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Food and Water Safety

image of person taking items from a refrigerator"When In Doubt, Throw It Out"

Illnesses caused by food borne bacteria can be among the greatest problems caused by a hurricane. Both loss of power and flooding pose a threat to your food supplies. In high water and flooding, food, water and utensils can be contaminated with bacteria, sewage and/or chemical spillage. In a power outage, frozen and refrigerated foods can be contaminated with bacteria that will grow once the temperature of the food gets above 40°F.

All of this can seriously affect the health of you and your family. To reduce the risk of contamination we offer these tips:

If your home has been flooded…

If your home has been flooded, do not eat any food that might have come in contact with floodwater.

The following foods should be considered unsafe and thrown away if they may have come in contact with contaminated flood waters:

  • Food and food products stored within paper, cloth or cardboard boxes/containers
  • Home canned foods
  • Flour, grains, sugar, and coffee in canisters or bags
  • Fresh meat, poultry and seafood
  • Any food in foil or cellophane
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables that do not have a peel or shell that can be removed before eating
  • Products with screw caps, twist caps, flip tops or snap lids. This will include products like sodas, bottled or canned juices, bottled water, condiments (mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise), peanut butter and jellies.
  • Commercially canned foods without dents, leaks or bulges – undamaged canned food are considered safe if properly cleaned and sanitized

Additional information on insuring the safety of your foods if they may have been contaminated by the flood waters:

  • Commercially canned foods without dents, leaks or bulges can be cleaned and sanitized by following the following steps:
    1. Remove the label;
    2. Thoroughly wash the cans in warm soapy water and rinse with clean water;
    3. Soak for 30-60 minutes in a solution of one ounce regular strength bleach to 6 gallons of water;
    4. Re-label cans with a permanent marker, making sure to include the expiration date.
  • Wash and disinfect all non-food items made from non-porous material, such as tableware, china, glasses, silverware or other metal utensils.
  • Throw away any plastic utensils, paper and plastic plates, wooden bowls and kitchen tools or any other non-food items made from a porous material.

image of electrical line workerIf your home has been without power…

Foods in the Freezer

  • If you keep your freezer door shut as much as possible foods could stay frozen for 1-3 days, depending on these things:
    • The amount of time the door is open;
    • The more food in the freezer, the longer all foods will stay frozen;
    • The room temperature outside the freezer; and
    • The larger and better insulated the freezer, the longer the foods will stay frozen.
  • Frozen foods that have thawed but are still chilled at temperatures not exceeding 40°F should be:
    • Cooked and then frozen, OR
    • Prepared and eaten, OR
    • Thrown away.
  • Partially frozen foods such as fruit, vegetables or meat that still have ice crystals on them can be refrozen.
  • Do not refreeze ice cream.
  • Do not refreeze frozen dinners.
  • If your friends have electricity, ask them to store your frozen foods in their freezers. Also, your church or local schools usually have large commercial size freezers and they may be willing to store your frozen foods.
  • Use block ice or dry ice if available. Twenty five pounds of dry ice will keep a ten cubic foot freezer below freezing for 3-4 days. Be sure to wear dry, heavy gloves when handling dry ice.

Foods In The Refrigerator

  • Keep the refrigerator door shut as much as possible. This could allow the food to stay chilled for 4-6 hours.
  • Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  • DO NOT TASTE FOODS! Bacteria may not always smell, have a taste or be visible.
  • Throw away any of these foods that have been at room temperature for 2 or more hours:
    • Raw or cooked meat, poultry, seafood, meat topped pizza or lunchmeats.
    • Casseroles, soups and stews.
    • Milk, cream, yogurt, soft cheeses, cottage cheese.
    • Mayonnaise, tartar sauce and creamy dressings.
    • Cooked pasta, potatoes, rice and salads.
    • Cookie dough.
    • Eggs and egg substitutes.
    • Custards, cream filled pastries, chiffon and cheese pies.
    • Gravy.
  • These foods can be stored at room temperature for 2-3 days and still be safe as long as they have not been touched by flood waters:
    • Butter or margarine.
    • Hard and processed cheeses.
    • Fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • Fruit juices.
    • Dried fruits and coconut.
    • Fresh herbs and spices.
    • Opened jars of vinegar based salad dressing, peanut butter, jelly, relish, mustard, ketchup, olives and barbecue sauce.
    • Flour and nuts.
    • Fruit pies.
    • Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, bagels.
  • Use block ice or dry ice if available. Be sure to wear dry, heavy gloves when handling dry ice.

