5 Tips for Proper Food and Water Safety During Power Outages and Floods
Eric Alberts, Manager of Emergency Preparedness
Hurricane season is now underway in Florida. While we hope this season won’t be accompanied by serious storms that make landfall, there’s always the possibility of power outages and flooding this time of year. We can’t get comfortable because past hurricane seasons have been relatively easy for us.
In addition to keeping track of hurricane warnings, it’s also important to get prepared and understand proper food and water safety in case of an outage or flood. If you don’t know what to do, here are several tips to get your preparations started:
Buy Non-Perishable Foods
In the event of a power outage, you’ll need at least a three-day supply of food. It is important that you plan ahead to purchase these items, going as soon as you hear of the storm. Bread, water, and milk are usually the first items to be sold out in all stores, so be mindful of this with your planning and purchasing efforts.
Stick to items that don’t need to be refrigerated, like canned goods, canned or powdered milk, bread, peanut butter, granola, dry cereal, dried fruit, nuts and crackers (don’t forget non-perishable foods for your pets, too). If you have special dietary needs or food allergies, prepare a list in advance of non-perishable food that are safe for you to eat and shop for these items well in advance of the storm.
And don’t forget to buy plastic wrap, storage containers, mason jars and labels, so you can safely store and preserve the shelf life of these items once you open them.
Prep Your Fridge and Freezer
Buy dry ice or freeze water in large containers. You can place both these things in your freezer to keep food cold for as long as possible.
Freeze already-cooked food to preserve it for longer. Make sure your freezer is completely full, as this will keep the food colder longer — 48 hours compared to just 24 hours for a half-full freezer.
Also buy coolers to store your food. You can place dry ice or pre-frozen ice cubes in these containers as another way to keep food from spoiling quickly.
There is usually a rush to purchase generators when a hurricane is announced, so this is another item that will require planning ahead. You can hook a limited number of appliances up to generators of a certain voltage, which will help keep your food cold. The sustainability of this method will be based on the supply of gas, including your stockpile and the availability to purchase after the hurricane has hit.
It is important to note that generators should never be used or placed within your residence, including your garage. Every year, individuals succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning due to the improper use of generators. Additionally, it is critical to safely store gasoline where it is least likely to catch fire.
Get an Appliance Thermometer
In a power outage, non-perishable foods will be your best bet, but it’s also likely you’ll already have food in the refrigerator or freezer.
You should consume these items first, since they will spoil more quickly than canned goods (cooked food in a fridge without power will last up to four hours). However, before you do, make sure you have an appliance thermometer to properly gauge the temperature of your freezer and refrigerator. The temperature in the fridge should be around 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, while the freezer should be zero degrees or below.
Rely on chafing dishes with candle warmers to reheat cooked food or use a charcoal grill or camp stove to safely cook outdoors. These items can quickly sell out when a storm is approaching, so pay attention to hurricane warnings and get all your necessities as soon as possible.
Prepare an Emergency Water Supply
Even if you have a water and ice dispenser on your refrigerator, it’ll be useless during a power outage.
Instead, purchase bottled water and pre-fill clean storage containers with water. In the event of a flood, this is crucial because public water supplies may not be safe to drink.
If you plan to fill containers beforehand, make sure they are waterproof and large enough to hold a big supply. Use FDA-approved, food-grade containers that are available for purchase at a camping supply store or large hardware store, like Lowe’s or Home Depot. These containers are best because they will keep outside substances from getting into the water that will make it unsafe to drink or use.
If you run out of water, you may have to resort to boiling water from the tap. Boil water for at least one minute to kill any harmful bacteria. After this, you can store the water in clean containers and in a place that’s between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit so that it’s safe for future use. Another option is to add about eight drops of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water to disinfect it. After about 30 minutes, the water will be safe to drink. Before using this method, make sure you carefully read the label on the bleach to ensure you’re using the right product.
Prepare a Disaster Supply Kit
At a minimum, your disaster supply kit should include batteries, flashlights, a manual can opener, a first aid kit, a portable radio and matches in a waterproof container.
Prescriptions, identification for every member of your family, money and originals (or copies) of other important documentation also should be included in your kit. This way everything is easily accessible in the event of an evacuation.
If you are unsure of what else should go into the kit, FEMA offers a comprehensive emergency supply list that is an excellent place to start.
Hurricane season is likely to bring power outages and flooding with it, so take all these precautions to stay safe and ensure your family has clean water and an ample food supply. Power outages could last several days and flooding also may make it unsafe to travel outdoors — even if it’s just a quick trip to the nearby store. Anything can happen, so you have to prepare for it. You may be tempted to keep some of these items off your to-do list before a storm, but as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.