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Food Safety Tips During an Emergency

Emergency situations such as a flood, fire or power outage can affect the safety of your food. These tips can help you minimize the loss of food and help determine if your food is safe.

Be Prepared For An Emergency

• Buy food items that do not need to be refrigerated and can be eaten cold or heated on an outdoor grill.
• If you must heat food, pack a can of sterno and matches in a waterproof bag.
• Choose foods that require little preparation and cooking and little or no water.
• Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods should be part of a planned emergency food supply.
• Have ready-to-use baby formula for infants and pet food.
• Regularly check your emergency food supply and use/replace food items as needed to ensure freshness.
• Keep a hand-held can opener available.
• Store food safely. If you live in an area that could become flooded, store food on shelves that will be out of the way of contaminated water.
• Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. When the power is out, an appliance thermometer will always indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer no matter how long the power has been out. The refrigerator temperature should be 40° F or below; the freezer temperature should be 0° F or lower.
• Know where to buy dry ice or block ice, in case it is needed to help keep food cold or frozen.
• Keep styrofoam coolers on hand. If possible, freeze containers of water that can be used to keep foods cold or frozen. Freeze gel packs ahead of time.
• Select food items that are compact and lightweight.
• Avoid foods that will make you thirsty. Choose salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with high liquid content.
• If you want to use your own storage containers for water, you can use clean two-liter plastic soft drink bottles – not plastic jugs or cardboard containers that have had milk or fruit juice in them. Milk protein and fruit sugars cannot be adequately removed from these containers and provide an environment for bacterial growth when water is stored in them.

General Tips

• NEVER taste food to determine if it is safe to eat. Do not rely on the appearance and odor of food.
• If you have any doubt about the safety and freshness of a food item, throw it out.
• Make sure you use clean pots, pans, cooking utensils and dishes when preparing and eating foods.
• Thoroughly wash fresh fruits and vegetables before cooking or eating. Discard foods that have been exposed to or come in contact with any chemical, smoke from a fire or floodwater.
• Any food not fit for human consumption is also not fit for pets.

During A Power Outage

• Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. A refrigerator can keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer can keep food frozen for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half-full) if the door stays closed.
• Use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer and help determine the safety of the food.
• Make sure the freezer is at 0 °F or below and the refrigerator is at 40 °F or below. (Make sure to check the freezer and refrigerator temperatures after power is restored.)
• If the power will be out more than two to four hours, transfer perishable foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler and make sure the temperature does not go above 40° F.
• Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
• Use coolers to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours
• Store items in the freezer close to each other to help them stay cold longer.
• If possible, use dry ice or a large block of ice to help keep your refrigerator and freezer cold. Fifty pounds of dry ice should help keep a full 18-cubic foot freezer cold enough for 2 days. Handle dry ice with gloves or tongs. Place dry ice on top of food items.

After a Power Outage

• Check refrigerated and frozen food items. Use the appliance thermometer to help ensure that the temperature of food items is at a safe level.
• If food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Consume these foods as soon as possible.
• Thawed foods that are still cold should be cooked immediately.
• Any food that has an unusual smell, texture or color, or perishable foods that have been at room temperature for more than two hours should be disposed of.
• Dispose of perishable food items such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products if they have been at temperatures higher than 40° F for two or more hours.

After a Flood

• Do not eat food that has come in contact with floodwater, especially if the containers are not waterproof, such as cardboard beverage boxes. Other containers that are not waterproof include those with screw caps, snap-on lids, crimped caps and pull tops and home canned food containers. Foods wrapped in plastic or stored in plastic bags, paper bags or cloth should also be discarded.
• Discard wooden cutting boards, wooden dishes and utensils, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that have come into contact with flood water because these items cannot be safely cleaned.
• Damaged cans that are punctured, swollen, or have extensive rusting should be discarded.
• Food in retort pouches – thick, flexible aluminum foil-like pouches used to pack juices and seafood – should be edible as long as the pouches are not damaged or punctured.
• Clean and disinfect cans, food pouches and cooking and eating utensils before using.
• To disinfect cans, remove labels and wash them with soap or detergent. Rinse in a chlorine bleach solution using two tablespoons of household laundry bleach to each gallon of water. Rinse containers in clean water, dry and relabel them. The cans can also be sterilized by covering them with water and boiling for at least 10 minutes.
• Remove labels, if possible, to avoid harboring dirt and bacteria. After a thorough cleaning, relabel cans and pouches, including the expiration date, with a permanent marker.
• Thoroughly clean and disinfect food preparation surfaces such as countertops. Wipe surfaces with hot water and then sanitize them using a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow to air dry.
• Foods should be eaten as soon as possible.

After a Fire

• Food that was exposed to fire can be damaged by heat, smoke fumes, and chemicals used to fight the fire. Discard fresh fruits, vegetables and other raw foods that have been exposed to heat and fumes.
• Foods exposed to chemicals should also be discarded because the chemicals cannot be washed off.
• Toxic fumes can permeate packaging and contaminate food. Foods in permeable packaging such as screw top, cardboard and plastic containers, plastic bags and plastic wrap should be discarded.
• Food in cans or jars may appear to be okay, but the heat from a fire can activate food spoilage bacteria. The heat may also cause jars and cans to split and crack. Check containers carefully.
• Food stored in refrigerators or freezers can also become contaminated by fumes, since these appliances may not be airtight. Discard foods that have an off flavor or odor.
• Discard disposable utensils that have been exposed to smoke and chemicals.
• Decontaminate cookware, utensils and dishes before using them. Wash them with soap and hot water then soak the items for 15 minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine per one gallon of water. Cans can also be decontaminated this way.