FSIS Explains How to Prevent Foodborne Illness Following a Disaster

Posted on April 15, 2013

Any oncoming weather disaster poses a number of threats to persons in the path of whatever storm or calamity is tearing its way through California.  Roads can be flooded, fires can break out, and power can be lost.  But perhaps one of the biggest risks of a severe weather event is also one of the most overlooked:  foodborne illness.

Many households sorely lack the preparations necessary to protect residents from foodborne illness.  If your power is out for days at a time, your food will spoil quickly, and you need to know what to do and how to cover your bases before that happens.  A news release from the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA aims to help you do that.

You first need to stock up on the types of items that can be hauled out to make sure your food remains at the proper temperature.  A couple of coolers should be ready to go so that you can place refrigerated items inside when need be.  You should also invest in an appliance thermometer that can alert you to a dangerous rise in temperature. Fridges need to remain below 40 and freezers should be below 0.  And if you don’t want to keep dry ice or block ice on hand at all times, at least know what stores stock the items so that you can purchase the products as necessary when disaster strikes.

Once the power does go out, don’t peek into the refrigerator and freezer to check up on things.  The food is still there, and every time you open the door to take a look, the temperature is going to rise.  With the door closed, food stays cold in a refrigerator for four hours or so, at which point you’ll have to transfer the items to an iced down cooler or transfer ice to the fridge or freezer.  A freezer should last for around two days, but you cut that number in half if food doesn’t fill the freezer.

Perishables should be the first to go.  Should they exceed the 40 degree mark for a couple of hours, foodborne contaminants can already set in.  If you’ve neglected to purchase a food thermometer, then check for ice crystals on frozen foods.  If those crystals cannot be found, you may need to toss out the product.

Finally, understand the steps that need to be taken when floodwaters have submerged any food items.  Waterproof containers should be safe, but if there’s any chance that water has entered the product or packaging, throw it out immediately.  Floodwaters may carry dangerous pathogens that can wreak havoc if they get distributed to your food.  Take no chances.

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