Back To The Basics, Cooking Without Power

drawing of person cooking food on an outdoor grillPreparing meals, even just heating soup, can be a challenge and hazardous, without gas or electricity. Follow these simple guidelines so that if you have to prepare food without electricity or gas, it can be done safely:

  • Charcoal and gas grills or camp stoves are great alternatives, but keep them in a well ventilated area. NEVER USE THEM INDOORS. Not only can they cause a fire, you also risk carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • If you have a generator, small electrical appliances such as toaster ovens, indoor electric grills or hot plates, work well.
  • If you have a fireplace and there has been no damage to the chimney you can pretend you are at a campfire. Make sure the damper is open.
  • If you have to build a fire outdoors, build it away from any buildings, including carports. Make sure the fire is well contained. A metal drum or stones around the fire bed are good options. You can also build a wood fire in a charcoal grill. Never use gasoline to start a wood or charcoal fire. Make sure the fire is completely put out when you are finished cooking.
  • Also, remember that many canned foods can be eaten cold.

Don't Drink The Water...Until You're Sure It's Safe

image of person pumping water from a wellHurricanes with their flooding and tidal surges can contaminate public water supplies and wells. In addition the water treatment plants may not be operating. All water sources should be considered unsafe until they are tested and the proper authorities tell you it is ok to drink. Until that time, here is information on what you can do to make the water safer for you and your family:

  • A good supply of clean water is a top priority in an emergency. During the day, a person who is normally active will consume at least two quarts of water a day. This amount can double during hotter weather.
  • Safe drinking water includes distilled or bottled water that has not come into contact with floodwater.
  • For infants, use only pre-prepared, canned baby formula. Use powdered formulas only when they are prepared with bottled water.
  • You can make water safer in 4 ways:
    1. Bring water to a rolling boil and keep it there for at least 1 full minute. THIS IS THE ONLY SURE WAY TO KILL HARMFUL ORGANISMS.
    2. Add regular strength, unscented liquid chlorine bleach to water at a rate of ¼ teaspoon (16 drops) per gallon. Then shake and let stand for 30 minutes. A slight chlorine odor should be detected. If you can't smell the chlorine slightly, repeat the process and let stand for another 15 minutes. If it still does not smell of chlorine after 2 doses, discard and find other water. Hint: a pinch of salt added to the water and then pouring from one container to another several times will help to improve the taste.
    3. Use commercially prepared water purifying kit, iodine or chlorine tablets and follow the instructions on the packaging.
    4. Add iodine at 5 drops per quart for clear water and 10 drops per quart for cloudy water. Let the treated water stand for 30 minutes.
  • Strain cloudy water by pouring through a clean cloth.
  • Do not swim or bathe in rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, or the ocean until you hear or read an announcement by officials that the water is safe.
  • Cook, brush your teeth, wash dishes and bathe only with treated or bottled water.
  • Rinse containers for water with a bleach solution before using and re-using them.
  • If you use a well you will want to make sure that it is not contaminated. Do not use the water from your well until it has been tested. For information on how to have your water tested and your well disinfected, contact your local DHEC Environmental Quality Control division. For more information, see DHEC Residential Well Disinfection (pdf) or view Emergency Well Disinfection.

Emergency Sources of Water

If a disaster hits and catches you without a stored supply of clean water, you can use water from these sources:

image of a water coolerWithin the Home:

  • Your hot-water heater tank
  • Water in your pipes
  • Ice
  • Water in the reservoir on your toilet (not the bowl)

Outside the Home:

  • Rainwater
  • Streams, rivers and other moving bodies of water
  • Ponds and lakes
  • Natural springs
  • Water from these sources must be purified/disinfected

(Note: Water from these sources must be purified/disinfected)

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