Safe food and water to eat after an apocalypse or nuclear disaster


Research has shown that radiation in fresh eggs can be detected up to five months after a nuclear disaster.
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  • Food and water can be hard to come by in the aftermath of a nuclear attack or plant meltdown.
  • If so, stick to foods stored inside refrigerators, cabinets, or other sealed containers.
  • Avoid fresh produce, meat and eggs for at least several months after a nuclear disaster.

Whether it’s a nuclear war between nations or the meltdown of a nuclear power plant, the risk of radiation raining from the sky is more real than it has been in generations.

In a nuclear apocalyptic type situation, securing food and water should be one of your first priorities.


But that can be difficult, said Katsumi Shozugawa, a researcher at the University of Tokyo who has studied food contamination after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“In the event of a major accident at a nuclear power plant, there are concerns that food and water could be contaminated by radioactive materials released into the environment from the plant,” Shozugawa said.

Radionuclides tiny radioactive particles that can damage cell DNA and cause acute radiation syndrome, radiation skin lesions and cancer are most concentrated near the nuclear site.

But they can also be swept up into the atmosphere and fall back miles away, a phenomenon called nuclear fallout. For this reason, there are some basic guidelines about what you should and shouldn’t eat and drink in the event of a nuclear disaster.

1. Start with what’s in your fridge

Experts recommend staying inside at least the first 24 hours after a nuclear emergency. Therefore, the first solution is the simplest: eat the food and drinks that you have in your refrigerator.

Because the refrigerator is sealed and most of the food is already in packages, it’s safe to consume, according to the CDC.

For anything that needs to be cooked, you’ll want to try to keep contamination to a minimum. To do this, clean the countertop and all your cooking utensils with a damp cloth. Then, store that washcloth in a sealed container somewhere away from your family and pets, according to CDC guidelines.


2. Next, eat what’s in your freezer and pantry

Foods that sit in your freezer or pantry should also be safe, according to the CDC. Anything that has been stored behind a door and is in a package is fair game.

“Canned fruits and vegetables will last one to three years in your pantry and are often good sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals,” nutrition immunologist Megan Meyer told Insider.

However, you’ll want to throw out any fruit on the counter or any other food that may have been exposed to radiation in the air. In other words, fresh produce that isn’t in your fridge, freezer, cabinet, or other form of protective storage is off-limits.

3. Use bottled water to stay hydrated

After a nuclear event, all local water, including well water, is considered contaminated. The only safe way to stay hydrated is to drink bottled water and other sealed beverages, so these are an essential part of any emergency kit, according to the CDC.

Boiling water won’t eliminate the radioactive materials, so avoid cooking with local water, too.

4. Use tap water to wash food, but try not to drink it

You can still use contaminated tap water to wash yourself, other people, and food. That’s because the radiation in the water is typically very low, so exposure is minimal, according to the CDC.

But since there is some risk involved, it’s best to avoid drinking the water if you can.


Unfortunately, dehydration can strike quickly. If you don’t have bottled water, think about where else water is stored in your home, like in the hot water tank or even in the back of the toilet, according to the CDC.

If you don’t have safe drinking water, it’s better to drink potentially contaminated water than to go thirsty, says the CDC. A person can only survive two to four days without water.

5. Skip the garden-fresh vegetables or eggs

Bad news for homeowners: It’s best to skip fresh fruits, vegetables, or eggs right after a nuclear emergency.

Shozugawa’s research found radiation in chicken eggs from the first day food tracking began and continued to be detected for at least five months.

6. But take steps to protect your crops for later

Government regulators should let you know when and if it’s safe to eat locally grown produce. But since a nuclear apocalypse is likely to have long-lasting impacts, you’ll want to start planning ahead.

The World Health Organization recommends closing all vents if you have a greenhouse. If you have livestock, move them indoors or to a stable and keep them there.

If you can harvest ripe produce immediately after the event, before the relapse, store it in a sealed container. But if you can’t (and let’s be honest, picking greens is unlikely to be your first reaction to a nuclear event), don’t worry about picking, as it won’t be safe to eat.


7. Stick to healthy packaged foods

Once you’ve worked your way through the fridge, freezer and cupboard, your safest bet for securing more food is to buy (or find) packaged foods produced before the nuclear emergency, according to WHO.

Commercially prepared, shelf-stable foods such as brown rice and canned vegetables are typically safe, according to WHO, because plastic packaging and cans can protect the food from radiation.

“Canned fish like tuna, salmon and sardines, as well as lean meats like chicken, are great options because they provide high-quality protein and healthy fats and can be stable for three or more years if unopened.” “said Meyers. .

Meyer also recommends nuts, nut butters, rice, protein bars, and oats because they’re nutritious and long-lasting.

8. Be savvy about expiration dates

In an emergency, you don’t have to discard food just because its expiration date has passed, Meyers said.

These dates “refer to the quality, freshness or flavor of the food and do not refer to safety,” Meyers said. The one exception is infant formula, which you shouldn’t use after the marked date, he added her.

Instead of relying on printed dates, look at the quality of the container and the food.


“If the cans are dented, rusty or swollen, throw them away,” as they can be a sign of botulism or other foodborne illnesses, Meyers said.

9. Don’t go hunting

Feeding off the land seems like an essential survival skill.

But in the event of a nuclear disaster, the earth, along with the plants and animals on it, is potentially contaminated, which is why WHO advises against hunting.

Shozugawa’s research found that radiation can be particularly high in some wild animals due to their diets. For example, deer living on plants would be exposed to radiation.

10. Avoid mushrooms

Shozugawa found that radiation in mushrooms peaked months later than radiation levels in other types of produce, including vegetables grown above ground, such as tomatoes, and those grown underground, such as carrots.

In short, mushrooms were still dangerous to eat even when other plants were safe again.

Therefore, avoid wild mushrooms or those from your own garden.

However, if you’re hiding out in a bunker, growing mushrooms while you’re down there can make for a great food source since they don’t need much sunlight, according to David Denkenberger, founder of the nonprofit Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters. , which researches ways to protect the world’s food supply during a global catastrophe.

12. The CDC has special instructions for feeding infants

The CDC has an entire guide on infant feeding in these scenarios. If you’re formula feeding, they recommend using ready-made formula or making formula using bottled water.

If you’re breastfeeding, it’s usually safe to continue, especially if you were home during the disaster. However, if you have been exposed to radiation, it is best to feed previously expressed milk or formula until you have seen a doctor. Continue to breastfeed if you don’t have milk or formula on hand, according to CDC guidelines.

13. Prepare for long-term changes

Foods such as produce, meat and dairy products can be contaminated by long-term radiation, especially in areas close to the disaster site.

After the Fukushima disaster, the United States banned the import of some Japanese foods from the affected region. The FDA didn’t turn off that order until 2021, more than 10 years later.

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