Food Safety in a Disaster or an Emergency
Before a disaster or an emergency
A disaster can disrupt the food supply, so plan to have at least a 3-day supply of food on hand.
Keep foods that:
Have a long storage life
Require little or no cooking, water, or refrigeration, in case utilities are disrupted
Meet the needs of infants or other family members who are on special diets
Meet pets’ needs
Are not very salty or spicy, as these foods increase the need for drinking water, which may be in short supply
How To Store an Emergency Food Supply
When storing food, it is not necessary to buy dehydrated or other types of emergency food.
Check the expiration dates on canned foods and dry mixes. Home-canned food usually needs to be thrown out after a year.
Use and replace food before its expiration date.
Certain storage conditions can enhance the shelf life of canned or dried foods. The ideal location is a cool, dry, dark place. The best temperature is 40° to 70°F.
Store foods away from ranges or refrigerator exhausts. Heat causes many foods to spoil more quickly.
Store food away from petroleum products, such as gasoline, oil, paints, and solvents. Some food products absorb their smell.
Protect food from rodents and insects. Items stored in boxes or in paper cartons will keep longer if they are heavily wrapped or stored in waterproof, airtight containers.
Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of floodwaters.
Prepare an Emergency Water Supply
Store at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and each pet. Consider storing more water than this for hot climates, for pregnant women, and for people who are sick.
Store at least a 3-day supply of water for each person and each pet.
Make sure to store your emergency water supply where it will be as safe as possible from flooding.
If your bottled water has an odor, do not drink or use it. Instead, dispose of it, or if applicable, call your bottled water provider to get a replacement.
Observe the expiration date for store-bought water; replace other stored water every 6 months.
Store a bottle of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach to disinfect your water and to use for general cleaning and sanitizing. Try to store bleach in an area where the average temperature stays around 70°F (21°C). Because the amount of active chlorine in bleach decreases over time, consider replacing the bottle each year.
Preparing for a Power Outage
Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer.
Check to ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0° F, and the refrigerator is at or below 40° F.
In case of a power outage, the appliance thermometers will indicate the temperatures in the refrigerator and freezer to help you determine if the food is safe.
Purchase or make ice cubes in advance, and freeze gel packs and containers of water to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case the power goes out. Store all of these in the freezer for later use in the refrigerator or in coolers. The melting ice in the containers of water will also supply safe drinking water.
Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately. This helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
Group food together in the freezer. This helps the food stay cold longer.
Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power might be out for more than 4 hours.
Check out local sources to know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased, in case it should be needed.
During an emergency, if you use food or beverage containers to hold non-food substances like gasoline, dispose of them after use and do not recycle them.
During a Disaster or Emergency
If the Power Goes Out
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if unopened.
A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should 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 are still at safe temperatures, it is important that each item is thoroughly cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40º F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 º F) — discard it.
Fill buckets, empty milk containers, or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze.
After a Disaster or Emergency
Throw away the following food:
Perishable food that has not been refrigerated or frozen properly due to power outages
Food that may have come in contact with floodwater or stormwater
Food with an unusual odor, color, or texture.
Determine the safety of your food:
If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor alone. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that has been at temperatures above 40° F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90º F).
Throw out the perishable foods, foods which are not in their original color/odor/texture, foods that are not packed in waterproof material, and etc.