Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spring is here! Use USDA’s new food preparedness graphic to clean out your fridge

Spring cleaning is about more than just cleaning out your closets. It’s also a good time to clean out your refrigerator, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Get Ready team spoke with USDA public affairs specialist Kristina Beaugh, MPH, on how you can make sure the food in your fridge is safe. Beaugh is part of USDA’s food safety education staff.

USDA has a new refrigerator food safety infographic. What does it say about the importance of an organized refrigerator?
With the start of spring, many people will be looking to clean and organize the house from top to bottom. It’s important to remember your refrigerator during your spring cleaning regimen. Keeping your refrigerator clean and organized helps to reduce your risk of foodborne illness and can also minimize the amount of food that spoils. USDA’s “Your Fridge + Food Safety” infographic is a great tool to keep handy while you’re cleaning. It goes over everything from temperature and storage to how to keep your fridge clean and fresh.

Step-by-step, take us through the process of turning an unsafe, messy fridge to an organized, safe, risk-free one.
The first step is to make sure your refrigerator is set to the right temperature. Refrigeration slows bacterial growth on your food, so it’s important to keep your fridge and freezer at a temperature that will keep your food safe and help it to stay fresher longer. Your refrigerator should be set to 40° F or below, and your freezer should be set to 0° F or below. You can measure your fridge’s internal temperature with an appliance thermometer.

Next, it’s time to store the food. Did you know that where you store certain foods could have an effect on their safety and freshness? It’s true! Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • Raw meat and poultry should be stored in a sealed container or securely wrapped on a plate to prevent juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Sealed crisper drawers provide an ideal storage environment for fruits and vegetables. Some refrigerators may allow you to customize each drawer’s humidity level. If so, vegetables require higher humidity, while fruits require lower humidity.
  • Never store perishable foods in the door. The temperature of doors changes frequently. Instead, use the doors to store things like juice, water and condiments.
  • Perishable foods like eggs, dairy and raw meat and poultry should be stored on shelves in the main compartment where the temperature is more stable.
  • Food stored in the freezer is safe indefinitely. Although quality may suffer with lengthy storage, frozen food is safe forever.
If you’re ever left wondering how long different foods last in the fridge and freezer, don’t worry — you’re not alone. A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage is three to four days for cooked foods, one to two days for poultry and ground meat and up to five days for whole cuts of meat. For storage information on more than 400 foods and beverages, download the FoodKeeper app. It’s free and it’s available for Apple and Android products.

And finally, keeping your refrigerator clean isn’t necessarily the last step, but rather a step you should remember all year long. Wipe up spills immediately, and clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Sanitize your refrigerator with a diluted bleach solution — one tablespoon unscented bleach to one gallon of water. To keep your refrigerator smelling fresh and to help eliminate odors, place an opened box of baking soda on a shelf.

Where can readers find out more?
If you have additional questions about food safety or organizing your fridge, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. Or chat live with a food safety specialist at from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.

USDA’s “Your Fridge + Food Safety” infographic

Friday, March 18, 2016

Space heater safety: How to warm those toes without starting a fire

This space heater is in the wrong place.
Photo: Patrick Benko
While spring just days away it’s still chilly out there, which means lots of folks are using space heaters to keep warm.

The National Fire Protection Association says space heaters lead to about one-third of all home-heating fires. Sadly, they’re also involved in 79 percent of home-heating fire deaths.

Here are some tips on staying safe with space heaters:

  • Use your space heater on a flat, solid surface and never plug it into an extension cord.
  • Create a gap of at least three feet between your space heater and items that can burn, such as furniture, bedding, paper and clothing.
  • Keep an eye on children and pets when using a space heater. Choose a space heater that will automatically shut off if tipped over.
  • Always turn off your space heater when you leave the room or go to bed.

It’s also a good idea to install smoke alarms in each bedroom, hallway and level of your home. Remember to test your alarms and replace the batteries regularly.

Don’t wait until a fire happens to create an escape plan. Fire experts suggest you may need to escape a house fire in less than two minutes to stay safe. Getting everyone out of the house that quickly takes planning.

