Minimize health risks in an emergency.

Food safety during a power outage

Power outages can create problems with food safety. Food that is spoiled or unsafe, may or may not look or taste bad, but may make you sick if you eat it.

  • Make ice packs in cleaned plastic pop or water bottles 3/4 full as soon as you know the power may go out; do not use glass containers to freeze water.
  • Try not to open the refrigerator, freezer, or cooler until you need the food
  • If power is out for more than two hours, pack milk, dairy products, meat, fish, poultry and eggs into a cooler with lots of ice so the food is covered and put the lid on. 

An unopened fridge will keep foods cold enough for two to four hours. A freezer that is half full of food will keep food cold for one day. A full freezer will keep food safe for two days.

Note: The freezer will be the coldest in the back, so that is where meat should go.

Canned goods will keep for long periods of time, for as long as two years, so be prepared. You can purchase milk, meat, vegetables, and fruits in cans. These do not require cooking and can be eaten cold if no heat is available. Don't forget to have a non-electric can opener.

Safe bottle feeding for infants

Expressed breast milk:
  • If you do not have access to an electric breast milk pump you can express breast milk by hand.
Artificial baby milk (formula):
  • Use ready-to-feed infant artificial baby milk (formula).
  • Clean and sanitize bottles, caps and nipples (see below for method).
  • When power will be out longer than 2 hours:
  • Pack freshly expressed breast milk containers into a cooler (Styrofoam coolers are fine) and cover them with ice.
  • Keep a lid on the cooler.
  • Powdered infant formula
When stored in the refrigerator:
  • Leave unused containers of breast milk or artificial baby milk (formula) in the refrigerator. An unopened fridge will keep foods cold enough for 2-4 hours.
  • Throw out any milk that has been sitting at room temperature longer than 6-8 hours.
Use of frozen milk stored in the freezer:
  • Leave unused containers of milk in the freezer.  An unopened freezer will keep foods cold enough for at least 24 hours.

Learn more about infant and child feeding in emergencies.

What food should be discarded

If the food in the freezer has ice crystals on it and is not above 4º C you may refreeze the item. A food thermometer is needed to be sure of the temperature. If you do not have a thermometer, you may have to make a decision based on how cold the food feels. Food from the fridge should feel cold to touch. If it is room temperature, it should be thrown out or put into your green bin. The following chart can help you decide.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has additional information on food safety in emergencies.

Safe drinking water during a power outage

During a power outage, both municipal and private well systems may be affected. Safe water is required for drinking, bathing, brushing teeth, washing food (such as fruits and vegetables), cooking and cleaning. On average, each person requires five gallons (23 litres) of water per day. The following points highlight some safe water choices:

  • Keep a supply of commercial bottled water available for use. 
  • If available, use water supplied by a municipality unaffected by the power outage.
  • Use water from a private well, that is known to provide safe water, and unaffected by the power outage, or if run by an emergency generator.

Treating tap water when a Boil Water Advisory has been issued

  • Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one minute - let it cool before drinking. If you are using a charcoal or gas barbecue to boil water, ensure that it is used outdoors.
  • If water cannot be boiled, add household bleach to your water source. Add ¼ tsp. of bleach for every one gallon (4.5 litres) of water. Shake the container and let stand for at least 30 minutes before consuming.
  • If available, use camping water purification systems or tablets - follow manufacturer's instructions.
  • Learn more about your drinking water in the region.

Private well water

After a flood, your well or cistern water may be contaminated with bacteria and chemicals that can make you sick.

Precautions should be taken when dealing with private well water during/after a flood.  

Mould prevention 

Flooded buildings become damp and create a perfect environment for bacteria and mould growth.

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation provides details on flood clean up and mould prevention.   

Preventing infection

Many communicable diseases are reportable to Region of Waterloo Public Health.  These are called Diseases of Public Health Significance.  For some diseases, medication or immunization to prevent further illness is recommended.  Quarantine or isolation may also be recommended to prevent others from becoming ill.   Public Health works with local health care providers to ensure clients receive important information, medication and/or immunization if necessary.

Flu and pandemic planning

In the event of an influenza pandemic, the Region of Waterloo has a plan for ensuring important information is communicated to the community and local health care providers.  The Community Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan aims to reduce the number of people infected, minimize the level of illness, decrease the number of deaths and reduce economic and social disruption.  

 Overdose Alerting

The OMARS (Overdose Monitoring, Alert and Response System) committee of the Waterloo Region Integrated Drugs Strategy aims to provide local and timely information about overdose to the community including alerts about new, tainted or toxic substances in Waterloo Region.

OMARS will work to ensure the public is alerted when:

  • It is suspected that the local drug supply is tainted; and/or
  • There are counterfeit pharmaceuticals in the illicit market
  • There is other qualitative data/information available

To receive overdose alerts, subscribe here, and for a list of past alerts click here.