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A stove, a fridge, and running water—the usual requirements for safe food handling -- are often taken for granted, but a hurricane can wipe out all three, while introducing the possibility of food-borne illness. But a few safe food handling tips can help keep your family healthy during trying times.

Keeping your freezer going as long as possible

Keep the freezer closed for as long as possible to maintain coldness. Supplement with blocks of ice; stock up on these before a storm by filling empty containers and using frozen gel-packs. If storing foods in a cooler, pack foods in reverse order: Prioritize foods: First foods packed should be the last foods used. (The one exception: pack raw meat or poultry below ready-to-eat foods to prevent drips from raw meat or poultry). Store food in watertight containers to prevent contact with melting ice water. Insulate cooler with a blanket, tarp, or poncho. Discard all perishable foods when there is no longer ice in the cooler or if the gel-pack has thawed.

Preserving health when cooking meals

When cooking in less than ideal circumstances, the following vital rules should apply:

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold;
  • Keep to the 2-hour rule (no food should be in the danger zone for more than two hours). M ost bacteria do not grow rapidly at temperatures below 40°F or above 140°F. The temperature range in between is known as the danger zone when bacteria multiply rapidly and can reach dangerous levels within 2 hours; and,
  • Keep everything clean.

Meat and poultry products may contain bacteria that cause food borne illness. They must be properly cooked and held at temperatures that are either too hot or cold for these bacteria to grow. If you can’t refrigerate leftovers, share with others or dispose of it; later use may cause illness.

Buy foods with long shelf life

You can also plan ahead for safe food handling after a storm by buying shelf-stable foods like peanut butter, concentrated juice boxes, canned tuna, ham, chicken, and beef, dried noodles and soups, beef jerky and other dried meats, dehydrated foods, dried fruits and nuts, and powdered milk and fruit drinks.