Food Safety & Water Safety in an Emergency: How-to

When you are without power, how do you know if food in your refrigerator or pantry is okay to eat? If your community experiences flooding, is tap water safe to drink or take a shower in? As parts of the U.S. are hit with severe flooding, tornadoes, and earthquakes, it is a good time for a reminder on water and food safety. Follow these tips to keep food and water safe during emergencies.

Water Safety After Flooding and Natural Disasters

How do you know if water after flooding is healthy to drink or bathe in? To ensure water safety, officials say first listen to local announcements on whether your local well or tap water is safe straight from the source.

If you can’t get bottled water and tap water safety is not yet verified clean, purify your drinking water. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Boil water vigorously for one to three minutes (boil longer for higher altitudes – three minutes for altitudes above 1 mile).
  2. If you can’t boil water, add eight drops (an eighth of a teaspoon or 0.75 milliliters) 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. This should get rid of any bacteria in the water but won’t kill parasites. Remember that public drinking water is chlorinated or “bleached”. The bleach is diluted enough for human consumption when water is not guaranteed to otherwise be potable.
  3. Water-purifying tablets are another option. Look for them at pharmacies or sporting goods stores.

RELATED: 34 months later, entire city’s drinking water still toxic

Food Safety After Floods and Natural Disasters

According to FEMA and FDA recommendations, if flooding has occurred, immediately evaluate your supply of stored food to ensure food safety.

  • Perishable items (like meat, poultry, milk, seafood, and eggs) that are not properly frozen or refrigerated may make people sick, even if those foods are cooked thoroughly.
  • Don’t eat any food that’s come into direct contact with floodwater.
  • Throw out food that’s not in a waterproof container if there’s any chance floodwater touched it. That includes food containers with screw caps, snap lids, and home-canned foods.
  • Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved and still keep food safety. Here’s how:
    • Remove the labels
    • Thoroughly wash the cans
    • Disinfect the cans with a quarter of a cup of bleach per gallon of water.
    • Relabel the cans with a marker. Include the expiration date.
  • Get rid of wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby-bottle nipples, and pacifiers. They can’t be safely cleaned if they’ve been touched by floodwater.
  • Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water. Then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of a quarter of a cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

Keeping Food Safe During Power Outages

  • Keep refrigerators and freezers closed to help them stay cold inside.
    • Consider placing an appliance thermometer in your freezer, to help you judge whether your foods are safe to eat.
    • An unopened refrigerator will stay cold for about four hours.
    • An unopened full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours, if it’s half full).
  • Dry or block ice can help, if you stocked up before the power cut. Figure on 50 pounds of dry ice to keep 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’re still at safe temperatures, cook them thoroughly.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
  • For formula-fed infants, use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water, if possible. For concentrated or powdered formulas, used bottled water if the local water source might be contaminated.

Food Safety After Power Outages

  • If you kept an appliance thermometer in your freezer, check it. If it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
  • No thermometer in the freezer? Check each package of food. Look for ice crystals – a sign that the food is still safe.
  • Don’t judge solely by smell or appearance.
  • Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as the power is out for no more than four hours.
  • Discard any perishable foods (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.

2 thoughts on “Food Safety & Water Safety in an Emergency: How-to

  • February 21, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    I could not believe that you can add diluted bleach to water which you are uneasy about the safety of.
    So I completed more research before doing it and my local Napa County flood control said it can be equal to boiling. I just wanted to say thanks and I followed your blog.

  • September 1, 2017 at 1:37 am

    I do remember my grandmother always boiled water in large pots and adding Clorox to purify the water after hurricanes thank you for adding this to your blog


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