October 24, 2021

Wildfires and Food Safety

The western United States is suffering through some horrific wildfires. In Colorado alone, more than 350 homes have been burned to the ground and wildfires are still raging. Food safety in times like these might not seem important.

USDABut wildfires can make the food in your home dangerous to eat, according to the USDA. Smoke fumes, the heat of the fire, and chemicals used to fight fire can be toxic. Heat from the fire can activate bacteria that cause foodborne illness and rupture the seals in cans and jars, exposing the food to bacteria. Fumes from a fire can create toxic fumes that contaminate food. Chemicals used to fight fires can contaminate food and cookware and create toxins that can’t be washed off the food.

To protect yourself and your family against the effects of wildfire, the U.S. Forest Service recommends that you throw away any food that was outside the refrigerator, stored in permeable packaging such as cardboard or plastic wrap or has an off odor. The FSIS web page on wildfires and food safety had stated that if food has an off-flavor, throw it away. We wrote to them, pointing out that tasting food to see if it’s safe is dangerous. ┬áTina Hanes, Acting USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline Director, replied to our message. She said, “the information in the news release is advising consumers to throw away any food that they discover has an off-flavor, not to taste it to determine if it has an off-flavor. We don’t advise consumers to taste food to determine its safety in any situation including after a fire. We will use your comments to review the clarity of our message.”

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