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Handle food, water safely in aftermath of hurricane
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricane damage threatens two things necessary for human and animal survival: food and water.
Peggy Walker, a Mississippi State University Extension Service nutrition and food safety area agent based in Panola County, said cooking and eating habits must change to fit the situation during a power failure or flood.
"Whatever situation you're in, you must remember to observe safe cooking practices to avoid consuming contaminated foods," Walker said. "Cooked vegetables, eggs, meat and meat dishes, and dairy foods cannot safely be kept at room temperature for more than two hours, including preparation and serving time. Don't even think about eating these potentially hazardous foods."
Do not serve foods such as ground meats, creamed foods, meat salads or custards in disaster situations because these spoil easily and are potential sources of food-borne illness. If necessary, substitute canned or powdered milk for fresh milk.
"Once canned milk is opened, though, it must be handled just as carefully as fresh milk. Use it up or dispose of it after two hours at room temperature," Walker said. "If you are using canned milk or formula to feed a baby, open a fresh can for each bottle while your power is out. Use only boiled, disinfected or bottled water to mix powdered milk or powdered baby formula, and use it immediately after it is mixed."
Prepare and eat foods in their original containers when possible. This will help if dishwashing facilities are limited.
In addition to meat, poultry and seafood, Walker said to avoid eating the following foods if they have been without refrigeration for more than two hours:
- Cooked vegetables.
- Home-canned vegetables.
- Foods made with cream sauces.
- Cream or cottage cheeses.
- Milk, custard or cream pies.
- Melted ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Canned foods and freeze-dried or dehydrated items usually can be eaten safely as long as cans and packaging are not damaged or contaminated. To be safe, wash cans in clean water before opening with a can opener. Do not use any packaged goods that have gotten wet.
"When cooking during a power failure, remember to conserve fuel and water as much as possible," Walker said. "Choose foods that cook quickly if you have limited heat for cooking. Consider one-dish and no-cook meals."
Alternative cooking methods include using outdoor grills; candle food warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots; wood-burning stoves; and fuel-burning camp stoves or charcoal burners, which only should be used outdoors.
Substitute liquids from canned vegetables for water in cooked dishes, remembering these liquids should be left unrefrigerated no more than two hours. Also, drain and save juices from canned fruits to use as a substitute for water in salads and beverages.
If water is available, remember that there is a high chance of contamination after a possible disruption in the water supply. Extension water quality specialist Jimmy Bonner said to be on the lookout for boil-water notices, and always heed their advice.
"Do not drink water from an unproven source. If there's any question about it, don't drink it," Bonner said. "The best way to make sure water is safe to drink is to boil it for at least one minute."
If it is available, bottled water is the safest choice for drinking and food preparation.