The devastating bushfires raging across Australia have been responsible for the deaths of at least two dozen people and hundreds of millions of animals, and caused the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses.
Experts also note that the fires can pose serious food safety risks. Lydia Buchtmann, council communication director for the Food Safety Information Council in Australia, says that toxic fumes from burning materials is a concern as they may enter the food supply, as are the chemicals used to fight the fire. Additionally, the fire’s heat can aid bacteria in multiplying in food.
The council has put out a list of recommendations for consumers to guide them to food safety, which include throwing away any food that has been near the fires, including food in jars, cans, and bottles. Refrigerated food near flames should also be discarded because fumes can still penetrate a sealed refrigerator.
All utensils and dinnerware that may have been exposed to fire-fighting chemicals should be soaked in soapy hot water and sanitized with a tablespoon of chlorine bleach and two liters of water.
Buchtmann notes that food should be wrapped in newspaper before being placed in a garbage can.
Additionally, Australia officials have cautioned that damaged transport links will likely lead to shortages of some fresh produce and any old fruits and vegetables should be scanned to ensure they were not in the fire’s path prior to consuming.