I often scold and rant at the government for reasons high and low.
That being said, in light of the ongoing Katrina news, the FDA has offered information on food safety that’s applicable for many emergencies, not just hurricanes. That they posted them online a day after New Orleans and the rest of the gulf states were without power is a conundrum best left for another day.
The information is good if not obvious. I’ve posted the pertinent parts below: Print and save for a later day…hopefully a day that never comes.
Food safety when the power goes out
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to
maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about
4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately
48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. Buy dry
or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is
going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should
hold an 18-cubic foot fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.
- If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs
while they are still at safe temperatures, it’s important that the
food is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any food
borne bacteria that may be present is destroyed.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
- For infants, if possible, use prepared, canned baby formula that requires
no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with
bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.
Once the power is restored
- Once the power is restored you will need to evaluate the safety of the
food. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature
when the power comes back on. If the thermometer stored in the freezer reads
40 degrees F or below the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer
has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine
the safety. Remember, you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still
contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below, it is safe to refreeze
- Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power is out for no more
than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable
food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above
40 degrees F for two hours or more.
For a list of how to handle specific refrigerated and frozen foods during
power outages, go to http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/keeping_food_Safe_during_an_emergency/index.asp.
Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes and Floods
- Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can
contaminate the public water supply. Drinking contaminated water may cause
illness. You cannot assume that the water in the hurricane-affected area
is safe to drink. Listen to local announcements for updated information on
the safety of the water supply.
- If bottled water is not available and the safety of tap water is questionable,
follow these directions to purify it:
- If you have a heat source available, boil the water vigorously for 1-3
minutes (at altitudes above one mile, boil for 3 minutes). Water should be
bubbling and rolling. (www.cdc.gov)
- If you can’t boil water, add 8 drops (about 1/8 teaspoon or 0.75 ml) of
newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water, stir
it well and let the water stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Note that
using bleach will not kill parasitic organisms. (www.epa.gov/OGWDW/faq/emerg.html).
- You can also use water-purifying tablets from your local pharmacy or sporting
goods store. (www.cdc.gov).
- Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water.
Discard any food without a waterproof container if there is any chance that
it has come into contact with floodwater. Undamaged, commercially canned
foods can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash the cans and
disinfect them with a solution consisting of 1/4 cup of bleach per gallon
of water for clean surfaces. Re-label your cans, including the expiration
date, with a marker. Food containers with screw-caps, snap lids, and home
canned foods should be discarded if they have come in contact with flood
water because they cannot be disinfected.
- Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and
pacifiers. There is no way to safely clean them if they have come in contact
with contaminated flood waters. Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes
and utensils with soap and hot water. They should then be sanitized by boiling
in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1/4 cup
of chlorine bleach per gallon of water.