This year's hurricane season proved disastrous for those in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
While the full extent of the damage and the loss of life is currently still being evaluated, experts estimate Hurricane Harvey's damage could cost around $100 billion. Unfortunately, at least 82 people died trying to escape floodwaters.
Hurricane Irma was one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history. After battering the southern and western Caribbean islands, it made landfall in Florida causing much devastation and leaving millions without power.
After Hurricane Maria, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that 100% of Puerto Rico was out of power and the death toll of this hurricane continues to rise.
While some were able to prepare or evacuate in advance, these events can bring about situations that many may not be able to predict. What we can do is learn from the experiences and be reasonably prepared for the possibility of a disaster.
Analyze the Risk, Nutritionally Too
Water supplies, gas lines, and electric lines can be damaged by disasters. Repairs can take days or weeks. Travel may be limited or impossible. Access to help may be limited.
Loss of safe water can increase risk of dehydration, GI conditions, and make it difficult for mothers to prepare infant formulas. Loss of safe food supply can lead to acute protein and calorie malnutrition. The lack of access to life-sustaining medical care can cause problems for diabetic or renal patients. The loss of basic utilities can lead to cases of extreme heat or cold, the inability to preserve foods and medication, or the inability to prepare foods.
The first wise step to take is to assess the likelihood of a disaster or extreme weather condition in your region and prepare accordingly. Natural or man-made disasters that Americans can prepare in advance for include floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, ice storms, wild fires, landslides, or a manmade terrorist attack.
The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service has a website that organizes tips for handling food and water by disaster type.
Water purification methods include boiling and the use of chlorine bleach or water purification tablets. Stock a minimum 3-day supply of water (preferably 7 day to 2 week supply). While individual needs vary (children, nursing mothers, ill people need more water), stock at least 1 gallon of water per person per day (0.5 gallons per day will generally be used for drinking). Water should not be rationed.
Definitely stock at least 3 days worth of shelf-stable food (once again, 7 days to 2 weeks worth of food is preferable).
In the event of a disaster, aim to prepare perishable and potentially hazardous foods first.
It is helpful to also have useful supplies on hand, including cleaning supplies (clean towels, household bleach, hand sanitizers), basic kitchen equipment, flashlights and batteries, a portable radio, first aid kits, and waterproof matches.
In the event of a power outage, food spoilage is the main nutrition problem. The main goal is to avoid spoilage and prevent foodborne illness by keeping foods properly refrigerated.
During a power outage, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. If unopened, the refrigerator may keep food cold for another 4 hours. The freezer may keep cold for about another 48 hours if it is full. A half-full freezer keeps food at freezing temperatures for one day. Therefore, consume perishable foods first. Then, consume foods from freezer.
Next, nonperishable foods that are shelf-stable and don't require refrigeration, cooking, water, or special preparation should be next on the menu.
GREAT IDEAS TO INCLUDE:
- Grains group: whole grain cereals, trail mix, energy bars, bagels, salt-free crackers, popcorn, granola bars
- Fruits and vegetable group: cut-up raw veggies, whole fruit, carrot or celery sticks, juice boxes, dried fruit, single-serve applesauce, canned fruit or veggies
-Dairy group: non-refrigerated pudding cups, single serving milk or soy milk boxes
-Meat and Other Protein group: tuna, peanut butter (or other nut butters), nuts, protein powders, canned beans
When power is restored, check the refrigerator and freezer temperatures. If the temperature rose to 45 degrees F or higher, discard any perishable food (leftovers, meat, poultry, fish, eggs) that may have been above 40 degress F for 2 or more hours. These foods may be spoiled.
Hurricanes or Flooding
Since hurricanes and accompanying flooding can contaminate public water supply, water in hurricane-affected areas may not be safe to drink.
Use bottled water that has not come into contact with flood waters. If you don't have bottled water, boil water for one minute to make it safe. If you cannot boil water, disinfect it using household bleach. This will most, but not all, disease-causing organisms that may be in the water.
Add 1/8 teaspoon of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach to each gallon of water. Stir the water well and allow it to sit for 30 minutes before using it.
If water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle to draw off clear water before disinfecting.
When it comes to food, it is important not to eat any food that may come into contact with flood water. This includes packaged food that is water-damaged. Even packaged food and beverages with screw-caps, twist caps, or flip tops can be infected if they come in contact with flood water. It is best to discard these foods and drinks.
Pre-packaged foods in all-metal cans or retort pouches can be used if labels are removed, package is thoroughly washed and disinfected with sanitizing solutions.
Know the symptoms of foodborne illness. Unfortunately, they can sometimes be confused with other illnesses that have similar symptoms. The symptoms of foodborne illness can include:
-Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain
-Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and body ache
Taking action immediately can help prevent life-threatening, chronic, or severe conditions that may result from foodborne illnesses.
For more information on food safety preparation for and during disasters, visit foodsafety.gov/keep/emergency.