Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast, episode 44: How to keep food safe in emergencies

 In this episode of APHA’s Get Ready Report, we speak with USDA Food Safety Specialist Marianne Gravely, about how Americans can plan ahead to keep their food safe.  We’ll hear about two apps from the USDA, as well as one of their recent campaigns.

So, both of these apps, FoodKeeper and Ask Karen, you know, they help us keep food safe in different ways.  So in your opinion, how can we, APHA members and the general public use both of them to protect ourselves from emergencies, such as power outages?

Well, Ask Karen is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you can use it to search for food safety information, so for example, I typed the words ‘power outage’ into Ask Karen and I got a bunch of questions such as, “During a power outage, can I store my food in the snow?” or “how do I prepare for a power outage?”, “what happens if power goes out while I’m cooking?” The good thing about Ask Karen is that it’s available as a mobile app on an iOS or Android phone so even if you’ve lost power, as long as your phone is charged, you can still get information on what to do to keep your food safe.  We also have, on our website, a pamphlet called “Preparing for a Weather Emergency,” so people who want to prepare for hurricane season or winter storms can download this right from our website and prepare.  It has all different steps on what to do if you think a storm’s coming, so those are the things that we have.  Now, the FoodKeeper app helps you find storage information for specific foods in the refrigerator, the freezer and the pantry.  We have over 400 foods in that database.  It also provides cooking tips or cooking methods.  So FoodKeeper is more of a day-to-day storage of cooking information, whereas Ask Karen has hundreds of questions you can type in to get food safety information.

They’re both really remarkable and serve so many different purposes.  Switching gears a little bit, I know that it’s the 30th anniversary of USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, so we at APHA want people to know how they can plan ahead with the food they eat in case of a variety of emergencies.  But how can the Meat and Poultry Hotline help people plan ahead?

Well, we get phone calls from people planning a camping trip or graduation party, where they might be cooking and serving outside, but we’ve also had phone calls from people who have been notified by their power companies that they’re going to have rolling blackouts.  So when that happened, Christina and her team contacted the power companies, they gave them this terrific infographic we have about preparing for a power outage, and the utility company was able to share that with their customers so that during this period of time when people would be without power, they could be prepared for it.  But I’ve also had consumers call with that same question: their building is being renovated and they’ve been told that every day for eight hours they won’t have power, so they need to know what to do to keep the food in the refrigerator and freezer safe.

And you just mentioned cooking outside, which in the summertime that’s what we do.  I know I certainly do, and outdoor grilling can result in a variety of emergencies if not done correctly.  And I know that you have not only an infographic but this whole Grilling Like a Pro, or I should say “hashtag” Grilling Like a Pro campaign.  So how does that keep grilling emergencies from ever occurring?

Well, using a food thermometer is the only way to be sure that you’ve cooked food properly, or to a safe temperature high enough to kill food-poisoning bacteria.  You can’t tell by looking at meat or poultry if it’s safe.  It also helps you prevent overcooking your food, so that’s another benefit.  So we encourage everybody, whether they’re grilling or cooking in the house, to use a food thermometer whenever they’re cooking.  Food poisoning, on a personal level, is a big emergency, so we don’t want anybody to get food poisoning.

That’s fantastic.  Marianne, thanks so much for speaking with us!

Posted Sept. 28, 2015. Listen to this podcast on our main podcast page.