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For Release: May 22, 2013 – Leslea Bennett-Webb, Office of Communications – 405/271-5601

Even in a Natural Disaster, Food Safety Must be Assured

This week, Oklahomans are once again demonstrating their strength and generosity in the aftermath of the tornadoes that have impacted our state. Without a doubt these services and products will make a huge difference in the lives of residents at a time of special need. Even so, processes must be in place to ensure that products and services do not inadvertently harm or put at risk the very people who are impacted by the tornado or those assisting the families or those involved in clean-up efforts. One such area of concern is the availability of free food or food for sale for residents, responders and relief workers in the storm-damaged areas.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) notes that while the availability of these food options is helpful for workers and residents, it is important to remember that even in a natural disaster, food served to the public must be safe. Foodborne illnesses such as E. coli, salmonella, and hepatitis A caused by improper food preparation and handling practices can be serious threats to rescue workers and shelter residents. A few simple precautions can ensure everyone’s safety at this critical time.

The OSDH recommends food vendors serve items that do not require refrigeration and can be eaten without heating.  Packaged, shelf-stable, ready-to-eat foods are the best option when safe refrigeration and cooking are a problem.

Other recommendations include:

  • Protect food from flying debris and insects by using screens in any open food areas.
  • Thaw frozen food properly prior to cooking, and cool food rapidly prior to storage.
  • Cook all food thoroughly, serve at correct temperature, and avoid cross-contamination.
  • Use clean utensils to handle cooked foods.
  • Wash your hands, dishes and utensils used for preparing and serving food, with water from a safe source.

The OSDH reminds food handlers to utilize good hygiene practices, wear gloves, and minimize food holding times.

The OSDH said environmental specialists from local county health departments are on site in the storm-damaged areas to ensure food products offered to the public are safe.



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