Keeping a safe food supply during weather emergencies

Tips to keep yourself and your food supply safe during servere storms.

March is the beginning of the tornado season. Tornadoes develop from powerful thunderstorms. The whirling winds of a tornado can reach up to 300 miles per hour. The paths of these storms can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Every state has the potential for this hazard to occur. Some tornadoes are clearly visible as a rotating funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground, others are blocked by rain and low-hanging clouds. Some tornadoes develop so quickly there is no advance warning. 

It is important that people understand the terms that help to identify a tornado hazard. 

  • Tornado Watch: This term is used when the chance of tornadoes forming is possible. It is recommended to listen to instructions from NOAA Radio, commercial radio or television for the latest local information. Look for the following danger signs: dark, greenish sky, large hail, large, dark, low-lying clouds, loud roaring. If you see any of these signs, be prepared to take shelter. 
  • Tornado Warning: A tornado has been sighted, take shelter immediately. Tornadoes will strike quickly and may appear nearly transparent until they begin to pick up dust and debris. 

If you lose power and experience a severe storm, please contact Michigan State University Extension for food safety guidelines for handling food and water.

The water supply in areas that have sustained tornado damages may be disrupted or contaminated. Be alert for community water systems being unsafe or suspicions of contamination.  

  • Drink only approved or chlorinated water.
  • Consider all water from wells, cisterns and other delivery systems in the disaster area unsafe until tested.
  • Check foods and discard any containing particles of glass or other debris.
  • Discard canned foods with broken seams.
  • Purchase bottled water until you are certain your water supply is safe.
  • Water from undamaged hot water tanks and water pipes is generally safe to drink.

If you have lost power, keep your freezer as full as possible and use plastic containers filled with water to fill empty spaces. Keep a clean cooler on hand and freezer packs for keeping foods cold. Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer to monitor safe temperatures – refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and freezer at zero degrees F. Potentially hazardous foods cannot be held between 41 degrees F and 135 degrees F for more than 4 hours. You cannot rely on appearance or odor to determine if foods contain foodborne bacteria that could make you sick. Never taste food to determine if it is safe to consume.

Examples of potentially hazardous food from the refrigerator include:

  • Milk and milk products
  • Sliced fresh fruits
  • Beef, pork, lamb
  • Poultry
  • Shellfish and crustaceans
  • Fish
  • Baked potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Cooked rice, beans and vegetables

Examples of potentially hazardous food from the freezer includes:

  • Meals and poultry - if kept at 40 degrees F or lower, can be thoroughly cooked and refrozen
  • Vegetables – thoroughly cook and serve thawed vegetables immediately or refreeze after cooking.
  • Fish and shellfish – throw away, these highly perishable foods may be spoiled without any bad odor.
  • Baked goods – breads, cakes and pastries without custard fillings may be refrozen.
  • Casseroles and stews -  should be cooked and reheated thoroughly, and served immediately.

Planning ahead for seasonal storms can help families prepare for emergencies. Keep an extra water supply as well as emergency foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking. Store foods that keep well from each of the food groups, to provide a variety of nutrients. To keep foods at their best quality, store them where it is clean, dry and cool (below 85 degrees F).

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