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Food safety in emergencies

The power is out. Or the kitchen is flooded. What do you do?

Power cuts, floods, frozen pipes and other weather-related problems can put your health at risk. Stay safe by following this food safety advice for emergency situations.

What to do if your home has been flooded

  • Floodwater may contain harmful bacteria from sewage, animal waste or overflow from drains.
  • Throw away any food that has come into contact with flood water.
  • Clean and disinfect work surfaces, crockery, utensils and cooking equipment.
  • Clean and disinfect the inside of your fridge and food cupboards.
  • Replace any badly chipped or damaged work surfaces, plates etc. Any bacteria present may be very difficult to remove.

What to do with your fridge and freezer if there’s a power cut

  • While the power is out, keep the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
  • If the power is out for less than two hours, then the food in your fridge and freezer is safe to eat.
  • If the power is off for more than two hours throw away the food from the fridge.
  • If your freezer starts again within 24 hours, leave the food there. Don’t open the door to check the food as this will raise the temperature.
  • If the freezer takes longer than 24 hours to restart, then you need to check all the foods individually. Some foods resist thawing better than others and not everything will be spoiled.

It is safe to refreeze

  • Raw meat and poultry containing ice crystals
  • Vegetables if there are ice crystals present
  • Fruit

You must throw away

  • Baked items with cream frosting or filling
  • Puddings
  • Ice cream
  • Cooked foods and shellfish if they are showing signs of thawing or have been in a temperature over 5°C for more than three hours

And remember the golden rule: if in doubt, throw it out.

What to do if your water supply is contaminated

  • If your drinking water supply has been contaminated, boil and cool it before drinking it or using it in food preparation.
  • Cooled boiled water or bottled water may be used for brushing teeth, washing food, cooking and making ice.
  • Wash your hands well and often. Use water from water tankers if provided, or bottled water, hand wipes or sanitizers.

If you need to prepare a baby’s bottle

  • Use water from water tankers if available.
  • Use ready-to-feed liquid formula, if you have some.
  • Use bottled water brought to a 'rolling' boil and left covered to cool for no more than half an hour.
  • Some natural mineral waters have a high salt content, which is not ideal for your baby. If no other water is available, then use this water for as short a time as possible.
  • If you cannot boil water because there is also a power cut, and you don’t have any ready-to-feed formula, then use any still bottled water to make up a feed. It will be safe as long as you use the feed immediately.

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