CORVALLIS - The Y2K bug is getting all the attention, but even if Jan. 1 passes uneventfully, there are other situations to consider. In the year 2000, we may face winter storms, ice and snow, or other short-term emergencies that affect food and water supplies.
To help people respond to a crisis, the Oregon State University Extension Service will operate an "Emergency Food and Water Storage" hotline on weekdays from Dec. 27 to Jan. 7.
The hotline number is 1-800-354-7319. It will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each weekday by a home economist in the Lane County Extension office. It pays to be prepared for emergencies, says Carolyn Raab, OSU Extension foods and nutrition specialist.
"The best advice for Y2K is don't panic," she said. "If you haven't yet prepared, don't be taken in by high-priced food kits. Just set aside enough food and water for a long three-day weekend."
An emergency food supply might include cold breakfast cereal, granola bars, crackers, canned meat or fish, peanut butter, canned fruit and fruit juices, dry milk and containers of process cheese.
If you have a heat source such as a propane stove, you could add quick-to-cook foods such as instant rice, mashed potatoes and soup as well as canned beans, stew and hot chocolate mixes.
Buy perishable food in small containers that you'll finish at your meal because leftovers won't be safe without refrigeration, Raab advises.
If you plan to eat home-canned food, be aware that it won't be safe unless you've used up-to-date, laboratory-tested procedures. Vegetables, meats, fish and poultry must be processed in a pressure canner to destroy bacteria that cause botulism, a deadly foodborne illness.
Although boiling for 10 minutes before eating gives an extra margin of safety that destroys the botulinal toxin, fuel may be in short supply during a power outage. Food that hasn't been canned correctly should be disposed of carefully.
You'll need about a gallon of water per person per day for drinking, food preparation and personal hygiene. Store water in containers made for food use such as plastic soda bottles, juice bottles, and water jugs with screw-on lids. Water carriers made for camping are also good.
City water has already been chemically treated for safety, so it isn't necessary to add chlorine or to boil it before storage.
"If there's a power outage, food safety should be foremost in your mind," cautioned Raab. "It's no fun to have foodborne illness in the cold and dark without running water."
Buying both a refrigerator thermometer as well as a dial thermometer to monitor food temperatures is a wise investment. Bacteria can start to grow when food warms above 40-45 degrees. Re-heating won't necessarily make that food safe to eat because one type of bacteria produces a toxin that won't be destroyed.
Freezers also need to be carefully monitored during a power outage. In a full freezer, food probably won't thaw for 15-20 hours if the door is kept closed. When the power is restored, perishable food that still contains ice crystals can be safely refrozen. That includes cooked meat, vegetables, and frozen dinners. It's safe to eat perishable foods that haven't warmed above refrigerator temperature (40-45 degrees).
"If in doubt about the food temperature or length of thawing time, throw questionable foods out," cautioned Raab. This is particularly important for people who are susceptible to foodborne illness including pregnant women, infants and young children, older adults, and those with serious illnesses such as AIDS and cancer.