Household fires and food can be a deadly combination

Household fires can contaminate your raw, packaged and even frozen foods. Learn how to protect yourself.

In the event of a house or kitchen fire Michigan State University Extension urges you to learn the facts about the dangers of fire, toxic smoke, fumes and fire-fighting chemicals, all of which can contaminate the food in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

Beginning to clean up after a residential fire can be challenging. Efforts to salvage household items such as food requires an understanding of how the immense heat from a fire can cause packaged foods to become contaminated and therefore unsafe to eat. The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) offer an excellent Fires and Food Safety handout to assist victims of a house fire. Heat can activate food spoilage bacteria inside of commercially prepared canned foods. A can or jar could look normal or unaffected but the intense heat of a fire can make the food unsafe to eat. The heat from a fire may cause cans to rupture, also making the food unsafe to use. Always throw away all food items exposed to heat during a fire.

During a fire toxic smoke fumes are released as household items burn. These deadly fumes can contaminate any type of food stored in packaging that allows the fumes to penetrate it. Throw away any food stored in cardboard or plastic wrap. Also throw away any raw foods in your pantry or on the counter. There is not any safe method of washing off the toxicity on these perishable foods items. Refrigerators and freezers are not completely airtight, so be sure to check for any off-odor or off-flavor. Contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline if you have questions; 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). Consumers can access 24 hours a day food safety information at the FSIS virtual food safety representative, and Spanish customer service or for Smartphone users.

Another food contaminate to be aware of are the chemicals used by firefighters to put out the fire. Again toxic materials can be found in the chemicals. Throw away all raw foods, and food packaged in cardboard or plastic wrap as they have been exposed to the chemicals making them unsafe to consume. If canned food has not ruptured and was not exposed high heat, FSIS states they can be decontaminated using a liquid bleach solution (one tablespoon liquid bleach added to one gallon of water). Soak canned food for 15 minutes. Be aware that dishes and cookware can also be contaminated during a fire by exposure to deadly fumes and chemicals. Be sure to wash with detergent and sterile, using a bleach and water solution, soaking for 15 minutes.

Arm yourself with knowledge and expertise from FSIS to protect you and your family from the potentially deadly dangers of food contaminated by immense heat, fumes or chemicals.

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