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Ride Out the Storm: From Stockpiling to Storing, Tips on Emergency Food Safety

Protecting your life is the top priority when a natural disaster hits. Our experts offer ways to prepare for an emergency — starting in your kitchen.

Natural disasters — floods, tornadoes, fires, snowstorms — often swoop in with little to no warning. But by stocking up on the right nonperishable foods, and with some simple tips for food safety during an emergency or power outage, you can ride out the storm by being prepared.

What throws me off most is when the power goes out for hours. I don’t even know where to begin — the refrigerator, the chest freezer? When a natural disaster or emergency situation strikes, what do you do? I turned to our food safety experts, who shared five tips for weathering the storm with less stress.

  • Super Shelf Foods

    Creating an emergency food kit is a key part of being ready.

    • Canned food is best. Other nonperishable food can be kept until its expiration date.
    • Pack a manual can opener in your emergency food kit.
    • Keep your pets in mind when estimating how much food you’ll need.
    • If you live in an area that could be affected by a flood, make sure you store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of the contaminated water.
  • Safer, Smarter Foodstuffs

    After a power outage, knowing what’s all right to eat will help reduce the risk of food poisoning and the loss of food.

    • Use coolers to keep food cold if the power is out for more than four hours.
    • Stack items close together in the refrigerator or freezer to help food stay cold for longer.
    • Placing dry or block ice in the freezer or refrigerator can also keep food cold for a longer time.
    • Perishable foods, such as meat, milk and eggs, must be kept refrigerated at or below 40º F (4° C).
    • Frozen foods need to be kept at or below 0º F (-18° C).
    • If the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. If left unopened, the average refrigerator can usually keep food safely cold for about four hours. A freezer may hold temperature for 24-48 hours, depending on how full it is.
    • Keep food thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is being kept at the correct temperature. Certified food thermometers can accurately verify the temperature of individual food items to make sure they haven’t risen above 40º F (4° C).
  • Let It Go

    Deciding what to keep or trash after an emergency situation can be challenging, especially when you are hoping to salvage as much as possible. Here are tips to make it easier:

    • Discard all food that touched any floodwater, including canned goods.
    • Throw out wooden cutting boards and cooking utensils, disposable plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers. Unfortunately, you are not able to properly clean and sanitize these items.
    • Wash heat-resistant dishes and cookware in a certified dishwasher on the sanitizing cycle or by hand. If washing in the sink, also dip them in a bleach solution of 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water. Soak for one minute, rinse thoroughly and air-dry.
  • Batten Down and Bottle Up

    To make sure you and your family stay hydrated, purchase a case or two of bottled or canned water and add that to your shelf stockpile.
  • Rx for Staying Healthy

    Being prepared also means keeping your prescriptions, multivitamins and supplements stocked up.

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