National Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 1-7 this year. During this week, the American Kidney Fund's Kidney Kitchen® collaborators, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) encourage you to consider making a "hurricane plan" for food safety.
Food safety is especially important for people living with kidney disease since your kidneys are not functioning properly. This means your immune system may be weakened and foodborne illnesses may be harder for you fight off, making your symptoms more severe or evenly deadly. Knowing what to do in case of a hurricane emergency is key to ensuring you are prepared – and to protecting your health.
In case of hurricane flooding
Depending on the severity of the storm, hurricanes can cause flooding or structural damage to your home or neighborhood. If you experience a flood, keep these food safety-related tips in mind:
- Do not eat any food that may have come in contact with flood water.
- Throw away any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance it may have come in contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops or crimped caps.
- Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, utensils (including can openers) with soap and water (hot water if available). Rinse and sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
Another major concern for your food safety in a hurricane is losing power. Power is critical to ensuring perishable foods stay safe, because harmful bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels when temperatures are above 40°F.
Before a hurricane power outage
If you know you may be affected by a hurricane or power outage due to severe weather, plan ahead and prepare by following these steps:
- Keep an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and freezer.
- Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately, such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry. This will keep them at a safe temperature longer.
- Have a large, insulated cooler and frozen gel packs or ice available. You can pour water into containers and freeze it to make ice.
- Find out where you can purchase dry ice and block ice. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic-foot freezer cold for two days. (Caution: Do not touch dry ice with bare hands or place it in direct contact with food.)
- Stock up on non-perishable items that do not need refrigeration for food safety.
- Place foods on higher shelves to lessen the chance of them being contaminated by flood water.
During or after a hurricane power outage
During a power outage, keep in mind that the refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours. Also, a full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
If the power does go out, keep these other important tips in mind:
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed.
- If the power will be off for more than 4 hours, transfer food to a cooler and fill with ice or frozen gel packs. Make sure there is enough ice to keep food in the cooler at 40°F or below. Add more ice to the cooler as it begins to melt.
- Throw away perishable foods in the refrigerator after 4 hours, and perishable foods in the freezer after 24 hours if half full or 48 hours if the freezer is full.
- After a power outage, consult with this chart to determine what foods are safe to keep and which are not.
As a reminder, never taste food to determine its safety. When in doubt, throw it out!
Find more food safety tips specifically for those living with kidney disease on Kidney Kitchen and more tips about keeping food safe during severe storms and hurricanes on the USDA FSIS's website. AKF's infographic for preparing for a natural disaster also has great tips for people living with kidney disease, including a 3-day emergency plan for your kidney-friendly food plan.
If you have additional severe weather or power outage food safety questions, you can also call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), email MPHotline@usda.gov or chat live atask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.