Prescriptions: Prepare Your Medicine Cabinet for an Emergency

Many people depend on daily medications. Nearly half of Americans take at least one prescription medication; 1 in 4 take three or more. A large-scale natural disaster, such as a hurricane, or other emergency could make it difficult to find an open pharmacy let alone get a prescription filled. You and your family may need to rely on a prepared emergency supply. If, for example, you or a loved one rely on daily medication to treat or manage a chronic disease, it is in your best interest to prepare your medicine cabinet for an emergency. Here’s how:

  • Keep at least a 7 to 10-day supply of prescription medications. Keep your medications in labeled, childproof containers.
  • Keep an up-to-date list of all prescription medications, including dosage amounts and the names of their generic equivalents, your medical supply needs, and known allergies.
  • Create a supply of nonprescription medications, including pain and fever relievers, diuretics, antihistamines, and antidiarrheal medications.
  • Don’t let the medications in your emergency supply kit expire. Remove, use, and replace any food and water, medications, and supplies before they expire.

Safe storage

In the wrong hands, medicines are dangerous. Too often, the wrong hands belong to kids. About 60,000 children are taken to emergency rooms each year because they got into medicines.The threat of medication poisoning in kids and adults is also there in an emergency evacuation when families are forced from their homes and into a shelter, a hotel, or the home of a friend or family. Under stressful circumstances and in unfamiliar surroundings, people can forget to practice safe medication use and storage. Here are three ways you can prepare for and prevent medication poisoning after a disaster.

  • Keep all prescription medications and over-the-counter medicines and vitamins, including your emergency supply, Up and Away and out of the reach and sight of children and pets—this includes medicines in suitcases, purses, and “grab and go” bags.
  • Create an Emergency Action Plan that includes important contact information, such as phone numbers for your physician, pediatrician, pharmacist, veterinarian, and the Poison Control Center: 800-222-1222.
  • Properly dispose of unused, expired, or contaminated medicines in your medicine cabinet and emergency supply. Discard medications that touched floodwater or have changed in appearance or smell. Contact a pharmacist or healthcare provider if you are unsure about a drug’s safety.

Quick Tips

  • Find out if laws in your state permit pharmacists to dispense a 30-day refill of medications in an emergency.
  • Stay current on your immunizations and vaccinations for infections and illnesses such as tetanus and seasonal flu. Know the date of your last tetanus shot in case of injury in an emergency.
  • Learn more about the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP)
  • The EPAP helps people who live in a federally-declared disaster area and do not have health insurance. Eligible people can receive a free 30-day supply of their medications for as long as EPAP is active. People can also use the program to receive vaccinations or to replace specific medical supplies or some forms of medical equipment that were lost or damaged because of an emergency or while evacuating.

For more Prepare Your Health information, tips, and checklists, visit cdc.gov/prepyourhealth.

Source
Prescriptions: Prepare Your Medicine Cabinet for an Emergency
Ready.gov/September

Additional Resources
Podcast   Preparing for Hurricanes – Prescription Medications 
Complete Care Plan for Loved Ones
Asthma Action Plan
Food Allergies and Disasters
Care for Special Need Children and Youth in an Emergency
Advance Directives for Behavioral Health Individuals

Healthy Aging Month: Aging Is Not for Sissies

“Getting old isn’t for the faint of heart.” – Mae West 

It can be easy to lose sight of the adventure and joy involved in the journey of aging. The process of getting older – while a seemingly endless barrel of jokes for birthday card companies – is packed with experiences that empower deeper reflection, pursuit of personal hobbies, and broadened perspective. 

As of 2020, 21.6% of Virginians were at least 60 years old, and this percentage is expected to reach 24% by 2030. It’s more important than ever to share empowering resources that support this growing population as they age into the lives they’ve worked diligently to build. While successful aging will look slightly different for each individual, the general idea is to age in such a way that enables well-being in older age. This tactic requires purposeful decisions about how to treat one’s body, mind, time, and so on. In celebration of Healthy Aging Month, the following tips and resources are good reminders on how to live life to its fullest.

The “3 F’s” Rule: Fitness, Food, Fun

Food

Taking note of the foods we eat and how they interact with our changing bodies is a great step towards healthy aging. For extra energy, increase the number of servings of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Whole grains are a better choice than processed carbohydrates, for adding fiber and vitamins to your meals. For the best protein options, choose lean meat, nuts, or beans.

A chart displaying foods and drinks that may represent a healthy diet for older adults.

It’s no secret that the body’s nutritional needs change over time. In addition to making healthy food choices, it’s important to know the best steps to take to satisfy hunger and cravings.

  • When you feel hungry, reach for some water first and sip slowly while you consider what you’ve eaten so far today. Thirst and hunger are deeply intertwined and can often be confused for one another. Still hungry after some slow sips? Time to find a snack! 
  • Notice you crave a sweet treat after a savory meal? Ask yourself if you really want something more or just expect it out of habit. Remember, everything in moderation, and even dessert does not need to be eliminated. Just take note of whether your body has room for something else. If you are truly hungry, consider if there are alternatives that may satisfy without pushing you into that “overfull” state (i.e. red grapes, a ginger chew, or a cup of herbal/fruity tea). 

Fitness

While physical activity is important during all stages of life it becomes even more so with age. Exercise conditions the body’s cardiovascular system, supports digestion, and maintains muscular strength for daily tasks (like dressing, walking, cooking, etc.).

