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How To Practice Food Safety Before And After A Hurricane

Julie R. Thomson

Hurricane season has been hitting the U.S. hard. Harvey and Irma have left behind some serious damage, and there’s currently another hurricane brewing in the Atlantic. Being prepared for whatever storm may come ― or has come ― is crucial, especially when it comes to food safety.

Power outages or flooding pose a serious risk to keeping food safe, so the best thing you can do is stay informed. There are a number of small steps, recommended by the USDA, that you should take when dealing with the effects of a storm like these hurricanes. Read them listed below:

Precautions to take for power outage:

  • Use an appliance thermometer in the fridge and freezer to help determine if food is safe for consumption in the event of a power outage. The temperature for the fridge should be at 40 degrees or lower and the freezer at 0 degrees or lower.
  • Grouping together your food in the freezer will help the food stay colder longer.
  • Consider freezing leftover items that you won’t need immediately, such as deli meats and milk. This will help keep these items at a safer temperature longer.
  • Open the fridge and freezer as little as possible. Opening the doors allows the cool air to escape. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if you keep the door closed. A full freezer will keep cool for 48 hours and a half full freezer will keep cool for 24 hours.
  • If you don’t have a way to read the temperature in the freezer, check each package. If the food contains water crystals, then it may still be safe.
  • Discard all perishable foods that have been kept in a fridge or freezer above 40 degrees for more than two hours, bacteria can multiply rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees. 

Precautions to take for flooding:

  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there’s a chance it came in contact with flood waters. Also discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers if they may have been in contact with flood waters.
  • Wash all metal pans, ceramic plates and utensils that may have come into contact with flood waters with hot soapy water. Sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Use only bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If you don’t have bottle water, you can boil tap water for safe use.
  • Never, ever taste food to determine its safety.

If you’re preparing for a storm coming your way and are planning to evacuate, put a quarter in a cup of frozen water (stored in the freezer, of course). This simple trick will let you know if you lost power during your absence and can help you determine the safety of the contents in your fridge and freezer. You see, if the quarter in the cup of water has sunk, then you know that the water was defrosted and that the food in your freezer could have potentially reached unsafe temperatures. If the quarter still lies safely on top of the frozen cup of water, then you can rest assured that your food is still safe to eat.

For more information, check out the FDA website for food safety in the event of an emergency.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.