Keep Food Safe During Emergencies
During and after natural disasters, such as hurricanes, flooding and power outages, it's important to keep food safe. Here's how to avoid spoilage and foodborne illness in your home by making sure foods stay uncontaminated and properly refrigerated during a natural disaster.
- Make sure—before an outage—that the refrigerator is set below 40 degrees.
- Have bottled water on hand. Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the public water supply, making it unsafe to drink. Local announcements should provide updated information on the safety of the water supply.
- Stock up on non-perishable foods that don't require refrigeration, and choose single-serve sizes if available to avoid the need for refrigeration of unused portions. If possible, store food away from flood water. Consider these easy, healthy, shelf-stable foods:
- Breads/Grains: single-serving boxes of cereal, trail mix, energy bars, granola bars, cereal bars, bagels, muffins and crackers.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Grapes, single-serve applesauce, whole fruit (apples, peaches, bananas), dried fruit mix, juice boxes and canned fruits and vegetables.
- Dairy Alternatives: shelf-stable milk or soy beverage boxes and non-refrigerated pudding cups.
- Meat and Other Protein Sources: cans of tuna, peanut or other nut butter (for sandwiches or with apples), nuts and single-serve packages of peanut butter and crackers.
- Make sure you have a handheld can-opener.
Flooding and Food
After a hurricane and/or flooding, assess all food and food preparation areas and equipment to decide what to keep or throw away. Follow these guidelines:
- Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it's available.
- If you don't have bottled water, boil water for one minute to make it safe to drink. Store it in clean, covered containers.
- If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede.
- Discard wooden cutting boards, wooden dishes and utensils, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that have come into contact with flood water. These items cannot be safely cleaned.
- Sanitize pots, pans, countertops, door handles and anything else that came in contact with flood water.
Learn More About Sanitizing Your Kitchen »
When the Power Goes Out
- During a power outage, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed and open them only when necessary.
- If power is restored within four hours, items in the refrigerator should be safe to eat. A full freezer will stay at freezing temperatures for two days if the door remains closed. A half-full freezer will stay at freezing temperatures for one day if the door remains closed.
Once the Power is Restored
- When power is restored, check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. If it has risen to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, discard any potentially spoiled foods. Such foods include meat, poultry, fish, dairy and egg products, soft cheese, cooked beans, cooked rice, cooked potatoes, cooked pasta, potato salad, custard and pudding.
- Allow time for the refrigerator to reach below 40 degrees Fahrenheit before restocking.
- And of course, when in doubt, throw it out.
For more information on foodborne illness and handling food safely, visit www.homefoodsafety.org and www.foodsafety.gov.