In the wake of the tornadoes that devastated many Oklahoma communities this week, state health officials are reminding residents and rescue workers that food is more likely to be contaminated after a natural disaster, and should be handled safely. The Oklahoma State Health Department praised the recent outpouring of support for victims in the storms’ aftermaths, but cautioned that while many people are generously donating food, that food must also be served in a sanitary manner to avoid spreading foodborne illness. “Processes must be in place to ensure that products and services do not inadvertently harm or put at risk the very people who are impacted by the tornado or those assisting the families or those involved in clean-up efforts,” said OSHD on its website Wednesday. “One such area of concern is the availability of free food or food for sale for residents, responders and relief workers in the storm-damaged areas.” The health department advised food vendors to serve non-perishable items that do not need to be heated before consumption. It also recommended the following precautions for those preparing food in areas affected by the tornadoes:

  • Protect food from flying debris and insects by using screens in any open food areas.
  • Thaw frozen food properly prior to cooking, and cool food rapidly prior to storage.
  • Cook all food thoroughly, serve at correct temperature, and avoid cross-contamination.
  • Use clean utensils to handle cooked foods.
  • Wash your hands, dishes and utensils used for preparing and serving food, with water from a safe source.
OPDH also said environmental specialists are on hand at disaster sites to ensure the safety of food being served to the public.