By this morning enough will be known about the wind and water event bearing down on the Carolina coast to reveal where Hurricane Florence will hit land on Friday, and with how much punch. More than 10 million people in the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia are under the hurricane warnings.
The coastal area of the Carolinas from Charleston, SC, to Wilmington, NC, were in the storm’s path as it approached last night. Mandatory public evacuations from coastal areas began earlier in the week. How much damage Florence does will depend on how accurate those early predictions were with their forecasts for 80-foot waves and 40 inches of rain.
Food production facilities in at least those four states have either shut down or prepared to close because of expected flooding from the storm surge and/or terrential rains along with expected power losses of a week or more in some areas.
Smithfield Foods announced it will close its North Carolina pork plants at Tar Heel and Clinton for both today and Friday.
Others are likely to follow, especially if current forecasts make home-to-work commutes unsafe. North Carolina hog farmers will be preparing their lagoons for a major flood event. Hurricane Mathew in 2016 spilled flood waters in 14 lagoons, but flooding was prevented in 3,750 lagoons because of precautions. Hog farm lagoon storage levels must accommodate 25 inches of rain.
Virginia’s poultry industry lost millions of birds from Hurricane Mathew. Poultry producers were reported to be upping their supplies of propane gas and feed, along with taking other precautions, to stem losses from this storm.
As Florence bears down, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is reinforcing its food safety recommendations for those who may be in the storm’s path.
The National Hurricane Center expects Hurricane Florence to impact people along the coastal southeastern U.S. and the mid-Atlantic region. According to the center, flooding, hurricane force winds and storm surge are likely in portions of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Everyone in the path of the storm should closely monitor the progress of Florence, ensure they have their hurricane plan in place, and follow any advice given by local officials.
Hurricanes present the possibility of power outages and flooding that can compromise the safety of stored food, backyard gardens and commercial farming operations. Anyone in the path of this storm should pay close attention to the forecast. FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during this and other severe weather events.
The USDA recommends food safety precautions to follow in advance of losing power:
- Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees F or lower in the refrigerator, 0 degrees F or lower in the freezer.
- Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
- 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.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
- Group foods together in the freezer — this “igloo” effect helps the food stay cold longer.
- Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.
Steps to follow if the power goes out include:
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours, 24 hours if half-full.
- Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross contamination by thawing juices.
- Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
Food safety after a flood:
- Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water — this would include raw fruits and vegetables, cartons of milk or eggs, as well as other foods.
- Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard, or those with screw‐caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps. Flood waters can enter any of these containers and contaminate the food or beverages inside. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes 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. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel‐type can opener.
Steps to follow after a weather emergency:
- Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers, that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more.
- Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
- Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below.
- Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
FSIS’ YouTube video “Food Safety During Power Outages” has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe. The publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage. An infographic is also available outline steps you can take before, during and after severe weather, power outages and flooding. FSIS provides relevant food safety information during disasters on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety and Facebook.
If you have questions about food safety during severe weather, or any other food safety topics, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888MPHotline or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov. These services are available in English and Spanish from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. Answers to frequently asked question can also be found 24/7 at AskKaren.gov.
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