ALERT: USDA Offers Food Safety Tips For Hurricane Victims

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After Hurricane Harvey swept through Texas, destroying everything in its path, survivors have been struggling to bring security to the situation. One major health concern that’s been facing officials has been the distribution of food and water that isn’t contaminated.

It’s estimated that the average human body can only go without food for around ten days, but can only survive for two days without water. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that food and water be distributed equally amongst the victims, to ensure the highest probability of survival.

In response to the destruction Harvey has caused, the USDA has released a set of food safety tips which are applicable to both Hurricane Harvey’s path of devastation, and the upcoming path of devastation that Hurricane Irma will likely cause throughout the East Coast.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing food safety recommendations for those who may be impacted by Hurricane Irma.

The National Hurricane Center expects Hurricane Irma to affect the northeastern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean as an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane, accompanied by life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall. Hurricane warnings are in effect for portions of the Leeward Islands. Tropical-storm force winds are expected to first arrive in the hurricane warning area later today.

Irma is expected to affect the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a dangerous major hurricane beginning tomorrow, with life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall. Hurricane warnings have been issued for these areas. There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend. Otherwise, it is still too early to determine what direct impacts Irma might have on the continental U.S. However, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place.

Hurricanes present the possibility of power outages and flooding that can compromise the safety of stored food. Residents in the path of this storm should pay close attention to the forecast. FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during this and other severe weather events.

They recommend that all victims take the following steps BEFORE they lose power:

  • Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator, 0°F or lower in the freezer.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
  • Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately—this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Group foods together in the freezer—this ‘igloo’ effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.

It is also recommended that all victims do the following once the power goes out:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross contamination of thawing juices.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

After the flood, it is recommended that you follow these additional safety tips:

  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water—this would include raw fruits and vegetables, cartons of milk or eggs.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard, or those with screw‐caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps. Flood waters can enter into any of these containers and contaminate the food inside. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home-canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
  • Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel‐type can opener.

Once the weather emergency is over, the USDA advises you to do the following:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below.
  • Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

The USDA and FSIS will be providing relevant food safety updates as the storm progresses. You can follow them on Twitter and on Facebook for the fastest updates.

This is extremely important information—please share it out on social media!

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