PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
February 5, 2014

Mary E. O'Dowd, M.P.H.

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

Christie Administration Urges Residents to Be Aware of Food Safety, Generator Safety Issues


The Christie Administration and Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd urge residents who have lost power to keep their refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature and, if using emergency generators, to follow manufacturers instructions.

"While portable generators can be very helpful during outages, it is important to follow safety guidelines when using one," said Commissioner O'Dowd.  "Running generators within a basement, garage or any enclosed or partially-enclosed structure will lead to a dangerous - and often fatal - accumulation of carbon monoxide (CO). Because the gas is odorless and colorless, its effects are not recognized and people will fall asleep or not wake up.

Exposure to CO can produce headaches, sleepiness, fatigue, confusion and irritability at low levels. At higher levels, it can result in nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, impaired vision and coordination, and death.

Those who have lost power should keep their refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Food will stay cold in the refrigerator for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full)--if the door remains closed. Perishable food that may have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more should be discarded.

"Perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked," said Commissioner O'Dowd.

If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook. If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it's important that each item is thoroughly cooked.

Adding block ice or dry ice to your refrigerator if the electricity is expected to be off for more than four hours. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic foot fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.

The following safety tips should be followed when using generators:

  • Never run a generator within a basement, garage or any enclosed or partially enclosed structure as this will lead to a dangerous and often fatal accumulation of carbon monoxide
  • Never position a generator too close to your home's windows and doors.
  • Use battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms. Test and change the batteries at regular intervals
  • Never connect a generator directly to your home's wiring unless your home has been wired for generator use. This can cause backfeeding along power lines and electrocute anyone coming in contact with them, including lineworkers making repairs
  • Always plug appliances directly into generators
  • Use heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords. Make sure extension cords are free of cuts or tears and the plug has three prongs.
  • Ensure your generator is properly grounded
  • Never overload a generator. A portable generator should only be used when necessary to power essential equipment or appliances
  • Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down
  • Keep the generator dry. Operate it on a dry surface under an open structure
  • Always have a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby
  • Never fuel a generator while it is operating and wait until it is cool to the touch

If you are using a generator and suspect CO poisoning take immediate action including:

  •  Call 9-1-1 immediately if a person is not breathing, is unconscious or unresponsive, or having seizures or convulsions
  •  Exit the home/building/enclosed space immediately
  •  Contact your local fire department

For additional information on food safety and power outages, please visit https://nj.gov/health/er/natural.shtml and http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/recovery.asp.

For more information on generator safety, please visit: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/co/generator.shtm

Last Reviewed: 2/5/2014