Often times the focus of protection before a storm centers around the home structure itself, but Onslow County Health Department urges residents to take that a step further.
“When preparing for an emergency like the hurricane a lot of people think about protecting their home but not about protecting themselves,” Onslow County Health Department Community Relations Officer Pamela Brown said. “They think that if they have food and water they will be OK. You need to be doing more than that to protect your health.”
Matthew’s 145-mph winds and heavy rains have already wreaked havoc on Haiti and Cuba, causing flooding, landslides and most importantly, knocking out power and communication lines.
With its sights potentially set on the area, being prepared for periods without power can save your family from not only stress, but illness by paying attention to the way the food in the refrigerator and freezer is prepared.
“Some people are on tight budgets and it is heartbreaking to throw away any food. Some people refuse to let food go to waste,” Brown said. “The truth is some pathogens food can carry if not kept at the proper temperatures can cause some serious illnesses and it is just not worth it (to keep it after a power outage.)”
Local food closets, churches and event insurance can assist with replenishing food that may be lost during an outage.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the contents of a refrigerator need to be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and the contents of a freezer need to be kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Most residential refrigerators can maintain the safe temperature for up to four hours, while a full freezer can hold the required temperature for up to 48 hours (it it’s half full, that drops to 24 hours).
These time estimates are based on people not opening the doors to the appliances during the outage, Brown said.
“That four hours is only true if you’re not going to the fridge to open it up,” she said.
Utilizing ice blocks, either homemade or store bought, can also help retain the food’s temperature, Brown said.
“Something people can do, and I do it myself, is in an old container, like a milk jug, you can freeze containers of ice and that way if power is out for extend time, I can move those big blocks of ice into fridge to stabilize temperature and keep the things inside my fridge cooler,” Brown said.
A power outage may happen right after a big grocery shopping trip, leaving some of the more fresh items, like produce, vulnerable to going bad.
Transferring things to the freezer can help them stay fresh even after defrosting.
For things like produce, the use of extra ice or ice blocks will help preserve their freshness during the outage.
Using ice chests or coolers of ice to keep the less-stocked refrigerator’s contents cool and fresh is also an option that can save people money and stress during and after an outage.
It is important after an outage to assess the food before preparing or eating it.
“If the power had been out for a while and the item is still cold to the touch, it may be at that 40 degree limit, but it also may not be,” she said. “Things should never be refrozen unless it still has ice crystals. And a good rule of thumb in these kinds of situations is to remember, ‘when in doubt throw it out.’”
The health department also reminds residents to think of their family and their needs when preparing for an emergency.
“Generally when people think of emergency kits they think of canned goods, and bottles water, and batteries and flashlights,” Brown said. “If you’re going to be sheltering in a home you need to make a kit for the people that live in the home.”
Emergency kits should be personalized for the family and any special dietary or health needs that a family member may require.
Those health requirements may mean an extra week’s worth of medication as well as a hard copy of all prescriptions so that if a family is displaced, important medications can be filled.
Also, remembering that pets also have dietary needs and being sure their diet can be maintained during an emergency is important.
For homes with infants, especially those requiring formula, maintaining a clean water source is critical.
Water sources and emergency kits should always be kept up off the floor in case of flooding.
Contact with flood waters can expose people to pathogens and chemicals that could greatly effect a their health.
“When putting together an emergency kit remember to prepare for, during and after the emergency,” Brown said. “Heavy boots, gloves and masks are important especially when homes have sustained damage. You want to protect yourself when you go in.”
Losing power can be detrimental to those who require medical equipment, and thoroughly preparing backup sources of energy for that equipment before the emergency happens is critical to that person’s health.
“Really knowing especially if you have medical vulnerability how that is going to look in an emergency is so important,” Brown said. “It is also really critical for people who have a particular vulnerability, and their family, friends and neighbors to have a really good emergency plan.”
More than 8 percent of Onslow County suffers from diabetes, and emergencies like Hurricane Matthew can cause problems in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
“With diabetes you can’t take a break from eating, and you can’t just eat anything,” Brown said. “You really have to keep blood sugars normal, especially when working on a damaged house, for instance.”
For more information about emergency preparedness including areas shelters visit the health department online, as well as ready.gov.