After a fire, assess possible damage to food, medications

Thursday, July 12, 2018 12:26 PM

Skies are turning gray and thunder is here. We are happy the rains will finish off the 416 Fire and hopefully make a dent in this unprecedented drought.

People have returned to their homes, but here are some things to think about.

Food and medications can be compromised during a fire in four ways: by heat, smoke fumes, chemicals used to fight the fire and power outages.

Chemicals used to fight a fire can contain contaminants harmful to food and cookware. Some of the chemicals are said to be nontoxic to humans, but they can be harmful if swallowed. These chemicals cannot be washed off food items, so any foods stored at room temperature as well as those stored in permeable containers and packaging, such as those in canisters, cardboard or plastic wrap, should be disposed of.

Food in cans or jars may not be edible because of ruptured or swollen seams, and high heat activates food-spoilage bacteria. Smoke fumes can be toxic and also contaminate food products. Again, foods in permeable packaging should be disposed, including cereals, pet food, bread, etc. Any food stored outside of the refrigerator, such as potatoes, fruit and onions, can be contaminated by fumes as well as herb and garden items.

Canned goods and cookware can be cleaned in soap and hot water then dipped in a bleach solution (1 tsp bleach per quart of cool water) for 15 minutes, rinsed and air dried. Check with your pharmacist about medications in your medicine cabinet, if you have questions.

Also, clean and sanitize kitchen counters as well as refrigerators and freezers. Heavy duty trash bags are useful to gather spoiled food items for disposal. The inside surfaces in your kitchen should be cleaned with a solution of dish soap in warm water. To remove odors, a mixture of 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 1 quart of warm water works well.

Garden produce and herbs should be rinsed under running water to remove ash, but if exposed to fire retardant, they should be discarded. If you are concerned about the safety of your well water, the Colorado State University Environmental Quality Lab or San Juan Basin Public Health can help with testing.

Now is a good time to look at how your family’s evacuation plan worked. What documents and important details were included? If you had lost your home, what would you need to meet basic needs? Technology now allows you to download critical information to a memory stick. Place one into a small glass jar with a bit of cash for emergency.

Take a picture of prescription medications, credit cards and driver’s licenses (front and back). This can also be stored on the memory stick, if you don’t want to keep it on your smartphone. Speaking of that, a charging cord for a phone and laptop all fit nicely into that glass jar. Are those important contacts already in your phone?

For additional information, CSU has a variety of resources including

Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at or 382-6461.