Editor’s Note: Hurricane Dorian is a slow-moving Category 5 storm with tremendous sustained surface winds of 185 mph with gusts reaching 220 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. After crossing the northwestern Bahamas, the eastern coast of the U.S is now in the storm’s sights. The U.S Food and Drug Administration has this advice for keeping food and water safe.
Questions? Call the FDA Information Center: 1-888-SAFE-FOOD Monday-Friday 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Hurricanes and other severe storms are dangerous and destructive – destroying homes and compromising communities. Floods and power outages from hurricanes, tornadoes, and snow storms can cut off water supplies and quickly contaminate food. Protect yourself, your family, and your pets from foodborne illnesses. Following are steps you can take to preserve your food and water during storms.
Before a Storm
Prepare for unpredictable weather emergencies. Have these supplies on hand:
- Thermometers in the freezer and refrigerator
- Containers of ice to keep food cold or to melt if water supply is contaminated or unavailable
- Coolers, frozen gel packs, and dry ice to keep refrigerated food at or below 40 F and frozen food at or below zero F if power is out for more than 4 hours
- Bottled water
- Nonperishable food high on shelves, in case of flood
- Manual can opener
- Bleach for disinfecting
During a Storm
Keep food at recommended temperatures. Keep in mind that perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs not kept at recommended temperatures can make you sick—even if thoroughly cooked.
Do not eat or drink anything that has touched flood water, including food packed in non-metal containers.
How to sanitize cans of food:
- Remove labels from cans, which can harbor dirt and germs, wash the cans, and dip them in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/250 mL) of unscented household (5.25% concentration) bleach in 5 gallons of water.
- Allow the cans to air dry.
- Re-label the cans with a marker. Include the expiration date.
How to sanitize containers, countertops, pots, pans, dishware and utensils:
- Thoroughly wash, rinse, and sanitize anything that may come in contact with food — for example, pans, dishes, utensils, and countertops. Throw away wooden cutting boards or bowls — these cannot be safely sanitized.
- Mix 1 tablespoon unscented household (5.25% concentration) liquid bleach with 1 gallon of water.
- Soak item in the solution for 15 minutes.
- Allow to air dry.
How to make tap water safe to drink:
After a natural disaster, water may not be safe to drink. Area Health Departments will determine whether the tap water can be used for drinking. If the water is not potable or is questionable, then follow these directions:
- Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available.
- If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.
- If you can’t boil water, you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for disinfection. Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of unscented household (5.25% concentration) liquid bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.
- If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.
After a storm
Once power is restored, check the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer. You can safely eat or refreeze food in the freezer if it is below 40 F.
If your freezer does not include a thermometer, then check the temperature of each food item. If the item still contains ice crystals or is at or below 40 F, you can safely refreeze it.
Discard any perishable food—for example, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk—that has been in a refrigerator or freezer at or above 40 F 2 hours or more.
When in doubt, throw it out.
- FDA Hurricane Preparedness Checklist
- Hurricanes: Health and Safety
- After a Storm or Flooding: Key Tips for Consumers About Food Safety
- Power Outages: Key Tips for Consumers About Food Safety
- Floods: Key Tips for Consumers About Food and Water Safety
- Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes, Power Outages, and Floods Printable Fact Sheet
- National Hurricane Center (NOAA)
- In an Emergency (FoodSafety.gov)
- Guidance for Industry: Evaluating the Safety of Flood-affected Food Crops for Human Consumption
- Disposition of Food From Flood-Affected Crops
- Guidance for Industry: Use of Water by Food Manufacturers in Areas Subject to a Boil-Water Advisory
- Restaurants and Grocers Reopening After Hurricanes and Flooding
- A Notice to Growers, Food Manufacturers, Food Warehouse Managers, and Transporters of Food Products on How to Dispose of Contaminated Food
- A Notice to Growers, Food Manufacturers, Food Warehouse Managers, and Transporters of Food Products About the Safety of Food Affected by Hurricanes, Flooding, and Power Outages
- Guidance for Industry: A Notice to Growers, Food Manufacturers, Food Warehouse Managers, and Transporters of Food Products on Decontamination of Transport Vehicles
For more information on safe food handling, go to Disaster Assistance from FoodSafety.gov.
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