. Discard any foods or beverages that come into contact with flood waters, unless they are in a waterproof containers, which include undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches); please note that foods with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops or crimped cans are NOT waterproof.
Food processors and retailers should continue to closely monitor the storm’s path and be ready to respond to changing threats. Remember that once the storm hits, response and recovery activities do not begin for at least 48 to 72 hours after high winds have ended, to ensure responder and public safety, meaning it could take several days before an inspector is safely able to reach a facility if it is in an affected area.
For non-emergent questions or concerns relating to food, please contact the GDA Food Safety Division at (404) 656-3627. Find all the latest about food safety, livestock, shelters, fuel and other important disaster-related information for Georgia at http://agr.georgia.gov/gda-hurricane-response.aspx, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram via “@GDAFoodSafety.”
* Note: The GDA recommends documenting product voluntary destruction activities (e.g., electronic or hand written notes, copies of records, photos, or other methods of documentation). Please note that GDA inspectors are NOT required to be on-site for voluntary destruction of product.