Food Safety: A Recipe for National Preparedness

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National Preparedness Month reminds us to keep food safety in our emergency preparedness plans. Having a strategy can help us have resources and peace of mind if or when these events occur. 

Take proactive measures to have safe food and water available by storing emergency supplies, practicing proper hygiene and sanitation, and following appropriate food handling and preparation techniques. 

What types of food should you include in an emergency kit?

When preparing for a disaster, you’ll want to build an emergency kit that includes food and water. (Don’t forget the can opener!) While stocking up, purchase foods that:

  • Have a long storage life.
  • Require little or no cooking, water, or refrigeration in case utilities are disrupted.
  • Meet the needs of infants or other family members on special diets.
  • Meet your pets' needs.

Build up your emergency pantry over time when grocery shopping to make the task easier. Some examples of foods to include are: 

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables.
  • Protein or fruit bars.
  • Dry cereal or granola and dried fruit.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Canned juices and non-perishable pasteurized milk.

Consider how you will cook during an emergency and add alternative heating sources to your kit including: 

  • Candle warmers.
  • Chafing dishes.
  • Fondue pots.
  • Charcoal grills and camp stoves (outdoor use only). 

How do I store food so that it lasts?

Disasters and emergencies can disrupt the supply chain that provides access to fresh food along with ways to keep it safe.

How you store your food can help give it a longer shelf life: 

  • Store items in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Place them on high shelves to keep them safe from minor household flooding.
  • Consider airtight or waterproof containers for foods that come in paper boxes or cartons to keep out insects or rodents.
  • Check expiration dates on canned foods and dry mixes. 
  • Store fresh foods away from ranges or refrigerator exhausts. Heat causes many foods to spoil more quickly.

What are some dangers during a power outage?

Managing food supplies without power: To ensure proper food storage, refrigerated or frozen foods must be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. During a power outage, food safety becomes a concern due to the risk of bacterial growth and potential foodborne illnesses without a means to keep food cold.

During a power outage, follow these 5 tips to keep your food safe for longer: 

  1. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. An unopened refrigerator can maintain its temperature for about four hours, while a freezer can stay cold for approximately 48 hours. 
  2. Pack refrigerated and freezer items closely together to help retain cold temperatures for longer. However, be aware of separating ready-to-eat foods from raw meat, poultry and seafood. 
  3. Freeze containers of water in advance to help prolong the coldness of the freezer during a power outage. 
  4. If the power outage lasts for an extended period or if the temperature rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it is recommended that you discard the food.
  5. Keep a thermometer handy to monitor the temperature inside your refrigerator or freezer. 

What steps should I take after a disaster?

After a disaster, some food can spoil quickly. 

Throw away the following:

  • Perishable food that has not been refrigerated or frozen properly due to power outages.
  • Food that may have been in floodwater or stormwater.
  • Food with an unusual odor, color or texture.

You may be able to salvage food in cans and plastic or metal pouches by taking the following actions:

  • Brush or wipe away dirt or silt.
  • Wash cans and pouches with hot, soapy water.
  • Use food in cans or pouches as soon as possible.

The best rule of thumb to follow is, "when in doubt, throw it out." 

We understand throwing out food after a disaster might cause a financial strain for some when resources are already scarce. If this happens, FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers can help you find food sources in your community. Our staff can also help connect you to emergency food assistance programs. You can find more information by visiting

How much water should I store for emergencies?

You should store at least one gallon of water daily for each person and pet in the household. Consider storing more water than this for hot climates, and pregnant or sick people.

If tap water is available, follow local health guidelines and boil it before use if advised to do so.

Another consideration you’ll want to make is having enough water to maintain proper hygiene and sanitation during an emergency. You should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling any food items, but if water is scarce, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content.  You should consider using disposable plates, cups and utensils to minimize washing requirements. 

For more information on ensuring food safety in a disaster or emergency, visit Food |

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