Food Safety: How restaurants have dealt with Florence power outages

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As the lights come back on after Hurricane Florence, more and more businesses are able to open their doors.

Many restaurants began opening as early as Saturday, Sept. 15, just 24 hours after Florence made landfall.

With prolonged power outages, however, comes the risk of food-borne illness, and restaurants have to be even more mindful of food temperatures and storage.

The state of North Carolina’s food code dictates that refrigerated food be stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Most commercial refrigerators are kept around 38 degrees — high enough to avoid freezing, but low enough to account for frequent opening of the door.

To keep their food safe, owners of The Lunchbox Yvonne Inman and Jeff McDonald said they worked to reduce the amount of food they had in the fridge before the storm. Then, they put it all into one refrigerator and turned down the temperature as low as they could.

“I can’t speak for every restaurant, but we consolidate everything in one refrigerator and turn it way down; and cross your fingers,” McDonald said, “because I mean, you know, if your power goes out and your power’s out for a week, well, you’re kind of out of luck.”

McDonald said The Lunchbox lost power during the afternoon on Friday, Sept. 14, and got it back sometime the next day.

The New Hanover County health department has been going to restaurants as they have gained power and started to reopen. 

However, with the limited amount of staff the department has, it will take time for them to visit every restaurant to make sure food is safe and refrigerators are working property.

County officials said if someone has concerns about an establishment, they should call (910) 678-6667.

Inman said they carefully checked the temperatures of the food they had before serving, but that they really didn’t have that much anyway.

As they don’t have a freezer, and they try to make things fresh every day, they don’t typically have a lot of stock, which helped.

“We were very lucky with that,” McDonald said.

She said that her staff has already been out to local grocery stores to replenish supplies, and that they are hoping to get a delivery from U.S. Foods on Wednesday.

McDonald said they’ve had people give them “everything from handshakes to tears” when they’ve come in for a buttermilk biscuit or hot bowl of soup.

“Some people have just been so relieved to come in somewhere that’s got air conditioning, and to get fresh food that’s not prepackaged or fast food,” he said.

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