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Prairie Fare: Be Prepared Foodwise for Spring and Summer Disasters

Power outages, flooding, fires and other disasters can trigger food safety issues.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension

I thought I heard a freight train driving right by our house despite no train tracks in the vicinity.

I glanced at my alarm clock. It said 3 a.m.

My bedroom windows were open after an exceptionally muggy Fourth of July day. Now my drapes were flying over me in the strong wind.

Was I dreaming? I went downstairs to investigate with my parents. I was a teenager at the time.

When daylight broke, my parents and I ventured outside. Our small town looked as though a bomb had hit it.

People were standing outside, stunned and shaking their heads in disbelief. Many were crying. High-pitched sirens of ambulances rang out in the otherwise silent community.

A tornado had devastated our tiny Minnesota town. We had no warning.

Uprooted 100-year-old trees left gaping holes in our yard, but our home was undamaged. On the next street, houses were flipped upside down. The business my dad managed was missing its massive red roof and the concrete walls were cracked. Merchandise was scattered for many miles.

We soon heard news that several people had died. I knew them.

Thinking back, my dad maintained an exceptionally calm demeanor in the midst of devastation. It might have been his Scandinavian stoicism or maybe the fact that he had survived four years of World War II. Our family had been spared from injury.

Everyone rolled up their sleeves and began the massive cleanup and rebuilding effort. Soon the loud buzz of chainsaws cutting up trees and the sound of trucks punctuated our daily life.

I recall dragging tree limbs, raking for hours and making sandwiches to serve volunteers and residents at the emergency shelters.

Our town became a “curiosity” and some people felt the need to drive slowly through town and observe us. I helped check people in at the highway entrance to town. The visitor had to give a really good reason to enter our town. As a gatekeeper, I had strict rules to enforce.

The memories are etched forever in my mind and I learned many life lessons from my elders.

Unfortunately, most of us have to deal with emergencies of various types at points in our lives. The type of emergency varies depending on where we live. Blizzards, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods can cause enormous destruction.

We have had our share of blizzards and floods in North Dakota during my adult years. Our community has flexed our collective muscles to lay sandbags several times.

Power outages, flooding, fires and other disasters can trigger food safety issues. Before a potential flood, do some planning. Raise refrigerators and freezers off the floor, especially in basements or garages. Move canned goods and other foods (and any items you value) from basements or low cabinets to higher areas.

Be sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer, and find out where you can purchase dry and block ice.

If you lose power, be sure to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. A closed refrigerator will keep your food safe for up to four hours unless you add blocks of ice or dry ice.

A full freezer will hold its temperature for 48 hours, while a half-full freezer will hold its temperature for 24 hours. If available, you can use dry ice to maintain temperatures.

In the spirit of being prepared, here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. If flooding happens and it affects food, dishes, pans and other food-related items, follow these tips:

  • Use bottled drinking water that has not come in contact with floodwaters.
  • Do not eat any food that may have come in contact with floodwaters.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if any chance exists that it came in contact with floodwaters. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps.
  • Discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with floodwaters. They cannot be cleaned and sanitized effectively.
  • Inspect canned foods; discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.
  • Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers that may have come in contact with floodwaters. They cannot be cleaned safely.
  • Wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils (including can openers) thoroughly with soap and water (hot water if available). Rinse and sanitize them by boiling them in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Wash countertops thoroughly with soap and water (hot water if available). Rinse and then sanitize them by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of clean water. Allow to air-dry.

See https://tinyurl.com/floodsandfood for more tips about food safety during emergencies. See https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/disaster for NDSU Extension resources about disaster preparedness and recovery.

Be sure to keep some nonperishable food, such as canned goods, on hand in case of emergencies. Low-acid canned foods such as commercially canned beans last up to five years on your shelf, while acidic foods, such as tomatoes, have an 18-month shelf life, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Having a grill or another means of cooking food also helps with being prepared.

You can make this recipe as fast as you can open a can and a jar. You might have the ingredients in your cupboard.

Black Bean and Salsa Dip

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained (or your favorite beans)

1 1/2 c. salsa (mild or medium), reduced-sodium

Combine in bowl and refrigerate until serving. Makes eight servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 1.5 grams (g) fat, 9 g protein, 25 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber and 370 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - March 12, 2020

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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