Preparing an emergency food kit

Tips for sanitation and avoiding contamination

Safe food handling is always important, and especially so in emergency situations. By taking steps before, during and after an emergency, you can help protect your family from foodborne illnesses.

Here are some practical tips for storing, handling and preparing food in an emergency.

Before an emergency:

  • Check the temperature of your fridge and freezer: are they cold enough?
    • Refrigerators should be set at or below 4°C (40°F). Use a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature.
    • Freezers should be set at or below -18ºC (0ºF). Use a freezer thermometer to check the temperature.
  • Have a cooler and ice ready ahead of time to keep refrigerated food cold in case the power is out for more than four hours.
  • Always have items on hand that do not require refrigeration such as canned goods and water. Replace these emergency storage food items periodically.
  • Make sure you have ready-to-use baby formula and pet food available, if needed.
  • Ensure you have a hand-held can opener to use during an emergency.

During an emergency

In the midst of an emergency, keep these important health and food safety tips in mind:

  • Listen to local authorities to determine if tap water is safe to use. If the water is not safe to use, follow instructions to use bottled water, or to boil or disinfect water for cooking, cleaning and bathing.
  • Do not use contaminated water to: brush your teeth, make baby formula, make ice, wash or prepare food, wash dishes or wash hands.
  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with: chemicals, animal waste, floodwater, snow or ice, soil or dirt.
  • Check the condition of stored food and throw away any containers that have been damaged or are past their "best before" dates. Can or container damage includes crushing, dents, rust, holes, leakage and swelling.
  • Food containers that are not waterproof and could have come into contact with floodwater should be thrown away. These include containers with pull tops, screw-caps and snap lids.
  • If baby formula containers, cardboard juice containers, home-canned foods and milk containers have come into contact with floodwater or hazardous material, they should be thrown away.

Power failures and food

Freezing stops the growth of bacteria. In the case of a power failure, don't open the refrigerator or freezer door unless absolutely necessary. This will help maintain the cold temperature.

  • A full freezer will keep food frozen for about 48 hours. A freezer that is half full will keep food frozen for about 24 hours.
  • An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours.
  • If available, add ice to the refrigerator to keep the food at a safe temperature if the power will be out for long periods of time.

Do not place frozen food outside, even in winter. The sun's rays could thaw frozen food even when the outdoor temperature is very cold, and animals could contaminate food. If you know a power failure will last for a long period of time, take food to a friend nearby with power.

After a power failure

Follow these tips for food safety after a power failure:

  • Throw out any thawed food that has been at room temperature for two or more hours, as well as any food that has an obvious unusual colour or odour.
  • Food that still contains ice crystals or feels refrigerator-cold can be re-frozen.
  • If raw food has leaked during thawing, clean and disinfect the areas the food has touched.

Did you know...

Don't always believe what you see, smell or taste
Food contaminated with bacteria does not necessarily smell or look spoiled. Don't judge by appearance alone.

Sanitize after using
Don't reuse cleaning cloths until they have been disinfected by washing in hot water.

After a flood

The only foods that are entirely safe to eat after a flood are undamaged, commercially prepared foods in sealed, unopened, airtight, waterproof cans, jars or pouches. Even before using these, carefully inspect, clean and disinfect them by:

  • Removing the labels on cans, jars or pouches
  • Cleaning cans, jars or pouches by washing them for two minutes with a mild bleach solution of one teaspoon bleach to three cups of water
  • Air-dry all cleaned food cans, jars and pouches to prevent potential contamination when the containers are opened
  • Re-label containers with a permanent marker and clearly label the "best before" date and any other important information

Properly sanitize all food preparation equipment, surfaces, dishes and utensils with a mild bleach solution. It is important to allow equipment, surfaces, dishes and utensils to air dry thoroughly before using or storing. Do not put one wet cutting board on top of another -- bacteria can multiply in trapped water.

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