After a storm has knocked out electricity or gas lines, food safety and cooking can be a problem and can be hazardous if a few basic rules are not followed. Storm-damaged foods may not be safe to eat. If you have a question about the safety of any item, throw it away. Otherwise, keep these points in mind:
* Destroy the following foods if they have been covered with flood water: fresh fruits and vegetables; foods in cardboard or paper cartons; foods in bags, such as rice and flour; foods, liquids or beverages in crown-capped bottles or containers with pull-tops, corks or screw caps, including canned foods (bought or home-canned) in glass jars.
* Destroy all foods that were covered by water contaminated with industrial waste. This includes foods in unopened cans.
* Foods in sealed cans not fouled by industrial waste may be safe to eat if the cans don't have bulges or leaks, but you must disinfect the cans before you open them.
* To disinfect cans, remove the labels and wash the containers with soap and detergent. Rinse in a chlorine bleach solution using two tablespoons of household bleach to each gallon of water. Rinse containers in clean water, dry and relabel them. The cans can also be sterilized by covering with water and boiling at least 10 minutes.
In the event of power failure, frozen or refrigerated foods warmed to above 40 degrees F for two or more hours may not be safe to eat. Once-frozen foods that have thawed completely and warmed to temperatures above 40 degrees F should be cooked or eaten immediately or discarded. After cooking, items may be refrozen. Partially thawed frozen foods with ice crystals may be safely refrozen.
Breads may be refrozen as well as fruits and vegetables that are still at below 40 degrees F.
Discard all stuffed poultry and any meat that has a questionable odor or has reached 40 degrees F for two hours.
Foods in a freezer without power may stay frozen one to three days, if the door has remained closed, the freezer is mostly full, the temperature outside is moderate and the freezer is large and well-insulated.
Dry ice can be placed in a freezer on boards or heavy paper on top of packages to keep temperatures below freezing. Allow 2.5 to 3 pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of space. More will be needed in upright freezers, because dry ice should be placed on each shelf. Dry ice can cause burns, so don't handle the ice with bare hands.
Charcoal or gas grills are the most obvious alternative sources of heat for cooking when power is out. Never use these grills inside. In doing so, you risk both asphyxiation from carbon monoxide and the chance of starting a fire that could destroy your home.
Likewise, camp stoves that use gasoline or solid fuel should always be used outdoors.
Wood can be used for cooking in many situations. You can cook in a fireplace if the chimney is sound. Don't start a fire in a fireplace that has a broken chimney. Be sure the damper is open. If you are cooking on a wood stove, make sure the piping has not been damaged.
If you have to build a fire outside, build it away from buildings, never in a carport. Sparks can easily get into the ceiling and start a house fire.