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How to file an insurance claim for spoiled food

Large storms and power outages are scary enough already. Add in the foul smell of rotting food and the danger of eating spoiled refrigerated goods, and you’ve got a nightmare on your hands. Just ask the victims of any major hurricane.

Food spoilage coverage typically is covered under standard homeowner’s insurance policies – and for good reason.

“This kind of loss is not uncommon in large storms, such as hurricanes or ice storms,” says Gary Stephenson, a State Farm spokesman in Louisiana.

Why is food spoilage coverage important?

When you’re bracing for a hurricane or a power outage, coverage for spoiled food might not be high on your list of priorities. However, a recent study by research company RTI International found that many adults age 60 and over don’t know what to do with their food after a power outage. More than 60 percent of the 290 survey participants didn’t throw away perishable foods that had thawed during a power outage lasting more than 24 hours.

In a news release, Sue Lundmark, personal lines manager at Cox & Johnson Insurance, says filing a claim for food spoilage alone might not be worth the trouble. This is because the claim would go on your record and – with the typical homeowner’s deductible at $500 – the amount it costs to file the claim might exceed the value of the spoiled food.

Allstate spokesman Justin Herndon explains that the coverage cap for spoiled food depends on your personal property coverage limit – the maximum amount of money you can claim for damaged or destroyed property.

Stephenson says that at State Farm, such claims can be subject to a hurricane deductible, which usually is typically 2 percent of a homeowner’s policy amount. “Food loss could be counted with roof damage and content losses,” Stephenson says.

Since Superstorm Sandy technically isn’t classified as a hurricane, food spoilage from this event automatically may be covered under your standard homeowner’s policy or under added coverage, depending on your insurer. For example, The Hartford offers optional spoiled-food coverage for homeowners who choose to pay a little extra. Lisa Lobo, the insurer’s vice president of product management, says that $10 tacked onto an annual premium buys $500 worth of coverage with a $100 deductible. Coverage can be up to $2,000.

Safety precautions

With about 8.9 million residences experiencing power outages as a result of Sandy, it’s important to take note of the length of the power outage, whether the refrigerator or freezer was opened during the outage and the likelihood of spoilage by food type.

Here are some guidelines to help you when you aren’t sure whether to toss your food:

  • Do not disregard safety precautions because you think the food in question looks or smells “fine” – many food-borne bacteria lack distinct colors or odors.
  • Do not taste food to test whether it’s safe to eat.
  • If the outage lasted more than two hours and the refrigerator became warmer than 40 degrees, toss out all perishable foods – including meat, poultry, fish and leftovers.
  • For the same power outage conditions outlined above, any opened beverages that require refrigeration – such as milk or fruit juice — should be thrown out.
  • As a rule of thumb, raw vegetables and fruits are safe to keep.

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