When gale-force winds start blowing & torrential rains raise water levels, you need to be ready.
Power outages mean refrigerated food & medicine supplies may spoil. Floods may contaminate tap water & emergency supplies not stored properly with sewage, chemicals, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms, or other contaminants.
If the storm or flood is severe enough, you may need to evacuate with little time to prepare. Don’t put off being prepared until the emergency hits.
Keeping Food & Water Safe
Consumers, especially in storm-prone areas, should maintain an emergency kit stocked with non-perishable food, extra medication & hygiene supplies. Here are some food-related tips to remember:
- Do not eat any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance it came in contact with flood water.
- Inspect canned foods & discard any food in damaged cans. Damaged cans may have swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, or rusting.
- Do not eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth & similar containers that have been water-damaged.
- Discard food & beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops & home canned foods, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected.
- Follow tips on how to keep food safe at proper temperatures.
- Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs or leftovers) that has been held at room temperature for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90º F).
Food safety doesn’t stop with inspecting the packaging. It also involves what comes in contact with the food after you open it:
- Thoroughly wash pots, pans, ceramic dishes, & utensils (including can openers) with soap & water, using hot water if available. Rinse & then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented household (5.25% concentration) liquid bleach per gallon of water.
- Thoroughly wash countertops with soap & water, using hot water if available. Rinse & then sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented household (5.25% concentration) liquid bleach per gallon of water. Allow to air dry.
Water Storage: How Much is Enough?
Access to clean water is essential. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommend a minimum of one gallon of water per day for each member of the family. Store at least a 3-day supply of water for each person. However, a 2-week supply is better if you have the space.
Food Safety During Power Outages
Power loss is common in severe storms, but there are ways to increase the time the food in your fridge will remain safe to eat. It’s important to keep the refrigerator & freezer doors closed. Food in an unopened refrigerator & freezer is safe to consume if the power outage lasts less than 4 hours. The foods in the freezer are typically safe for 48 hours if it is full or 24 hours if the freezer is half full.
For refrigerated items, after the 4-hour power outage, it is best to pack them into a cooler surrounded by ice or frozen gel packs for storage. Check the food temperature of these items before cooking or eating them & toss them out if the item has been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.
For infants, ready-to-feed formula should be used. However, if only concentrated or powdered formula is available, prepare the formula with bottled water or water that has been sterilized. Your doctor or public health authorities can advise if water needs to be boiled before use. You should ensure that the bottles & nipples used are also sanitized.
To keep your drinking water safe:
- Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available. If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil water for one minute. This will kill most types of disease-causing organisms, such as cholera, typhoid, salmonella, giardia, E. coli, & amoebas. Let the boiled water cool & store it in clean containers with covers.
- If you can’t boil water, you can disinfect it for drinking or other use by adding 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach per gallon of water. Stir it well & let it stand for at least 30 minutes before using it.
- If the water is cloudy, filter it through layers of clean cloth or allow it to settle, then draw off the clear water for disinfection.
- If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested & disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that a well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.
For more information on keeping food & water safe during a hurricane & flooding check our page on Food & Water Safety During Power Outages & Floods (en Español) & (en Français) & Hurricanes & Floods: Key Tips for Consumers About Food & Water Safety (en Español). You can also find additional instructions on disinfecting drinking water during an emergency on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
Planning Ahead Can Make a Huge Difference
Food, water & medical supplies will become harder to find in the days before an expected storm. In addition to first aid & other essentials, including food & water supplies in your home emergency kit is the best way to be prepared for hurricanes & flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency & Red Cross recommend keeping 1 gallon of water per person per day—or 12 gallons of water for a family of four—which should last for three days in case of an emergency.
Water should be bottled & store-bought to avoid possible contamination, & kept at home in a dry, dark place. The same care should be taken when storing food. Be sure to take into account the dietary needs of your family, & to routinely check the expiration or “use by” dates on these items. Rotate & replace them if necessary.
Your local health department will determine whether tap water can be used for drinking. If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested & disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.
