Prairie Faire: Power outages, flooding affect food safety

My 7-year-old daughter and I were enjoying some mother-daughter time at our local mall recently. As she skipped along and I tried to keep up with her, the lights went out and the music stopped. Some people gasped and everyone stopped in his or he...

My 7-year-old daughter and I were enjoying some mother-daughter time at our local mall recently. As she skipped along and I tried to keep up with her, the lights went out and the music stopped. Some people gasped and everyone stopped in his or her tracks in the suddenly darkened, quiet mall.

The mall generator quickly took over, and the bright mall resumed its lively pace.

As I drove home, I noted that the power outage was fairly widespread. Many of the streets with stoplights now were makeshift four-way stops. When we reached home, we noted the growing slushy ponds on the sidewalks. Fortunately, we had power, but many neighborhoods were without power for many hours.

As I reminded my daughter to avoid the puddles in her sparkly new tennis shoes, I began to think about power outages and spring flooding of the past and the types of questions the season usually brings. What do you do with food in your freezer or refrigerator if the power goes out for an extended period? Are any flooded foods safe to consume?

Disasters happen all too often. Let's consider some preparations related to food to think about ahead of time. I hope you can file this information in your memory but not have to use it.


Be sure to keep an adequate supply of food, water and emergency equipment on hand. If you know a flood is imminent and may affect your basement, move your food and possessions to higher ground.

Have on hand enough canned food to last four to five days, a hand-operated can opener, battery-powered radio, extra batteries and emergency cooking equipment, such as a camp stove with fuel to operate it.

You'll want flashlights, candles, matches, a kerosene lamp, fire extinguisher and a first aid kit ready. Keep water on hand, allowing about a gallon of water per person per day.

If your power goes out, keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Food in your freezer will stay cold and safe for about three days.

Dry ice may be used to maintain the temperature, but be cautious with dry ice. Wear gloves, and use tongs to handle it.

If food in a freezer without power still has ice crystals, it can be refrozen or cooked. Food will remain safe in a refrigerator without power for about four hours.

On the other hand, most foods that are exposed to floodwaters must be discarded.

Floodwaters can carry silt, sewage, oil or chemical waste. Produce, meat, fish and eggs, food in cardboard boxes and food in glass jars (including home-canned foods) are examples of flooded foods that should be discarded.


Undamaged metal cans containing food can be washed and sanitized if they come into contact with floodwaters. Remove the labels; then wash with a detergent solution and immerse the containers for 15 minutes in a solution of 2 teaspoons of chlorine bleach per quart of room-temperature water. Then air-dry and relabel the cans using a permanent marker.

Dishes and glassware touched by floodwaters can be washed and sanitized similarly. However, wooden spoons, plastic utensils and pacifiers that come into contact with floodwaters are best discarded.

For more information on flooding, check out the NDSU Extension Service flooding website at .

Here's a recipe that makes use of some items that may be in your pantry. Pair it with a side salad and fresh fruit for a festive springtime meal. This recipe is from our recent Extension publication highlighting the nutritional value of pulse crops. It is available at .

Mexican Tostadas

1/3 cup lentils

1 1/3 cups water


2 Tbsp. salad oil

1 pound chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)

2/3 cup finely chopped green onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (15-ounce) jar medium salsa (or your choice)

1 c. canned black beans, drained and rinsed

1½ cups bell pepper, chopped (red, green and/or yellow)

1 tsp. chili powder


1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

8 tostadas

Optional toppings: shredded cheese, reduced-fat sour cream

In a medium saucepan, bring lentils and water to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender. In a frying pan, cook chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Heat the oil in a separate pan and sauté onion and garlic in oil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and add salsa, lentils, black beans and seasonings. Shred or cube chicken and add to the salsa mixture. Continue cooking until heated through. Portion onto tostadas and top with peppers

and your other favorite toppings.

Makes eight servings. Per serving (one tostada, without optional toppings) has 220 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 15 g of protein, 21 g of carbohydrate and 3 g of fiber.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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