It can be difficult to maintain good hygiene and cleanliness following a disaster, but is essential for your survival. These steps will help you serve safe foods and beverages:
In order to prevent the spread of infection, always wash your hands with plenty of soap and water before handling or preparing food or eating. Make sure children do the same. Use plastic or rubber gloves if you have any kind of skin cut, burn or infection on your hands.
■ Wash hands, work surfaces and utensils in hot, soapy water after each step in food preparation. Do not put cooked meat, poultry or fish in the same container that held the raw product. The cooked food may become contaminated with bacteria from the raw juices.
■ Keep cloths washed and dish towels clean. Bacteria can linger or remain in towels and cloths, so wash kitchen linen often.
■ Wash dishes and utensils only in water that is safe to drink. Boil unsafe water for five minutes or add eight drops of laundry bleach to each gallon of water, mix thoroughly and allow to stand 30 minutes before using it.
■ Use sanitary disposable eating utensils when there is a shortage of safe drinking water.
Disease outbreaks may occur after disasters. In the event illness occurs, report symptoms to a physician or nurse. Persons with diarrhea or vomiting, and those living in temporary group housing who develop fever, sore throat, cough or other symptoms (except for the common cold) should notify a physician or health nurse.
Persons who are sick should not help prepare meals.
Because children sometimes have intestinal infections without showing symptoms, and then often have inadequate hygienic practices, adults should check that children (especially young children) thoroughly wash hands after using the toilet. This reduces the risk of disease transmission. Dispose of used diapers in a plastic bag or other container that can be closed tightly to prevent contact by others.
Food Spoilage vs. Food Poisoning
It is important to know the organisms that cause food to spoil are different from the organisms that cause food poisoning and make you sick. When spoilage organisms — some bacteria, molds and yeasts — affect the look, smell or taste of the food, throw the food away. Unfortunately, the bacteria that commonly cause foodborne illness — mild to severe symptoms of vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and sometimes fever — are not so obvious. These organisms rarely affect smell, taste and appearance of food to indicate that it is unsafe to eat. Following these simple rules will help
prevent foodborne illness:
■ Cook foods thoroughly, especially meats, poultry and pork. Use a meat roasting thermometer in the thickest portion of the meat. Cook chicken to 180 degrees F, pork to 160 degrees F and beef to 160 degrees F.
■ Refrigerate leftovers immediately after the meal. If there are large volumes of food to cool (more than one or two pounds, or 1/2 gallon of liquid), divide the food into several shallow containers or smaller pieces to cool it faster. This prevents bacteria from multiplying rapidly in the warm food.
■ Do not thaw frozen food at room temperature. Either cook it frozen or thaw it in the refrigerator
or in a place where the temperature is lower than 41 degrees F.
■ Wash your hands thoroughly before handling food, especially after handling raw meats or
poultry and after using the bathroom.
■ Do not leave high-protein foods (raw or cooked) sitting out at room temperature. Keep them hot (over 145 degrees F) or keep them cold (under 41 degrees F). Examine Canned Goods Carefully examine canned goods that have been submerged in flood waters, frozen, in a fire or crushed. Some cans may be safe to use after a good cleaning and some may not.
Follow these guidelines:
■ Containers with cork-lined lids or caps, screw tops or pop tops are nearly impossible to clean thoroughly around the opening after being underwater or in a fire. If there have been any major temperature changes, contaminants may actually have been sucked into the container. Discard these containers.
■ Tin cans are usually safe if they appear undamaged. Wash these cans in bleach water (1/4-cup bleach in one gallon of water) for one minute, then dry to prevent rusting.
■ If cans have pitted rust spots that cannot be buffed off with a soft cloth, corrosion may allow contamination to enter through holes in the walls of the can. Discard these cans.
■ Cans with ends that bulge or spring in and out when pressed, should be discarded immediately. This usually means bacteria are growing inside and producing gas and expanding the can. Do not taste
the contents of such cans.
■ If a can is crushed, dented or creased, closely examine it to see if it is safe to use. A dent may weaken the seam and allow contamination. If a dent or crease is very sharp, the contents may be contaminated.
Discard these cans. Do not taste.
What To Do When Your Freezer Fails
When the electricity is off, a fully stocked freezer will keep food frozen two days if the door remains closed. A half-full freezer can keep foods frozen about one day. What can you do if electric service will not be re-connected within one or two days?
■ Keep the freezer door closed.
■ Divide up your frozen foods among friends’ freezers if they have electricity.
■ Seek freezer space in a store, church, school or a commercial meat locker or freezer that has electrical service.
■ Know where you can buy dry and block ice.
■ Put dry ice in your freezer. Never touch dry ice with bare hands! It freezes everything it touches. 25 pounds of dry ice will keep a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for three to four days. Do not stick your head into a freezer that contains dry ice. Dry ice gives off carbon dioxide, which replaces oxygen, so leave the door open a short time before examining your food.
■ If you are not sure how long the electricity has been off, discard any food that smells bad, is slimy, has an unusual color or is room temperature.
■ If food is still “cold-to-thetouch,” it may be cooked and eaten immediately, or refrozen.
What To Do When Your Refrigerator Fails
When power goes off in the refrigerator, you can normally expect food inside to stay safely cold for four to six hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is.
■ High-protein foods (dairy products, meat, fish, poultry) should be consumed as soon as possible if power is not restored immediately. They cannot be stored safely at room temperature.
■ Fruits and vegetables can be kept at room temperature safely until there are obvious signs of spoilage (mold, slime, wilt). With good ventilation, vegetables last longer at room temperature. Remove them from the refrigerator if electrical service may not resume soon.