This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Food Safety Specialist, and E.H. Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. (New 05/99. Revised 06/07.)
Advance preparation is a key to food safety during a hurricane and the floods that can accompany it. Those living in hurricane areas should keep adequate supplies on hand because power will likely be disrupted, putting food in danger.
Food and water for four to five days
Hand can opener
Camp stove or other emergency cooking equipment
Flashlights, candles, matches, kerosene lamp
Fire extinguisher and first aid kit
Flooding often accompanies hurricanes. Persons living in areas subject to floods should be ready to raise refrigerators or freezers by putting cement blocks under their corners. Canned goods and other foods kept in a basement or low cabinets should be moved higher. Flood waters may carry silt, raw sewage, oil or chemical waste. If foods have been in contact with flood waters, follow the "Safe Handling" recommendations.
If the National Weather Service (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnhc.shtml) announces a hurricane watch, expect hurricane conditions within 24 hours.
How to Store Water: To prepare the safest and most reliable emergency supply of water, it is recommended that you purchase commercially bottled water. Keep bottled water sealed in its original container until you need to use it. Observe the expiration or "use-by" date.
To prepare your own containers of water, use only food-grade, water-storage containers from surplus or camping supplies stores, or two-liter plastic soda bottles. Do not use containers that have had milk or fruit juice in them because the protein and sugars cannot be all removed, and provide an environment for bacterial growth.
Using Dry Ice: Know in advance where you can buy dry and block ice. Purchase three pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of freezer space. A 50-pound block of dry ice placed in a full 18-cubic foot freezer should keep food safe without electricity for two days. Dry ice registers -216 °F, so rubber gloves or tongs must be used when handling it. DO NOT CONSUME DRY ICE. Wrap the ice in brown paper and separate it with a piece of cardboard from direct food contact. Fill a partially empty freezer with crumpled newspaper to cut down on air currents, which cause the dry ice to dissipate. Provide adequate ventilation for carbon dioxide in areas where dry ice is used. Do not cover air vent openings of freezer.
After a major storm, listen to a local radio or television station for announcements from appropriate authorities about the safety of drinking water. You can drink water from the community water system unless you have been told or have reason to suspect it has become contaminated. Consider all water from wells, cisterns and other delivery systems in the disaster area to be unsafe until tested. Do not use water that has a dark color, an odor or that contains floating material.
If the water is contaminated:
If you need to find drinking water outside your home, you can use rainwater, streams, rivers and other moving bodies of water, ponds and lakes, and natural springs. If you question its purity, be sure to treat the water first. Use saltwater only if you distill it first. Do NOT drink floodwater.
Treating Water: Treat water for drinking, cooking, washing utensils, and cleaning kitchen and bathroom surfaces only if it is of questionable quality. Also treat the water used for washing hands and bathing. Always use clean or treated water to wash any parts of the body that have come in contact with surfaces contaminated by floodwaters. There are several ways to treat water, but none is perfect. The best solution is often a combination of methods.
As during other types of disasters, electricity to the refrigerator and freezer may be off. The key to determine the safety of foods in the refrigerator and freezer is how cold they are, since most foodborne illness is caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40 °F.
Leave the Freezer Door Closed: A full freezer should keep food safe about two days; a half-full freezer, about a day. Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time.
Refrigerated Items: These foods should be safe as long as the power is out no more than about four hours. Discard any perishable food that has been above 40 °F for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Leave the door closed; every time you open it, needed cold air escapes causing the foods inside to reach unsafe temperatures.
If it appears the power will be off more than four hours, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler to be sure the food stays at 40 °F or below.
Never Taste Food to Determine Its Safety: Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they 've been at room temperature longer than two hours, bacteria able to cause foodborne illness can begin to multiply very rapidly. Some types will produce toxins, which are not destroyed by cooking and can possibly cause illness. Use the following "Power Out" chart to decide which foods are safe to use or refreeze when power is restored.
Discard: The following foods should be discarded if kept over two hours at above 40 °F.
Save: The following foods should keep at room temperature a few days. Still, discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor.
Refreeze: Thawed foods that still contain ice crystals may be refrozen. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals but you are certain have been kept at 40 °F or below for no more than 1 to 2 days, may be cooked, then refrozen or canned.
If food has spoiled in a freezer because of a power failure or some other reason, undesirable odors can develop. To eliminate odors, remove the food and wash the inside of the freezer with one tablespoon of baking soda in a quart of tap water, or with one cup of vinegar in a gallon of tap water. Let the surface dry.
If the odor still persists, use activated charcoal. This type of charcoal is extra dry and absorbs odors more quickly than cooking-type charcoal. It can be purchased at a drug store or pet supply store. To use it, unplug the freezer. Put the charcoal in pans or on paper in the bottom of the freezer for several days. If the odor remains, put in new charcoal. When the odor is gone, rinse and dry the inside of the freezer. Turn on the freezer and it is ready for food. When odor gets into the freezer's insulation, write the company for any suggestions it may have for solving the problem. However, sometimes, there is nothing that can be done.
After a storm has knocked out electricity or gas lines, cooking meals can be a problem and even hazardous if a few basic rules are not followed. Charcoal or gas grills, or camp stoves that use gasoline or solid fuel are the most obvious alternative sources of heat for cooking. NEVER USE THEM INDOORS. In doing so you risk both asphyxiation from carbon monoxide and starting a fire that could destroy your home. If you have access to an electrical generator, small electrical appliances can be used to prepare meals.
Wood can be used for cooking in many situations. You can cook in a fireplace if the chimney is sound. Don't start a fire in a fireplace that has a broken chimney. Be sure the damper is open. If you're cooking on a wood stove, make sure the stovepipe has not been damaged. If you have to build a fire outside, build it away from buildings; never in a carport. Sparks can easily get into the ceiling and start a house fire. Make sure any fire is well contained. A metal drum or stones around the fire bed are good precautions. A charcoal grill is a good place in which to build a wood fire. Never use gasoline to get a wood or charcoal fire started. Put out any fire when you are through with it.
For more information see Clemson University's Hurricane Preparedness Information at http://www.clemson.edu/extension/ep/hurricane.html
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.