With the many winter storms, entities are reposting tips on food safety and preparedness. Suggestions include keeping on-hand at least one week of non-perishable food and drinks. Specific foods and supplies will depend on foods you prefer, whether you are caring for infants, and certain health conditions. Over 800,000 Americans are affected by catastrophes each year. Here are some things to keep in mind, provided by the Department of Foods and Nutrition, School of Consumer and Family Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
Select food that can be quickly warmed or eaten cold. Canned items are good, as a can is both a cooking pot and serving dish. Keep on hand a week’s supply of food that does not need refrigeration and can be safely stored at room temperature. Store food in a cool and dry place at temperatures between 40 to 70 degrees. Although canned and dehydrated food will still be safe after one year, occasionally use stockpiled food for regular meals and purchase replacement items. If there is limited fuel for cooking, choose food which cooks quickly or serve no-cook food.
Prepare only the amount of food you need for one meal and discard any perishable leftovers. When left at room temperature, milk, meat, soups, pasta, and vegetables can generate food poisoning.Grill food or wrap it in foil and cook it in the fireplace. Possible fuels for cooking include: wood, tightly rolled newspapers, and artificial logs made of pressed wood particles. Never use charcoal as fuel for indoor fires; the carbon monoxide from the burning charcoal is very dangerous. Camp stoves use propane or butane fuel. Use only outside the house. There is little you can do to put out a propane or butane fire except shut off the gas. Learn where the shut-off valve is before lighting a camp stove.
You can also use charcoal to cook food in foil and prepare one-pot meals during an emergency. Do your charcoal cooking outside where there is plenty of ventilation. The lack of adequate ventilation makes indoor cooking with charcoal dangerous. Plan ahead to have enough safe water for drinking, preparing food, brushing teeth, and keeping clean. Store water ahead for use in emergencies. Boiled water, stored in sterilized containers will keep for six months to one year. While the water may taste flat, it is safe to drink or use in cooking. Your hot water heater or water pressure tank could supply many gallons of safe water during an emergency. Before using water from the water heater, switch off the gas or electricity. Leaving the power on while the heater is empty could cause an explosion or burn out the elements. After turning off the power source, open the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. Do not turn the water heater on again until the water system is back in service.
Purify all water before using it for drinking, preparing food, brushing teeth, or washing dishes. If water contains sediment or floating material, strain it through a cloth before purifying. If you have access to heat or power, water can be made safe by boiling for ten minutes to kill any bacteria. Add a pinch of salt to each quart of boiled water to improve the taste. If boiling is not an option, treat it with either the proper household bleach, or water purification tablets, available at drug stores. Household bleach is a good disinfectant for water. But before using, check the label to be sure hypochlorite is the only active ingredient.
Do not use bleach that contains soap. Mix bleach thoroughly in water and let it stand for 30 minutes. The water should have a slight chlorine odor. If not, repeat the dose and let the water stand for an additional 15 minutes.
Most home refrigerators and freezers stop running at least once during their lifetimes. After food is above 40F for more than two hours, bacteria can cause food poisoning. A full freezer, if not opened, will keep food frozen for about two days, even in the summer. In a half full freezer, food will stay frozen for only one day. The larger the freezer, the longer the food will stay frozen.
Place food outdoors if the temperature is below 0F. Only refreeze food containing raw ingredients. Do not refreeze previously cooked dishes. Food will remain chilled for four to six hours in a refrigerator without power. Keep temperatures cool longer by adding bags of regular ice. Place the ice on upper shelves and pans to catch melting ice on lower shelves. Open the door only to add ice.
Strong food odors may develop as a result of food spoilage during a power failure. Use only one of these three solutions to wash the interior walls of the refrigerator or freezer. Combining two or more could create toxic fumes. Vinegar-one cup per gallon of water; Household Ammonia-one cup per gallon of water; or Chlorine bleach -one-half cup per gallon of water. Rinse with water and dry. Take out all removable parts and wash with mild soap and water.
Flood waters may carry silt, raw sewage, oil, or chemical waste. Prevent flood water from coming into contact with food by raising refrigerators and freezers by placing cement blocks under their corners, and move food up from low cabinets and the basement. Discard and replace wooden spoons, plastic utensils, and baby bottles.
Learn more money-saving tips by visiting the Tri-State BBB.