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Food and Water Safety: Before and After the Storm

Are you prepared for disaster?  There is more to being prepared than just stocking up.  After disaster strikes, it is important to know proper food and water safety to ensure the well-being of your loved ones.

Emergency Preparation (Before the Storm)

A written plan should be developed for your household.  The plan should be reviewed frequently by all members of the household.  The plan should include the following:

  • Essential item checklist: Make a list of items considered essential in the event of evacuation and collect these items in one location.
  • Adequate containers, utensils, and paper goods– Collect several grade containers for storing water and food.  These containers should be lightweight and easy to carry. Maintain a supply of disposable utensils, as well as a manual can opener. Maintain an adequate supply of paper goods. Also keep a supply of sanitary hand wipes.

Disaster Supply Kit

Assemble a “kit” that can fit inside your trunk or vehicle.  Make sure your kit includes nonperishable food and water (for a minimum of 24 hours) and other disaster supplies.  This kit should be updated annually.

Refrigerator and Freezercartoon scetch of family preparing an emergency kit

Organize and prepare the refrigerator and freezer:

  • To prepare for power outage, set the temperature colder than normal.
  • Clean refrigerator and freezer and examine gaskets.  Replace those that are worn.
  • Discard old and unnecessary items.
  • Take an inventory of food items and post in a visible area.
  • Organize freezer: separate meats from other items to avoid cross-contamination
  • If there is space, fill and freeze containers with water to slow down thawing in the event of a power failure.

Water Supplies

Evaluate the water needs of your family.  It is recommended that you maintain at least a two-day supply of water.  Allow a sufficient quantity per day for drinking (1 gallon/person), food preparation (1gallon/person), and hygiene (one half gallon/person).  In hot weather, allow more drinking water.  If you do not have commercially bottled water, some recommendations suggest filling bathtubs.  In preparation, the following should be purchased and maintained on hand:

  • Commercially bottled water (several bottles)
  • Non-scented liquid chlorine bleach (several bottles)

Food Supplies

A sufficient quantity of shelf-stable, non-perishable foods should be maintained on hand. Recommendations include:

  • Canned foods such as; vegetables, soups, condensed milk, canned meat, canned fruit and fruit juices, and nutschalk board with "be prepared" in writing
  • Dry foods such as: powdered milk, dried fruit, pasta, rice, instant coffee and tea, cocoa and crackers.
  • Potatoes and other shelf-stable vegetables
  • Ready-to-eat cereals
  • Soft drinks
  • Other easy-to-prepare or ready-to-eat foods.

It is important that family members maintain their strength during and after the storm.


If evacuation is required, follow instructions from local agencies and evacuate to the designated evacuation site. Take essential items with you.

Emergency Provisions

Examine your emergency water supplies to be sure that they have not become contaminated and assess whether any food items have become contaminated or whether perishable foods have been held at an unsafe temperature. Also, assess whether there has been contamination of food utensils, paper or plastic items, medicines, or any other items which will come in contact with food or the mouth.

Emergency Procedures

Water handling – If the water supply is contaminated, or if you are under a Boil Water Advisoryall water to be used must be purified.  Bring water to a rolling boil for at least 3-5 minutes to ensure the all potential hazardous bacteria have been killed.  Boiling is a more effective method than most chemical methods. Let cool completely before use.

Storing Water

Conserve as much water as possible and handle purified water with care.  Store containers in a cool, dry, dark place, both commercially bottled and purified water.  Once opened, it should be used within 3-5 days.

Follow Good Sanitization Procedures

When handling food, use appropriate precautions so as not to contaminate food.  This includes washing your hands before food handling and avoid contaminated surfaces when preparing food.  If purified water is not available, wash hands with water and then use hand sanitizer or sanitizer wipes.

Refrigerator and Freezer TemperaturesCaution sign saying disaster warning

  • Refrigerator: if kept closed, approximately 4 hours
  • Full freezer – if kept closed, approximately 48 hours
  • Half full freezer – if kept closed, approximately 24 hours

You cannot rely on appearance or odor to determine whether a food will make you sick.  Your only indication of safety is temperature.  Examine frozen food for evidence of thawing.  If the temperature of the freezer is about 41 degrees and all food is thawed, discard any food that has been thawed for an extended amount of time.  Partially frozen food is still safe. If fully thawed for a short amount of time, this food can be used only if it has been held at 41 degrees or less for no more than 2 days.

Canned and Bottled Foods

Tightly sealed metal cans with no evidence of bulging, swelling, seeping, or other damage may be safe for use.  Make sure to sanitize the outside of the container. Thoroughly cook food contained in the cans. If cans have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, discard immediately and do not use. If home-sealed containers have been exposed to flood waters or otherwise contaminated, they should be discarded.

Food Preparation

Food preparation areas, large food preparation equipment, the inside of refrigerators, and all other food contact surfaces should also be cleaned thoroughly and sanitized using a bleach sanitizing solution.


For full publications of safety procedures before or after a disaster has occurred click here.

Jana Hart- Extension Director- FCS/4-H



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