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Sanitarians from the Ledge Light Health District and Uncas Health District on Monday began visiting restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses that serve food and lost power during Tropical Storm Irene to inspect food kept in refrigerators and freezers and tell owners that all perishables must be thrown out if they get too warm.
"When in doubt, throw it out," said Baker Salisbury, director at Ledge Light. The health district serves East Lyme, Groton City and Town, Ledyard, Waterford and New London, and inspects and licenses about 600 restaurants, cafeterias and grocery stores that sell prepared food.
Salisbury said sanitarians are checking the temperature of foods stored in refrigerators and freezers, which should have been kept closed through any power outage, to prevent serving anything that could spread a food-borne illness to the public.
According to the state Department of Public Health and the Food & Drug Administration, food that gets warmer than 40 degrees for two hours or more is considered unsafe and should be thrown out. It will stay at the proper temperature for about four hours after a loss of power if refrigerator doors are kept closed. A full freezer will keep food safe for about 48 hours.
Patrick McCormack, director of Uncas Health District, advised restaurant owners who try to run refrigerators off generators to make sure the equipment gets cold enough before putting food inside. Uncas Health District serves Norwich, Bozrah, Sprague, Voluntown, Lisbon, Griswold and Montville. Its sanitarians inspect and license about 300 food services establishments.
Some restaurants contacted by sanitarians Monday had already thrown out their food, and some were still hoping the power would restart soon enough to save some.
They were told not to expect the power to go back on for a couple of days and to "use the time to discard the food," McCormack said. Restaurants were also advised to postpone deliveries and document what they had on hand when the storm hit for insurance claims.
They should also make sure trash receptacles aren't blocked by fallen limbs and other debris so that they can be readily emptied of discarded food before it starts rotting, McCormack said.
Ted Landis, owner of Green Onion Pizza in Jewett City, said he spent Monday discarding much of the food in his refrigerators, including pizza ingredients, meats and seafood. He was able to save some supplies that were in a large walk-in refrigerator that is being powered by a generator. The restaurant lost power on Sunday.
In Ledyard, Valentino's owner Rich Vetrano said his restaurant lost power but he kept the food stored in its refrigerators and freezers from spoiling by moving it to another restaurant he owns in Westerly ahead of the storm. The Westerly restaurant did not lose power.
On Monday, Vetrano was hooking up a generator to power coolers and lights in his Ledyard restaurant. His stoves and ovens are fueled by gas.
He was planning to open for dinner Monday with a limited menu, expecting that many local residents without power would welcome a freshly prepared meal.
"We'll serve pizza and grinders, maybe some pasta," he said. "Easy stuff."
• Check temperature with a refrigerator thermometer.
• Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed while the power is out.
• If the temperature in the refrigerator or freezer is above 40 degrees for two hours or more, all perishable foods such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and cut fruits and vegetables should be discarded.
• Food kept in the freezer can be safely refrozen or cooked if it still has ice crystals and has stayed below 40 degrees.
• Once the power has restarted, check the temperature.
Sources: Connecticut Department of Public Health, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Restaurant owners and homeowners with questions about food safety can call Ledge Light Health District at (860) 448-4882 or Uncas Health District at (860) 823-1189.