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Keeping food safe during an extended power outage: A consumer’s perspective

Sandria L. Godwin, PhD, Richard J. Coppings, PhD, Katherine M. Kosa, MS, Sheryl C. Cates, BS, Leslie Speller-Henderson, MS


Most Americans live at risk of experiencing a natural disaster. Such disasters are often accompanied by power outages, sometimes for extended periods. Six formal focus groups were conducted, two in North Carolina and four in Tennessee, to assess consumers’ food safety knowledge and practices during extended power outages. Forty-seven adults of various ethnicities, ages, and genders participated in the focus groups held in libraries, extension offices, or other community centers. Participants’ knowledge of safety precautions that should be taken during and after a power outage and the actions that participants had taken to be prepared for a possible power outage in the future were evaluated. Few participants were prepared for their most recent extended power outage, and most participants had not taken additional measures to prepare for a future outage. To determine the safety of food during or after a power outage, some participants relied on their senses. Barriers to not following recommended practices included not being aware of specific recommendations, not believing specific recommendations, procrastination, cost, and limited space for storing emergency supplies. Motivators to following the recommended practices included having concerns about contracting foodborne illness, believing the messages, and having recently experienced an extended power outage. It was concluded that few consumers were prepared to keep their food safe during an extended power. In anticipation of a natural disaster that may cause an extended power outage, food safety educators should work with the media to provide information to consumers on actions they should take to prepare for an extended power outage.


food safety, power outages, consumer preparedness

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