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Hurricane Havoc – Thinking About Food Safety After a Hurricane

Posted in Food Safety,Water on July 17, 2018

Hurricane season is upon us. Living on the East Coast, although not exactly in a coastal area, we are sometimes threatened by hurricane season. Often when storms come from the Gulf areas and towards The Carolinas we know that power outages and other not-so-fun things can happen.

One important thing to know during hurricane season is that we have to be extra careful with our food. We are often found making lists of things to do when storms are coming to be prepared. That list can grow bigger after the storm passes for many reasons.

Growing up like this and still living in the same area, I have learned that food safety during and after storms is a huge deal. In fact, in times when food resources may be very lean for days to weeks, it is a VERY huge deal.

Planning ahead is a huge step to making sure that your food stays safe according to the USDA, and here are some tips for that:

  • Freeze bottles of water in advance to help keep foods cold.
  • Freeze whatever is in your refrigerator that can be frozen, such as: leftovers, fresh meats, and milk. This helps them to stay at a safe temperature longer if the power goes out.
  • Keep coolers on hand if you believe the power will be out longer than 4 hours. This helps with keeping foods on ice.
  • Bunch foods together tightly in the freezer. Having them stored this way will keep them frozen longer. In this instance think of pack mentality.
  • We make our own ice containers because stores sell out of ice quickly when any disaster happens. Anything that can hold water and not pose a hazard can be made into ice. Personally, we keep quite a few 2 liter bottles around for these things.
  • Another thing to keep in mind is that food needs to be stored on higher shelves to avoid being in contact with contaminated flood waters should you been in an area that is susceptible to flooding.

During the Storm

While things are often the most stressful during the storm, is it important to keep an eye on your food stores if you have not been evacuated. We have never been in an evacuation situation, thankfully, but we have been in situations where the power has been out for nearly a week.

During the storm, it is important to monitor temperatures of your food, but to not open the refrigerator or freezer too often.

  • Food can be refrozen as long as ice crystals remain.
  • Block or dry ice can prolong the life of foods kept in the freezer.
  • After 4 hours without power in a refrigerator, foods need to be discarded. Meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers, and deli items spoil faster than other products, so it is highly important to throw those out.
  • Foods are still safe at 40 degrees and lower, so having a thermometer on hand is very important. If you do not have a fridge or freezer with one installed then the purchase of one is a must in your storm kit. If you do not have one to gauge the temperature of your fridge or freezer, then each food has to be checked one by one with an internal thermometer. This is not only time consuming, but can damage packaging for foods and let in germs and allow for freezer burn.

After the Storm

The days following a hurricane can be exhausting. The clean-up and stress in the aftermath can drain a person both physically and mentally. But the good news is, there are steps you can take to ensure your that your food is safe – an imperative part of the post-storm recovery efforts.

  • Never eat foods that have come into contact with flood waters.
  • Discard anything that has not been stored in a waterproof container
  • Inspect canned goods for damage.
  • If exposed to flood waters then wash your pots and pans. Use soap and hot water. If you do not have hot water, then a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to every gallon of water will help.
  • Clean your countertops in the same fashion as your dishes. We like to use spray type cleaners or disinfectant wipes.

The Fridge After a Storm

  • If your fridge has a bad smell from spoiled foods after a hurricane first remove all spoiled food. Give the fridge a top to bottom scrubbing, including removing the crisper drawers and washing those in hot soapy water.
  • Hot water and baking soda can be used to clean the fridge interior. Leave the door open for 15 minutes to air out.
  • If an odor lingers, try a solution of vinegar and water.
  • Leave the door open to air out for several days.
  • If after this an odor still remains, roll newspapers and fill the interior. Close the door for several days.
  • Fresh coffee grounds also work as a great odor absorber as well as a cotton swab that has been soaked in vanilla.
  • Unfortunately, sometimes a new fridge has to be purchased. In that case, child proof the fridge by taking the doors off. If you can’t get the doors off then install a padlock and dispose. In many jurisdictions, including our own, it is unlawful to discard a refrigerator with the doors still attached, but some do allow the padlock.

Final Thoughts

  • When in doubt, throw it out. Food safety is nothing to play with. One of the first things we throw out are condiments and anything from a deli. Summer months mean we usually have lots of fresh deli meats and salads, but this also means those are the first things lost after a storm.
  • If you have questions about the safety of your foods after a storm there are charts online, but you can also call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline– Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854); TTY, 1-800-256-7072.

The Hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

We at MakeFoodSafe wish everyone a safe hurricane season.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)