Food safety tips to consider when anticipating severe weather storms

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By Joan Martin

In the aftermath of last Friday’s storms, we all have much to be grateful for in Anderson County.
The storms convinced me to take shelter in a safe place when the warning is sounded. I’m not going to stand outside and look at it.
In addition to having a safe room for shelter, it’s good to be prepared for a power outage. Follow these guidelines for food safety.
Make a few simple preparations so you can put a plan into action when a tornado watch or severe thunderstorm watch is initiated.
Keep the freezer full
Fill empty spaces with frozen plastic jugs of water, bags of ice or gel packs. I prefer jugs of water because the solid frozen ice last longer than ice cubes or chips. Fill the freezer with water jugs when the storm watch is initiated.  It’s too late to take care of this once a warning is issued.
Freeze refrigerated items that you won’t need immediately such as leftovers, fresh meat and poultry.  
Stuff the cold compartment with water jugs also. Some people use crumpled newspapers to stuff the cold compartment, not too tightly because you want some air circulation in the refrigerator. If there is much empty space, the air inside the compartment will cool down more rapidly.
Keep appliance
thermometers handy
You can purchase inexpensive thermometers at hardware stores, grocery stores and other local stores that sell kitchen items. The Anderson County Extension Office has a limited number of free refrigerator thermometers available.
Keep refrigerator and
freezer doors closed
This isn’t the time to get out soft drinks.
The refrigerator will hold foods safely for four hours. A fully loaded refrigerator may keep food colder longer.  Ideal temperature is 34 to 39 degrees. If the refrigerator is that cool, then the food is good.
A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours but only 24 hours if it is half full.
Remember the ice storm of 2009? Some people stored food outside but that isn’t the best plan. Outside temperatures can vary and food can be exposed to animals and unsanitary conditions. Make ice outside by filling empty containers with water and leave them outside to freeze.  Use the homemade ice to cool the refrigerator, freezer or coolers.  
Here are a few other tips about what foods you should keep on hand when planning for a disaster.
Don’t store chips or other salty or spicy food. These foods increase the desire for drinking water.
Try to have at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. This food should require little or no cooking and little or no extra water to cook.
Store some paper goods like plates, cups and disposable utensils because hot water may be limited.
Store at least 1 gallon of water per day per person and include your pets. In the summer you may want to store more water.
Consider that caffeinated drinks and alcohol dehydrate the body, which increases the need for drinking water.
You can get more information about preparing for disasters from the Anderson County Extension Office. In addition to the refrigerator thermometers, you can also pick up the publication “Be Food Safe During Emergencies” at the Extension Office. Both items will also be available while supplies last at the Extension booth at the Anderson County Business Expo on March 24 at Eagle Lake.

Joan Martin is a family and consumer science agent at the Anderson County Extension.