Food Safety

Eat Smart During Emergencies

flashlight in a dark roomWith Hurricane Florence making landfall today, it’s a good time to think about how to plan for emergencies and power outages. Food safety is a big concern for flooding and loss of power. But the simple act of preparing meals becomes more difficult as well. Here are some things to keep in mind this weekend, as well as any time it snows or other weather emergencies affect your normal routine.

Simplify Meals

For emergencies when you have advance warning, you can make a plan to get prepared. Aim to have enough food and water for at least three days for each member of your household. A gallon of water per day per person is a good rule of thumb to remember.

Plan meals that use shelf-stable ingredients and don’t need much preparation. Good old peanut butter and banana sandwiches are a good choice. Cold cereal and milk (either refrigerated or shelf-stable) with fruit cups are also quick and easy.

If you lose power but are able to cook, try to eat any perishable items from your fridge first. Unopened refrigerators can only keep food cold for about 4 hours without power.

You can find more food recommendations at ready.gov and everything you should have in an emergency kit from vaemergency.gov.

emergency kit with water bottles, lantern, batteries, first aid kit and backpack

Practice Food Safety

If you have thermometers, put them in your fridge and freezer now. These can help you monitor whether your food reaches unsafe temperatures during power outages.

Unopened fridges can keep food under 40°F for about 4 hours. Unopened freezers can keep food safe for 24 hours if half full or 48 hours if totally full. If you expect to lose power, put leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately in the freezer so it will last longer than in the fridge.

If you have advance warning, you can put freezer gel packs or containers of water in the freezer to create ice. The ice can be used in a cooler for refrigerated items beyond 4 hours of no power. If your freezer is half full, adding these extra sources of ice can keep your food frozen longer. If it is safe to travel, you can buy block ice or dry ice (these last longer) or bags of ice to keep food cold in coolers during extended power outages.

If your house floods, any foods that get wet become contaminated and should be thrown away. Discard any food and beverage that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Sealed packages of foods, like canned foods or flexible sealed foil pouches like those that some seafood or juice come in, can be cleaned and sanitized and eaten.

You can find more food safety during emergencies information here.

Disaster SNAP

If your food supply is impacted by natural disasters, there are two programs that can help. Disaster SNAP funds can temporarily increase your benefits to the maximum allotment for your household size. You can also request to be reimbursed for foods lost during the disaster that was purchased with SNAP. At this time, the program has not been activated in Virginia, but you can call your local DSS office for more information.

We hope that everyone impacted by the hurricane stays safe!

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