Maintaining Food and Water Safety During and Post
Drinking Water Safety
Listen to a local radio or television station for announcements from appropriate authorities about the safety of drinking water. Follow their directions.
• You can drink water from the community water system unless you have been told or have reason to suspect it has become contaminated.
• If the water is contaminated:
-Use your emergency supply of water.
-Purchase bottled water, if necessary, until you are certain that your water supply is safe.
-Consider all water from wells, cisterns, and other delivery systems in the disaster area to be unsafe until tested.
-Water from melted ice cubes made before the disaster occurred is generally safe to drink.
-Water from undamaged hot water tanks and water pipes is generally safe to drink. Turn off the main water valve before draining water from these sources.
-Bottled juices and the liquid from canned fruits and vegetables are another source of water.
• 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. (See below.) Avoid water with floating material, an odor, or a dark color. Use saltwater only if you distill it first. Do NOT drink floodwater.
Treat water for drinking, cooking, and bathing only if it is of questionable quality. There are several ways to treat water—but none is perfect. Often, the best solution is a combination of methods.
• Boiling is the safest method of treating water. Strain water through a clean cloth to remove bulk impurities. Bring water to a rolling boil for about one full minute. Let the water cool before drinking. Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. This will also improve the taste of stored water.
• Household liquid bleach can kill microorganisms in water. Use chlorine bleach from a freshly opened bottle. Use only regular household liquid bleach that contains approximately 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, color-safe bleaches, or bleaches with added cleaners. Add 1/8 teaspoon (approximately 0.75 mL or 8 drops) of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water. Stir the water well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. If the water is cloudy or extremely cold, or the bleach label says there is less than 4% sodium hypochlorite in the product, double the amount of bleach you add to the water. Using bleach will not kill parasitic organisms. Other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products sold in camping or surplus stores that do not contain 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used.
Distilling removes salt and other solid impurities from water. Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting the vapor that condenses back to water. The condensed vapor will not include salt or other solid impurities. A relatively simple, although inefficient, way to distill water in an emergency is to suspend a cup over boiling water.
(See below: Food and Water Exposed to Floodwater, Fire, and Chemicals.)
Keeping Refrigerated Food Safe if the Power Goes Out
The loss of power from high wind, fire, flood, or even a traffic accident can be sudden. Without power to run your refrigerator and freezer, the safety of your food could be a concern. Be prepared for an emergency by keeping on hand items that do not require refrigeration, such as shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, and canned goods. (See Tips for Preparing Your Disaster Supplies Kits.) Make sure you have pre-prepared baby formula for infants, if needed. Remember to use these items in the order you bought them and replace them from time to time.
Knowing ways for keeping food safe when the power goes out will help reduce the worry about what is safe to eat and minimize the potential loss of food. The following information will help you make the right decisions for keeping your family safe:
• Always keep your refrigerator at or below 40° F (4° C). Keep your freezer at or below 0° F (-18°C). An appliance thermometer can tell you if your refrigerator and freezer are at the proper temperatures.
• If the power goes out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperatures. An unopened refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours. A full freezer will stay sufficiently cold for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if it is unopened.
• If your freezer is not full, keep items close together—this helps the food stay cold longer.
• Keep frozen meat and poultry items on the lowest (coldest) shelf of the freezer, and separated from other food so that thawing meat or poultry juices will not contaminate the other food.
• Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time.
• If you are not sure a particular food is cold enough, take its temperature with the food thermometer. Discard any perishable foods (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40° F (4° C) for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch.
• Be sure to discard any fully cooked items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come in contact with raw meat juices.
• Remember, you cannot rely solely on appearance or odor. Never taste food to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature too long, bacteria that cause food-borne illness can begin to grow very rapidly. Some types of bacteria produce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking.
If previously frozen food is partially or completely thawed when the power comes back on:
• You can safely refreeze it if it contains ice crystals or is at 40° F (4° C) or below. You will have to evaluate each item separately.
Food and Water Exposed to Floodwater, Fire, and Chemicals
After a flood, you should:
• Wear gloves, boots, and a long-sleeved shirt and long pants when cleaning up.
• Discard all food or drinking water that came in contact with floodwater, including canned goods. It is impossible to know if containers were damaged and the seal compromised.
• Discard wooden spoons and cutting boards, plastic utensils, and baby bottle nipples and pacifiers if they have been covered by floodwater. There is no way to safely clean them.
• Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that have been covered by floodwater with hot soapy water and sanitize them by boiling them in clean or properly treated water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water.
Consider what you can do ahead of time to keep your food safe in an emergency. For example, if you live in a location that could be affected by a flood, plan your food storage so that your appliances and food shelves will be safely out of the way of floodwater. And remember to store pet food where it will be safe from possible contamination by floodwater.
After a fire, you should:
• Throw out food and water exposed to fire because they may have been damaged by the heat, smoke, and fumes of the fire and by the chemicals used to fight the fire.
• Throw out food and water in cans or jars even if they appear to be undamaged, because the heat from a fire can activate spoilage bacteria and make the food and water unsafe.
• Throw out any raw food or food in permeable packaging—cardboard, plastic wrap, screw-topped jars and bottles, etc., even if it was stored in the refrigerator.
• Throw out any food that has an off-flavor or odor when it is prepared.
Toxic gases released from burning materials are very dangerous. These gases can kill; they can also contaminate food and water. Food and water stored in refrigerators or freezers can also become contaminated by gases. The refrigerator seal is not airtight and gases can get inside.
If food or water has been exposed to toxic chemicals, throw it away. The chemicals cannot be washed off the food. This includes food stored at room temperature, such as fruits and vegetables, as well as food in permeable containers like cardboard and screwtopped jars and bottles, even if it is in the refrigerator. Canned goods are the only foods that can be safely kept after exposure to chemicals and then only if the unopened cans are washed with a dishwashing detergent and then immersed in a bleach solution (1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water).
If cookware and utensils have been exposed to toxic chemicals, wash them with dishwashing detergent and then immerse them in a bleach solution (1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water).