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Disaster Preparedness: Food Safety

Ben Franklin famously quoted, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." During an emergency, ensuring safe food resources is key to health. We all know the importance of stocking up on nonperishable foods in preparation for a disaster, but did you know that flood water, fire and loss of power during a storm or other disaster can jeopardize food safety? Proper storage of food is paramount to food safety, but what if your power goes out and you lose refrigeration, or your pantry is flooded? The following tips will help you to have access to safe food sources during a disaster.

Preparing Food  for Emergency

An important step in preparing for a potential disaster is to stock up on ready-to-eat canned and packaged goods to ensure you can maintain a balanced diet if your power goes out for an extended period. If you live in a disaster-prone region, stocking up on pantry food items during the storm season is a good idea. If you wait until a storm is on its way, you may find items scarce on grocery shelves.

Stocking food for an emergency — The following items should be purchased in preparation and stored:

  • Canned meat, vegetables, fruit, and Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) available through reputable vendors
  • Canned juices, electrolyte drinks, soups, and milk (in addition to bottled water)
  • High-energy foods: trail mix/granola bars, peanut butter or other nut spread, crackers, dried fruit and nuts, cereal
  • Comfort/stress foods, such as cookies or hard candy, coffee, tea
  • Special foods for babies, elderly, or special needs diets
  • Pet food for your furry, feathered, or scaled family members

Preparing food for an emergency — Freezers should be kept at 0 °F (Fahrenheit) or below and refrigerators at 40 °F or below. When a power outage occurs, this can be a challenge. However, a few simple preparations will make your food last longer. Here are things you can do before the storm hits:

  • Freeze containers of water and leave them in the freezer and refrigerator with your food. This helps keep the temperature down after the power is out. Remember to leave airspace between the liquid and the container lid, since the liquid will expand as it freezes.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you don't need immediately. Once the power is out they will start to defrost, but they will stay at a safe temperature longer.
  • Pack food in tight groups to help the food stay cold longer. It may seem counter intuitive, but the more food you have in the freezer, the colder it will stay with the door kept closed. A freezer full of food can stay frozen for up to 48 hours, and a refrigerator will keep food at a safe temperature for about 4 hours.
  • To minimize thawing and spoiling, open the refrigerator/freezer/cooler as seldom as possible.
  • Familiarize yourself with places to purchase dry ice or block ice. 50 pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.

After the Storm

Take precautions to make sure your food is safe to eat:

  • Check the temperature of the freezer/fridge with an appliance thermometer.
  • Visually inspect food, if it still contains ice crystals, it is safe.
  • Discard perishable food that has been without refrigeration power for more than 4 hours.
  • Discard food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Also, discard boxed food and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
  • Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans.
  • Never tast food you are unsure about. When in doubt, throw it out!

Stay Informed

Visit these sites for more information on food safety and disaster preparedness:

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