How Hurricane Irma Will Affect You, Even if You're Far from Florida and the Caribbean
Prepare for a few changes coming to your local produce section.
As regions in Florida and the Caribbean continue to recover from the impact from Hurricane Irma, donations to help displaced people and aid in recovery efforts on the ground can be made online at Global Giving, UNICEF, Oxfam, and the American Red Cross.
When you think of Florida produce, you may picture oranges—but the fact of the matter is Florida is the second-leading producer of all our country's fruits and vegetables, and is the No. 1 producer of tomatoes. In other words, states from Minnesota to Massachusetts rely on the Sunshine State's peppers, carrots, cantaloupes, and so much more—and thanks to Hurricane Irma, shoppers throughout the nation could be in for a rude awakening the next time they hit up their local grocery store's produce section, government agencies warn.
As Hurricane Harvey raged across Texas, we warned that any produce (and many other food products) touched by floodwaters cannot be properly cleaned and therefore can't be eaten. Sadly, the same rules that apply to backyard blueberry trees also apply to vegetable fields, apple orchards, and every mass-produced vegetable and fruit in between. Even the thickest-skinned vegetables—think: the pumpkins we'll want for our upcoming Halloween holiday parties—can't protect their edible insides from the pathogens found in flood water.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, "fresh fruits and vegetables that have been inundated by flood waters cannot be adequately cleaned and should be destroyed." The FDA has advised growers to dispose of their affected crops so that they can't enter the human food chain. "There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety," the FDA wrote in its statement. "The FDA recommends that these crops be disposed of in a manner that ensures they are kept separate from crops that have not been flood damaged to avoid adulterating 'clean' crops."
Here's what that all boils down to: Florida's farmers will most likely be destroying a lot of fruits and vegetables we would otherwise see in stores. That could affect produce prices—you've heard of supply and demand, of course—and it could also affect our meal plans for the coming weeks and months. Only time will tell, of course. But in the meantime, if you've been affected by the hurricanes—and upcoming Tropical Storm Jose—then be sure you're taking precautions will your own produce and pantry staples. Here's a handy video for how to handle your food supply during a natural disaster, and especially during major flooding.