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Survivors of wildfires and other emergencies should closely examine the security and safety of their water, food and medications.


As a general rule, when in doubt, throw it out, said Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State University Extension food specialist.


“Any food and beverages exposed to heat, smoke or soot, or that has come into contact with waters or the chemicals used in fighting the fire, should be discarded,” Brown said. “In an emergency, commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable option. It also has an indefinite shelf life. For those who stock up, there is no rush to use it quickly.”


Water believed to be contaminated should not be used for drinking or making ice; preparing food or baby formula; bathing, washing hands or brushing teeth; or cleaning dishes.


Fresh food, any open containers and stored raw foods such fresh fruits and vegetables should be discarded if they came in contact with fumes, water or chemicals. Likewise with exposed staples such as flour, sugar, spices, seasonings and extracts, as well as items stored in containers with peel-off tops; screw-topped jars; cardboard boxes; or wrapped in foil, plastic, cellophane or cloth.


Brown said consumers should dispose of dented, bulging, rusted or charred canned goods, or canned items that were exposed to extreme heat.


The safe recovery of some materials is possible: Commercially canned goods and cookware not exposed to heat or chemicals and not dented or rusted can be decontaminated. First, scrub the can with detergent and then submerge it into a mixture of chlorine bleach and water for 15 minutes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends one cup of bleach to five gallons of water.


“Refrigerators and freezers may not have remained airtight during the fire. If a food item smells bad or tastes off, even after it has been cooked, just throw it away,” Brown said. “Frozen foods that still have ice crystals might be salvageable, but thawed items shouldn’t be refrozen,” Brown said.


In the event of a power outage, discard all meats, seafood, milk, soft cheeses, eggs, prepared foods and cookie dough that spent more than two hours at a temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.


Because heat can affect the potency of some medications, any medicines exposed to heat, smoke and soot should be thrown away or a medical professional should be consulted before using potentially compromised prescription or over-the-counter medications.

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