As Hurricane Sandy prepares to hit land in New Jersey, many people have to contend with the potential loss of power, in addition to other factors, like flooding. For those of you who live in areas that are prone to hurricanes, you will probably already have a preparedness kit available. For others, like people in New York City and Philadelphia, you may not be as aware.
Be prepared with flashlights, batteries, medication, water, blankets, cash, and food. It is important to buy foods that will be able to survive without refrigeration and can be eaten cold or prepared on an outdoor grill (especially if you have an electric stove). If you have not bought non-perishables yet, now is the time to do so, as the storm is expected to hit land in the early hours of tomorrow morning.
Foods stored in metal cans and retort pouches, like juice boxes, are best, because they will be safe if they are stored in a place that floods. Make sure that the refrigerator's temperature is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If power is restored within four hours, everything inside should be fine, as long as you do not open it very much. The freezer, if full and at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, can be fine for 48 hours, or 24 hours if half-full. Move all of the things that you want to eat first to the front of the freezer and refrigerator so that you can access them more quickly. This will also enable you to open the freezer less often. In addition, move things like milk and eggs, and other objects that will quickly spoil, out of the refrigerator door to the back of the refrigerator. The items in the refrigerator door will warm more quickly.
Store items, as best as you can, in cabinets that will not come into contact with flood-contaminated waters. Do not eat any food that has come into contact with flood water, and throw away food that was not in a waterproof container. According to the United States' Department of Agriculture, non-waterproof containers include "those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps". In addition, throw away foods canned at home, as well as cardboard boxes containing juice, baby formula, or milk, if they come into contact with flood waters. Those items cannot be salvaged or effectively sanitized. For items in metal cans and retort pouches, remove the labels, wipe off any dirt, and rinse the containers.
If you do not have bottled water - or if you run out - boil it for one minute before storing it in clean containers. If you cannot boil water, the USDA advises: "you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for disinfection. Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers."
The USDA also has a complete list of how safe refrigerated items should be if the power goes out for more than four hours. And remember: when it doubt, throw it out!