Hurricane Sandy and food storage and food safety

Hurricane Sandy is already making an impact on the North Eastern coast, and being prepared for a storm as large as this is crucial. Hurricane Sandy could bring wind, flooding, heavy rain and possibly snow to the East Coast, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) urges people to take steps now to ensure they have access to safe food.

Power outages and flooding that often result from weather emergencies compromise the safety of stored food, and planning ahead can minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

“Keeping food at safe storage temperatures in a power outage and away from flood waters is crucial to avoiding foodborne illness in weather emergencies,” USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said. “We encourage residents in the projected path of the storm to include an appliance thermometer, coolers, and dry ice on their Hurricane Sandy preparation checklists. As a last resort for food safety, when in doubt, throw it out.”

Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

– Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is safe during power outages. The refrigerator temperature should be 40? F or lower and the freezer should be 0? F or lower.
– Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
– Group food together in the freezer ? this helps the food stay cold longer.
– 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.
– Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
– Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
– Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

– Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
– A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep the door closed.
– A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
– If the power is out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

– Check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. If the thermometer reads 40? F or below, the food is safe.
– If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals or is at 40?F or below when checked with a food thermometer, it may be safely refrozen.
– Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items) that have been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40? F for two hours or more.
– Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
– Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
– Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. Follow the Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches in the publication ” Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency.”
– Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.
– Never taste food to determine its safety!
– When in Doubt, throw it out!

Hurricane Safety Checklist

Food

– Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. If in doubt, throw it out.
– Do not eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth and similar containers that have been water-damaged.
– Discard food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops and home canned foods, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected.
– Check to ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0 ?F and the refrigerator is at or below 40 ?F.
– Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.

Water

– Area health departments will determine whether local tap water can be used for drinking. If the water cannot be used or is questionable, and bottled water is not available, then use the directions in the next bullet to purify it.
– 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.

Pets

– If you have to leave your home, take your pet with you if at all possible. You are the best person to take care of your pet.
– Pets should be contained in a carrier or on a leash.
– Emergencies can make pets display unexpected or uncharacteristic behaviors. It may take several weeks before your pet?s behavior is back to normal.
– Allow your pet plenty of time to rest and get used to new surroundings. Provide familiar toys, if possible.

Drugs Exposed to Water

– For lifesaving drugs exposed to water, when replacements may not be readily available, if the container is contaminated but the contents appear unaffected ?if the pills are dry?the pills may be used until a replacement can be obtained. However, if the pill is wet it is contaminated and should be discarded.
– Other drug products (pills, oral liquids, drugs for injections, inhalers, skin medications) ?even those in their original containers?should be discarded if they have come into contact with flood or contaminated water. In the ideal setting, capsules, tablets, and liquids in drug containers with screw-top caps, snap lids, or droppers, should be discarded if they are contaminated. In addition, medications that have been placed in any alternative storage containers should be discarded if they have come in contact with flood or contaminated water.

Insulin Storage and Switching Between Products in an Emergency

– As a general rule, insulin loses its potency according to the temperature it is exposed to and length of that exposure. Under emergency conditions, you might still need to use insulin that has been stored above 86 ?F. Such extreme temperatures may cause insulin to lose potency, which could result in loss of blood glucose control over time.
– In any case, you should try to keep insulin as cool as possible. Try to keep insulin away from direct heat and out of direct sunlight, but if you are using ice, also avoid freezing the insulin.
– When properly stored insulin becomes available, discard and replace the insulin vials that have been exposed to these extreme conditions.

Medical Devices

– If you have a “life-supporting” or “life-sustaining” device that depends on electricity, you should contact your healthcare provider for information on how to maintain function in the event of a loss of power.
– Keep your device and supplies clean and dry. If possible, notify your local Public Health Authority to request evacuation prior to adverse weather events.

Vaccines, Blood, Biologics

– If the power goes out, make note of the time and keep refrigerators and freezers closed as much as possible.
– When the power is restored, if possible, determine the temperature in the refrigerator or freezer before the temperature starts to go back down.
– If the power outage continues, consider removing products from the refrigerator or freezer and packing them in ice or dry ice as appropriate.
– If contact with flood water occurs, the product should be considered contaminated and should not be used.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture, USA



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