Hurricane Food Safety Tips
By now, if your home is in Hurricane Sandy’s path, you should either be far inland or stocked up and hunkered down. Now is not the time to go shopping. These tips will help with your final preparations for the storm and after Hurricane Sandy passes.
Drinking Water and Other Water
Fill all your reusable water bottles with drinking water and place them in a cooler to stay cold.
If you have gallon jugs of water, take them to an upstairs room or set them on a high shelf to prevent them coming into contact with flood waters. If they do come in contact with flood waters, the water is no longer drinkable.
Do the same with juice bottles and boxes and soft drinks.
Fill your bathtub with water for use in flushing your toilet. Don’t drink this water. Keep a sharp eye on your kids and small pets to make sure they don’t accidentally fall in.
Most water filters are not equipped to filter flood waters. Don’t try to use them for that purpose. It will just ruin your filters.
Hurricane Sandy will almost definitely knock out power for a time. While you still have power, turn the temperature down as far as it will go in both your fridge and freezer. Temperatures need to stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in a fridge and below 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer to keep food safe.
Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed. The fridge will maintain its temperature without power for four hours if the door stays closed. The freezer can maintain it from 24-48 hours, depending on how full it is.
Fill all your coolers with ice. I’ve had luck before with coolers keeping the ice frozen for more than a day. Keep them shut until the fridge starts to warm up. Then transfer meat, fish, eggs, and dairy items into the coolers. (When the ice in the coolers melts, don’t drink it.)
If the power is out for more than a couple of days, or if you must open the freezer door several times and the food has begun to thaw, it will still be safe to eat if you can keep the temperature in the freezer below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the power goes out to your home, grilling may be your only option for a hot cooked meal.
If you have an outdoor grill, pull it inside to a safe location or weight it down. You don’t want your only “stove” to blow away or wash away.
Leave the propane tanks outside in a protected location. Do not bring them inside with you and your family.
Charcoal and wood will need to be covered and lifted off the ground to stay dry. I would bring them inside, but watch out, since charcoal bags will get everything filthy very fast. If you cover a wood pile with a tarp, you’ll need to tie it down, then put a few layers of wood or something on top of the tarp. Tarps will blow away during a tropical storm no matter how well tied down.
Don’t use your grill indoors. Wait until after the storm passes to pull it back outside and cook with it.
It’s best to have a few days’ worth of canned foods that can be eaten without heating. Try to stick to foods that your family knows and likes. Hurricanes are stressful and children especially will be happier with familiar things.
Canned foods that have come into contact with flood waters are still safe to eat. Most other kinds of packaging does not protect food from flood waters. The cans will have to be completely and thoroughly cleaned on the outside before opening.
Baked goods, chips, and other munchies are good to have around. Store them up high to keep them out of contact with flood waters. If the packages do come into contact with flood waters, the food needs to be thrown out uneaten.
Wash raw fruit, such as apples, oranges, and bananas, now before any water disruption. Dry them thoroughly and put them in a clean bag or container and store them up high and dry. If they come into contact with flood waters, throw them out uneaten. (Berries should not be washed until shortly before serving to prevent mold growth.)
If your baby uses formula, try to keep some shelf-stable formula on hand, in addition to the usual formula you use. If you are unable to properly sanitize the formula bottles, use the shelf-stable variety. If he’s not used to that variety of formula, he might resist it at first. Hold him in your arms so that he can see your face, relaxed and smiling, and offer it to him. You might have to look him in the eyes the entire time he’s feeding. Some kids will spit the bottle out if their parents look away even for a second.
Pet food needs to be kept out of flood waters as well. Dry pet food bags don’t protect from flood waters, keep them up high. Put them in a clean and empty garbage can with a lid, if you have one. Canned pet foods will need to be cleaned if they come into contact with flood waters, but otherwise should still be safe for your pet. Wash your pets’ food bowls with soap and water now before the storm hits and keep the bowls inside and dry. Your pets may not want to eat until long after the storm has passed, even if it’s their regular dinner time. Offer them a little food to see how they feel about it before filling their bowls at dinner time.
Cleaning can be a challenge. If the water to your house is still running, use soap and water to clean. Using cold or cool water isn’t as good as hot water, but it’s better than not washing. Rinse the dishes, then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing for fifteen minutes in a bleach solution (1 tablespoon unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of clean water.)
Wash your countertops and tabletops the same way, with soap and water or the bleach solution.
While I’m not a big fan of hand sanitizers, this is one situation where it’s good to have some around. If water service to your house is disrupted or becomes contaminated, use hand sanitizers to keep your hands clean. Keep one bottle in each bathroom and one by the sink.
Watch your kids carefully and make sure they are cleaning their hands when they should be.
Charge all your electronics now and turn your cell phones off during the storm. Searching for a signal will cost a lot of battery charge.
Be careful with candles. Ordinary candles do not provide enough heat to cook food. Not even if you put a large group of candles very close together. It just wastes your time and risks a fire.
It’s going to be cold after the storm because of two icy weather systems headed toward Hurricane Sandy. Get your blankets and cold weather clothing where you can find them and make sure they’re someplace that won’t get wet.
Above all, be safe and don’t venture outside. Don’t forget about the eye of the hurricane. The winds start up suddenly when the eye passes and you don’t want to be outside when that happens.
Hurricane Path image courtesy NOAA
Ice chest photo via Shutterstock