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Prairie Fare: What Would You Do in a Disaster Involving Food?

Know what to do if a flood affects your food supply.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension

I always will remember the sound of a freight train roaring through my small Minnesota hometown at about 3 a.m. the morning after the Fourth of July holiday.

The holiday had been very hot and humid, and we had stayed up late lighting fireworks.

I had my windows open, and my drapes began flying around my bedroom, covering me with an extra layer of fabric. My family hurried downstairs as the sound of the train became louder and louder. By the time we reached our kitchen, the sound of the train had quieted.

However, the sound wasn’t from a train. We had survived a devastating tornado, which resulted in many injuries and several deaths. Homes were upended, 100-year-old trees were uprooted, leaving large craters in lawns, and businesses literally were blown away. Debris was scattered for miles.

We had no power for several days, but fortunately, many people came to help from all over the region. Recovering from the devastation took months, if not years.

Most people have been touched by disasters at some point in their lives, whether from fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and/or floods.

Lately, flooding has been on the minds of many in the Midwest. I have received some calls from neighboring states when floodwaters have flowed over food and equipment in kitchens.

Let’s try some scenarios, and I hope you do not have to use these tips. However, being prepared for disasters is always a good idea.

  1. Let’s say you are anticipating a flood situation. What are some items you will want to have in place in the event of power outages if you are able to stay in your home?
  2. A worst-case scenario has happened, and flooding has reached the main floor of your home, including your cupboards. What flooded food must you discard?
  3. Your commercially and home-canned foods have encountered floodwaters. Can they be saved?
  4. Floodwaters washed over wooden spoons and pacifiers stored in a basement. Can they be saved?

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Be sure to have an adequate supply of food (enough to last at least four days), and move any food stored in a basement storage room to the main floor. Have emergency cooking equipment with propane or other fuel available, along with flashlights, batteries, candles, matches and a fire extinguisher.

Remember that every person in your household needs about a gallon of water a day. In preparation for a power failure, turn your refrigerator and freezer to colder settings. In the event of power outages, you can use dry ice to maintain the temperature of refrigerated food. However, be sure to handle dry ice carefully because it measures minus 216 F. Wear gloves or use tongs, and follow other safety precautions.

  1. Most food that has encountered floodwaters must be discarded because the water can carry raw sewage, oil, chemical wastes and other contaminants. Therefore, discard meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fresh produce, foods in cardboard boxes or with cardboard seals (such as many salad dressings or mayonnaise), spices, opened containers, flour, sugar, grains, coffee (in canisters) and food in glass jars.
  2. Undamaged commercially canned goods that encounter floodwaters are safe if you properly sanitize the containers. However, home-canned foods should be discarded because floodwaters could seep under the seals.

To clean commercially processed cans of food, wash the top of the can and dry. Next, write the contents on the can with an indelible ink marker because you do not want the contents to be a surprise later. Remove the can labels because paper can harbor dangerous bacteria. Next, wash the cans in a strong detergent solution and rinse. Finally, immerse the containers for 15 minutes in a bleach-water solution.

References vary on the concentration of the bleach solution to use, but 2 tablespoons of unscented bleach per gallon of water is typical for surfaces that do not come in contact with food. Finally, allow to air-dry. To sanitize surfaces that come in contact with food, 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach per gallon is the typical concentration.

  1. Discard items made from porous materials that encountered floodwaters. These items include wooden spoons, plastic pacifiers and plastic baby bottles.

See https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/after-the-flood for more information. When we are busy fighting floodwaters or just need a pick-me-up after spring yard work, this easy recipe provides an energy boost.

Raisin Power Poppers

2 c. old-fashioned oats

1 c. creamy peanut butter (or sunflower or other nut butter)

1/2 c. honey

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 c. raisins (chopped in half or thirds)

1/4 c. chia seeds (can substitute ground flaxseed)

Mix all ingredients in a medium- to large-size mixing bowl. Chill ingredients in refrigerator for one hour. Roll into tight balls (a little smaller than a golf ball, about a tablespoon in size). Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to seven days.

Makes 40 servings. Each serving has 90 calories, 4 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 50 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 - April 4, 2019

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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