Following a series of recent wildfires across the western United States, the government is reminding people that fire can compromise the safety of foods in the home. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Monday issued a warning to the estimated 2 million Americans whose homes will be affected by fires each year. “A fire in the home can expose foods to toxic fumes and chemicals, making them unsafe to eat,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elizabeth Hagen in a statement Monday. For this reason, any food stored in permeable packaging such as cardboard or plastic wrap should be thrown away, says FSIS. That goes for refrigerated food too. “Surprisingly, food stored in refrigerators or freezers can also become contaminated by fumes,” warns the agency. “The refrigerator seal isn’t airtight and fumes can get inside. If food from your refrigerator has an off-flavor or odor, throw it away.” Food in cans or jars is also subject to harmful effects from fires, as high temperatures can trigger the growth of food spoilage bacteria in these containers. The best rule of thumb is: “When in doubt, throw it out,” says the FSIS warning. Chemicals used to fight fires can also pose a threat to foods and cookware, it adds. Food that has come into contact with firefighting chemicals should be discarded, as it cannot be cleaned. This includes items in permeable containers and screw-top jars. Canned foods and cookware, on the other hand, can be decontaminated. Wash these items with detergent before soaking them in a bleach solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach to every gallon of water for 15 minutes. For more information on post-fire food safety, visit FSIS’s information page.

  • Cap’n Obvious

    The article didn’t mention prevention. You know, obvious things like don’t build your damned house up in the hills where brush fires will burn it to the ground. My house burned down Saturday. Is it OK to scrub what’s left of the pots and pans with generic clorox I found in a partially melted jug from under where the sink used to be? BTW, you didn’t have to warn me about stuff in the fridge. Man, I pried open that charred refrigerator door and…JESUS!…ain’t no way anyone’s getting anything from in there past their nose to eat it. God damn, what a mess.

  • Winnie

    Does anybody know how to tell what’s in a can that has its label burned off? There is nothing quite so discouraging when you have your heart set upon enjoying some good ravioli as having to settle for peas from one can and scorched sloppy joe sauce from the second can.