Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service "Food Safety At Home" podcast series, featuring topics for the safe handling, preparation and storage of meat, poultry and processed egg products. So, sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Today, we'll talk about food safety after a fire. Residential fires are, unfortunately, a common occurrence. Some 2 million Americans' homes go up in flames every year. After a fire, people try to save what they can—including food.
Whether it's the whole house or just a kitchen fire
it's never a good idea to save food that's been in a fire. Why? There are three factors that can affect the safety of food exposed to fire: heat from the fire; smoke fumes; and chemicals used to fight fire.
When you go into the kitchen after a fire, food in cans or jars may appear okay, but if they've been exposed to the HEAT of the fire, they may no longer be safe. Why? Heat from a fire can trigger food spoilage bacteria. If the heat is extreme, the cans or jars themselves can split or rupture, making the food unsafe.
The same goes for home-canned food, because the high temperature of a fire can cause the lids to come unsealed and let bacteria get into the food. When the air temperature drops, the jar may "seal" again making them appear unaffected. The jars may look okay, but the food is really unsafe to eat.
Smoke fumes released from burning materials are actually one of the most dangerous elements of a fire. Not only are they toxic, they can permeate and contaminate food. Any type of food stored in permeable packaging, cardboard, plastic wrap, etc.—should be thrown away.
So, throw out any raw foods stored outside the refrigerator—such as potatoes or fruits that could be contaminated by fumes.
People are also encouraged to throw out food stored in refrigerators and freezers, because they can also become contaminated by fumes. The refrigerator seal isn't airtight so fumes can get inside.
Lastly, chemicals used to fight fires contain toxic materials and can contaminate food and cookware. The chemicals cannot be washed off the food. Throw it away. This includes food stored at room temperature, such as fruits and vegetables, as well as foods stored in permeable containers like cardboard and screw-topped jars and bottles.
Canned goods and cookware exposed to chemicals, however, can be decontaminated. Wash them in a strong detergent solution. Then dip in a bleach solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water for 15 minutes.
Check your steps at
FoodSafety.gov to see how you can decrease your risk of food poisoning.
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