Practice Basic Food Safety Before and After Floods
LINCOLN, Neb. -- As the Missouri and Platte rivers flood portions of Nebraska, it is important to take precautions to keep food safe during and after flooding, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln expert said.
After flooding, food safety should be a priority, said Julie Albrecht, UNL food safety specialist in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"Without electricity or a cold source, the food inside your fridge or freezer can become unsafe," Albrecht said. "Bacteria in food grows rapidly in the 'temperature danger zone' between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. People can become sick if they eat foods that have set out for more than two hours at these temperatures."
To prepare for a possible flooding emergency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends these steps:
-- Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. This will indicate the temperature in the fridge or freezer and help determine the safety of food.
-- Make sure the freezer is at zero degrees Fahrenheit or below and the fridge is at 40 degrees or below.
-- Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
-- Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that may not be needed immediately -- this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
-- Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
-- Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
-- Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
-- Group food together in the freezer -- this helps the food stay cold longer.
In preparing for possible need to evacuate the home, families should store essential needs such as non-perishable food and water in an easily accessible and portable disaster supply kit. Remember to include medications or food for those with medical conditions, such as diabetes.
Healthy adults need at least one gallon of drinking water per person per day. In hot environments, that need may increase to two gallons of drinking water per person per day. Children, nursing mothers and those who are ill may need more than the normal amount. An additional half-gallon per person per day may be needed for food preparation and hygiene purposes.
Commercial bottled water is best for storage and should be stored in a dark, cool and dry place.
After flooding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends doing these things:
-- Keep the fridge or freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain cold temperature. The fridge will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
-- Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after four hours without power.
-- Never taste a food to determine its safety. When in doubt, throw it out!
-- Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees or below when checked with a food thermometer.
-- Obtain dry or block ice to keep the fridge and freezer 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 full freezer for two days.
-- If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If it reads 40 degrees or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
-- If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package for safety. If it still contains ice crystals, it is safe.
-- Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come in contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
-- Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort packages (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. More information on salvaging these packaged foods is available here. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Keeping_Food_Safe_During_an_Emergency/index.asp
-- 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.
-- Drink only bottled water. If bottled water is unavailable, boil the water for at least one minute to kill most types of disease-causing organisms. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or let it settle. Then, draw the clear water for boiling. Let it cool and store and covered containers.
To improve the taste of water stored for a long time, pour it back and forth between two containers to aerate it. Also, reduce the chances of water contamination by opening only containers that will be used immediately and within one or two days.
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6/7/11-JT Source: Julie Albrecht, Ph.D., professor, nutrition and health sciences, (402) 472-8884
Writer: Jaclyn Tan
floodfood.7 Editor: Sandi Alswager Karstens, IANR News Service, (402) 472-3030, email@example.com
Disinfecting Food and Utensils After a Flood
Cans of Food. Cans that do not have dents or rust can be saved if they are handled properly before they are opened:
- Remove labels. Use a permanent marker to immediately re-label each can.
- Wash the cans in a strong detergent solution with a scrub brush to remove all silt.
- Immerse scrubbed containers completely in a lukewarm solution of chlorine for one minute. See directions in table below for making a chlorine disinfecting solution.
- Remove containers from the chlorine solution. Allow to air-dry before opening. Re-label with the permanent marker, if necessary. Use as soon as possible because containers may rust.
- If it looks or smells wrong when you open a can or jar, discard it.
Dishes and Utensils. Glass, ceramic and china dishes, metal and glass cookware, glass baby bottles and empty canning jars can be saved in the following way:
- Thoroughly wash them in a strong detergent solution, removing all filth and mud.
- Disinfect china and glass dishes in a chlorine solution in the strengths described in the table below.
- Disinfect metal pots, pans and utensils by boiling in water for 10 minutes.
Making a Chlorine Disinfecting Solution
Household bleaches contain from 2 to 6 percent chlorine. The amount of bleach to add to water depends on the percent chlorine it contains. Check the bottle label and follow these guidelines:
% Chlorine in Bleach
Bleach Per One Quart Water
Bleach Per One Gallon Water
|2%||2 teaspoons||2 tablespoons|
|6%||1/2 teaspoon||2 teaspoons|
More (bleach) is NOT better…. Chlorine can be harsh to hands, it is a carcinogen – so use chemicals as the label specifies.
Do not mix Chlorine bleach with other chemicals including dish detergent. Chlorine mixed with ammonia can cause a deadly gas. Ammonia may be in cleaning agents.