Practice your escape plan with your family. Identify multiple ways to exit each room in case doorways or hallways are blocked by fire. Also, decide where to meet once you get outside. Practice your escape plan until everyone in the household feels prepared and can get out in two minutes. Don’t return to a burning home for any reason. As the American Red Cross says, “Get out, stay out and call for help.”

Learn more about home fire prevention and preparedness from the National Fire Protection Association and the American Red Cross.

For more home safety preparedness tips, check out Get Ready’s infographic.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Zika: What you should know now

Every day, we’re learning more about Zika.

Zika is a virus mainly spread by mosquitoes. More than two dozen countries in the Americas have reported active cases and the World Health Organization has issued a public health emergency.

Most of the time, Zika is a mild illness that goes away in a week.
Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and pink eye. It’s rare to die from Zika. So if it’s so mild, why is everyone talking about Zika right now? Good question.

The main concern is the virus’ link to birth defects. While not proven for sure, health officials think Zika may be linked to microcephaly, in which a baby is born with a small head and may have potential developmental issues. Another concern is Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition that causes nerve damage and paralysis, though the link to Zika hasn’t been proven on that either.

No Zika cases have been reported from mosquitoes in the continental United States, though Puerto Rico is struggling with the virus. There are some cases of Zika in the U.S. from travelers who caught it elsewhere. And some people in the U.S. have acquired it by having sex with partners who were infected during their travels

Health officials are predicting there’s a good chance that Zika will be spread by mosquitoes here eventually, as the type of mosquito that spreads the disease lives in the U.S.

So right now, you’re probably wondering, “How do I keep mosquitoes away from me?” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has this advice:

  • Wear long sleeve shirts and pants. 
  • Stay and sleep in places with air conditioning or window and door screens.
  • Use insect repellents approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and use as directed.

For more tips on Zika that you can share with your family, friends and community, download our new fact sheet. And check out our latest Get Ready Report podcast for more insights.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Black History Month preparedness profile: Julius Becton, first African-American FEMA director

From the White House to the Department of Transportation to Congress, black Americans hold prominent leadership positions throughout U.S. government. They’ve also played important roles in our nation’s preparedness.

As a tribute to Black History Month, which was observed in February, Get Ready is highlighting an African-American who held a key position in U.S. disaster readiness. From 1985-1989, Julius Becton Jr. served as the third director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, becoming the first African-American director of the agency.

Nearly 100 disasters were declared in the U.S. during Becton’s years in office, from hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons to flooding, mudslides and fires. But Becton was dealing with more than just weather emergencies as FEMA director.

Becton assumed office during troubled times for FEMA. The agency had come under investigation for misuse of funds, leading to the resignation of his predecessor. During his term, Becton was known for his dedication to restoring integrity to the agency. He also stressed the importance of preparing Americans for disasters and alerting them if there was a threat.

That readiness went beyond weather disasters. In testimony before Congress in 1988 on FEMA’s civil defense budget, Becton spoke about the role of government to assist and support Americans in the event of a nuclear attack. Becton’s testimony came just two years after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in the Ukraine, which raised concerns about radiological threats.

“Governments must be able to remain in operation to warn their people, broadcast lifesaving information to them, direct operations such as rescue, firefighting and debris removal and communicate to higher levels to request help,” he said, stressing the importance of disaster warning systems.

Four major emergency management documents were signed during Becton’s term at FEMA, addressing emergency coordination, national security and nuclear power plant safety.

Becton has also been lauded for his work beyond FEMA. After his term at FEMA, he worked in education, including serving as superintendent of the Washington, D.C., public school system. For his almost 40 years of service in the U.S. Army, where he reached the rank of lieutenant general, he received the George C. Marshall Medal, the Association of the U.S. Army’s highest award. Ebony Magazine listed him as “One of the Most Influential Blacks in America” on several occasions.

Now retired, Becton’s work as a leader in U.S. preparedness and service to the nation are still remembered.