Food safety tips for weather emergency

September 2, 2008

If your electricity goes out, try not to open either your refrigerator or freezer unless absolutely necessary. A closed refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours as long as the door remains tightly closed.

Before a severe weather emergency, keep the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer as low as possible. Pack foods in the freezer close together so the items form an icy block that will maintain cold.

Food safety rule No. 1, said LSU AgCenter food safety expert Beth Reames, is: “Discard all food that comes in contact with floodwaters, including canned goods. It is impossible to know if waterlogged food containers are damaged or the seals compromised.”

Store at least three gallons of water per person for drinking, cooking and hygiene for at least three days.

After a hurricane, some water sources may be contaminated. If in doubt, purify all water used for drinking, cooking, washing and for eating and cooking utensils.

To disinfect water, use one of the following methods: 1) Boil at a rolling boil for 10 minutes. 2) Add 8 drops of liquid chlorine bleach (such as Clorox) per gallon of water. Make sure the bleach has no active ingredient other than 4 to 6 percent sodium hypochlorite. 3) Add 20 drops of 2 percent iodine per gallon of clear water or 40 drops per gallon of cloudy water. 4) Add water purification tablets according to directions on the package.

Thoroughly mix these solutions and let the water stand for at least 30 minutes before using. To lessen the flat taste of boiled water, pour the water back and forth several times between two clean containers.

Don’t eat any food that’s come into contact with floodwater.

Throw out food that’s not in a waterproof container if there’s any chance floodwater touched it. That includes food containers with screw caps, snap lids, and home-canned foods.

Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved. Here’s how:

  • Remove the labels
  • Thoroughly wash the cans
  • Disinfect the cans with a quarter of a cup of bleach per gallon of water.
  • Relabel the cans with a marker. Include the expiration date.

Get rid of wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby-bottle nipples, and pacifiers. They can’t be safely cleaned if they’ve been touched by floodwater.

Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water. Then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of a quarter of a cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

When in Doubt, Throw it Out!,


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