Store your supply of food, water, & medication on shelves that will be safely out of the way in case of flooding. This should include a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling, which depend on electricity.
Know where you can buy dry ice & blocked ice before the storm arrives, in case it should be needed.
A hurricane or severe storm may trigger an evacuation & many businesses, including pharmacies, may be closed during & after the storm. Key emergency kit medical supplies include:
- List: Keep a list of medications you take
- Copy: Have a copy of all prescriptions
- Supply: Maintain at least a week’s supply of each medication
- Safeguard: Place medication bottles or packages in water-tight containers
- Storage: Have ice available for refrigerated medications
Here are additional tips on preparing medical devices, medications & insulin for the storm.
Pets & Service Animals
The number one recommendation is to bring your pet or service animal with you when evacuating.
Dogs that help people with disabilities are allowed in any hotel or commercial lodging, & in general population & Red Cross shelters, if they meet the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations for service animals. More information can be found at Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals & the ADA. Some state & local laws define service animal more broadly than the federal ADA regulations do. Information about such laws can be obtained from your State attorney general’s office.
However, only select emergency shelters accept regular pets (non-service animals), so finding a pet-friendly shelter may be difficult. Instead of a shelter, you can go to a pet-friendly hotel or motel.
Contact your local emergency management agency for information about which emergency shelters allow pets. Try to call the shelter before you go, as some pet-friendly shelters may require advance notice. Your local humane society or veterinary hospital may also have information about where you can take your pets during an evacuation.
Don’t forget to prepare an emergency kit for your pets or service animal. Here is the FDA’s recommended emergency kit for pets & service animals:
- Bin or container: Keep your pet or service animal’s supplies together & organized, in a clearly marked container.
- Food: At least a one-week supply, marked with an expiration date, in an airtight, waterproof container.
- Water: At least a one-week supply of water specifically for your pet or service animal.
- Medicines: At least a one-week supply of medications, marked with an expiration date.
- Vaccinations & medical records: Most boarding kennels, veterinarians & animal shelters will need your pet or service animal’s medical records to make sure all vaccinations are current. Don’t forget to include a collar or harness with ID tag, rabies tag & a leash.
- Important documents: Registration information, adoption papers & pet insurance documents (if you have them). Talk to your veterinarian about microchipping & enrolling your pet or service animal in a recovery database.
- A picture of you & your pet or service animal together: If you become separated, a picture of you & your pet or service animal together will help you document ownership & allow others to assist you. Add species, breed, age, sex, color & distinguishing characteristics.
Here are some additional items you might want to consider including in your pet or service animal’s emergency kit:
- First aid kit: Cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape & scissors; veterinary antibiotic ointment; flea & tick prevention; latex gloves, isopropyl alcohol & saline solution. Including a pet first aid reference book is a good idea too.
- Crate or pet carrier & leash: Have a sturdy, safe crate or carrier & a leash ready in case you need to evacuate. The carrier should be large enough for your pet or service animal to stand, turn around & lie down.
- Sanitation: Pet litter & litter box if appropriate, newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags & household chlorine bleach.
- Familiar items: Familiar items, such as treats, toys & bedding can help reduce stress for your pet or service animal.
Visit Ready.gov’s Pets & Animals Preparedness page for more information.
Here are additional pages & resources to help you prepare for a hurricane or tropical storm:
- Ready.gov’s Hurricanes, also available in العربية Español Français हिन्दी Kreyòl 日本語 한국어 Português Brasil Русский Tagalog Tiếng Việt 简体中文)
- Federal Emergency Management Agency’smobile app so you can send & receive real-time alerts & notifications; locate emergency shelters & disaster centers; prepare emergency checklists, family plans & reminders; & more.
- National Weather Service’sNational Hurricane Preparedness
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration’sHurricane Preparedness & Response
- National Safety Council’s Hurricanes Among the Most Destructive Forces in Nature
- National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Preparedness – Hazards
- Environmental Protection Agency’s Hurricanes
Source: FDA Consumer Updates