November 1, 2014

Food Safety After the Hurricane

Flooding is the main concern after the hurricane in the northeast United States. USA.gov has detailed flood response and recovery information. The USDA and FDA have information for consumers about food safety and getting food to eat after a disaster. Many people are without power after Hurricane Sandy. A freezer will keep food safe for 48 hours only. After that time, the food will start to thaw and will become unsafe. If ice crystals still remain in the food, it is safe to freeze; otherwise discard it. You can also use a thermometer to see if the temperature of the food is below 40 degrees F. If it is, it’s safe to consume and/or freeze. When in doubt, throw it out!

Do not eat food that has come into contact with flood water. Discard any food not in a waterproof container, such as those with screw caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Cardboard containers and home canned foods should be discarded if they have been touched by flood water. Canned foods can still be safe, but if the cans are damaged, discard them.

All pots, pans, dishes, and utensils that have been in contact with flood water should be boiled in clean water or immersed in a bleach solution for at least 15 minutes.  All-metal cans and retort pouches can be sanitized by washing them, then boiling for 2 minutes in clean water or soaking in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water for 15 minutes.

Drinking water is also a concern. Bottled water that has not been exposed to flood water is safest. Listen to public health authorities and boil water if you can, then filter it and reboil.  The FDA has more information about disinfecting water.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) provides food for shelters and distributes food packages to households that need them.  If a state doesn’t have enough food on hand, the USDA provides food to relief organizations, emphasizing food that requires little or no preparation. You can find more information at the government’s Hurricane information page at Ready.gov.

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