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Power Outages, Flooding Can Affect Food Safety

A disaster can happen at any time. Whether it’s a power outage or a spring flood, common questions are:

What do you do with food in your freezer or refrigerator if the power goes out for an extended period?

Are any flooded foods safe to consume?

Hopefully you’ll never have to use this information but it’s always wise to be prepared.

Be sure to keep an adequate supply of food, water and emergency equipment on hand. If you know a flood is imminent and may affect your basement, move your food and possessions to higher ground.

Have on hand enough canned food to last four to five days, a hand-operated can opener, battery- powered radio, extra batteries and emergency cooking equipment, such as a camp stove with fuel to operate it.

You’ll want flashlights, candles, matches, a kerosene lamp, fire extinguisher and a first aid kit ready. Keep water on hand, allowing about a gallon of water per person per day.

If your power goes out, keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Food in your freezer will stay cold and safe for about three days.

If food in a freezer without power still has ice crystals, it can be refrozen or cooked. Food will remain safe in a refrigerator without power for about four hours.

On the other hand, most foods that are exposed to flood waters must be discarded. Flood waters can carry silt, sewage, oil or chemical waste. Produce, meat, fish and eggs, food in cardboard boxes and food in glass jars (including home-canned foods) are examples of flooded foods that should be discarded.

Undamaged metal cans containing food can be washed and sanitized if they come into contact with flood waters. Remove the labels, then wash with a detergent solution and immerse the containers for 15 minutes in a solution of two teaspoons of chlorine bleach per quart of room-temperature water. Then air dry and relabel the cans using a permanent marker.

Dishes and glassware touched by flood waters can be washed and sanitized similarly. However, wooden spoons, plastic utensils and pacifiers that come into contact with flood waters are best discarded.

JulieGarden-Robinson,PhD,L.R.D.,isaNorth DakotaStateUniversityExtensionService foodandnutritionspecialistandassociate professorinthedepartmentofhealth, nutritionandexercisesciences

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