Hurricane Sandy is racing toward the Eastern seaboard of the United States. But to avoid foodborne illness—in addition to storm damage—worried citizens shouldn’t stock up on meat or dairy products to prepare for the hurricane and possible power outages.
If you lose power, the meat and dairy products in your refrigerator and freezer will warm up, increasing your risk for foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that illness-causing bacteria can grow in many foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them.
Meat and dairy products may contain bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria, or parasites, according to FoodSafety.gov. And about half of all raw chicken products contain feces, enough to sicken your family if the bacteria they harbor are allowed to grow, a likely scenario as refrigerators warm up toward room temperature.
Earlier this year PCRM sampled chicken products from 15 different grocery store chains in 10 major U.S. cities—including Washington, D.C., which is in the storm’s projected path—and sent them to an independent laboratory for testing. Results showed that 48 percent of the samples tested positive for fecal contamination, as indicated by the presence of E. coli, a bacterium in chicken feces. The germs are used in USDA and industry testing as an indicator of fecal contamination. While the target E. coli bacteria may be innocuous, they indicate the presence of feces, which can harbor other bacteria and parasites that can cause serious illness.
Hurricane Sandy will wreak enough havoc. Don’t put yourself in greater danger with tainted animal products. Instead, stock up on water, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole-grain breads that don’t need to be refrigerated or cooked.