Health research has traditionally focused on the physical benefits of exercising on aging; however, more recently, public health and medicine have delved deeper into the psychological, body-brain connection impacted by exercise. The mental health benefits of consistent exercise include stress management, improved sleep quality, and an increased sense of well-being. If you haven’t found a physical activity that you enjoy and can continue over time, now’s your chance to start exploring. From indoor swimming (available all year round) to plogging – a combination of jogging and picking up litter – there are a plethora of ways to get moving in ways you find fun. You may even consider physical activities that can be incorporated into daily life, such as walking or biking to work, gardening, or even adding in some dance steps while doing house chores.

Fun

Keeping the body healthy is certainly well worth the effort, but the impact of social connection and activities for the brain are just as important. Choose activities that challenge the mind such as learning new dance steps, playing a new game (card, board, or recreational), or picking up a new hobby. Community and social engagement, through friendships, partnerships, community service or participation in local organizations, is another important aspect to consider when looking to maintain optimal mental and physical function throughout life. Finding ways to incorporate engagement with the world around you, play, and novelty (i.e. learning something new) into each day pays dividends. Not only does cognitive engagement fend off diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, it also increases interest in life, and decreases loneliness as well as depression.

All Together Now

Keep in mind the 3 “F’s” work together. It can be even more beneficial to find interesting ways to combine them. For example, walk to work with a pal while sharing something new you learned this week; or see if some ingredients can be substituted with healthier options while trying a new recipe or cooking technique.

At the end of the day, remember that healthy aging is about well-being. Keep the “3 F’s” Rule in mind and surround yourself with things that create happiness, growth, and fulfillment in your life. Until next Health Aging Month, be well.

References

Musich S, Wang SS, Kraemer S, Hawkins K, Wicker E. Purpose in Life and Positive Health Outcomes Among Older Adults. Popul Health Manag. 2018 Apr;21(2):139-147. doi: 10.1089/pop.2017.0063. Epub 2017 Jul 5. PMID: 28677991; PMCID: PMC5906725.

Wong RY. A New Strategic Approach to Successful Aging and Healthy Aging. Geriatrics (Basel). 2018 Nov 29;3(4):86. doi: 10.3390/geriatrics3040086. PMID: 31011121; PMCID: PMC6371117.

Halaweh H, Dahlin-Ivanoff S, Svantesson U, Willén C. Perspectives of Older Adults on Aging Well: A Focus Group Study. J Aging Res. 2018 Nov 4;2018:9858252. doi: 10.1155/2018/9858252. PMID: 30533224; PMCID: PMC6247475.

Senior Planning Services. Remodeling the Food Pyramid for Seniors. Retrieved July 23, 2022 

Senior Lifestyles. 7 Best Exercises for Seniors (and a Few to Avoid!). Retrieved July 14, 2022

Parker-Pope, A. How to Age Well. New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2022

Tips for Building an Emergency Preparedness Kit

To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.

A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a several-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery or charged power pack

Additional Emergency Supplies

Consider adding the following items to your emergency supply kit based on your individual needs:

  • Masks (for everyone ages 2 and above), soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces
  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids, or laxatives
  • Prescription eyeglasses and contact lens solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, and diaper rash cream

Pets

  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • A selfie with them in case you get separated.
  • Medicine & grooming items.
  • Collar with an ID & a leash.

Other

  • Cash 
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification, and bank account records – saved electronically or printed and stored in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate, sturdy shoes
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels, and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles, or other activities for children

Emergency Kit for the Car

In case you are stranded, keep an emergency supply kit in your car with these automobile extras:

  • Jumper cables
  • Flares or reflective triangle
  • Ice scraper
  • Car cell phone charger
  • Blanket
  • Map
  • Cat litter or sand (for better tire traction)
  • Non-perishable food for each person
  • Battery

Remember to maintain an emergency kit:

  • Keep canned food in a cool, dry place.
  • Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers.
  • Replace expired items as needed.
  • Re-think your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change.

 

Additional Resources

Emergency Kit Checklist

National Preparedness Month

National Preparedness Month is recognized every September to raise awareness about ways to prepare for emergencies and disasters, either natural or man-made. The 2022 theme, A Lasting Legacy, focuses on the importance of protecting every life by preparing for disasters. Ultimately, these efforts will help us create and preserve a long-lasting legacy.

Keeping this theme in mind, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends four key steps to prepare for and respond to disasters.

  1. Make a plan. 
    • Discuss a shelter plan
    • Have a specified evacuation route
      • Hurricanes are very common in Coastal Virginia, so it’s important to know your evacuation zone if you reside in a high-risk area
    • Decide on how members of the household will best communicate with one another 
    • Prepare an an emergency preparedness kit that includes
      • Water (for drinking and sanitation)
      • Non-perishable food
      • Battery-powered or hand crank radio
      • Flashlight
      • First aid kit
      • Extra batteries
  2. Consider specific needs within your household, such as:
    • Certain ages may require special considerations, such as specified food for infants or necessary medication for elderly family members
    • Dietary restrictions or needs may require certain lower sodium foods or gluten-free items
    • Disabled individuals may require a wheelchair, a cane, or other assistive devices
    • Identify any language barriers that may exist
    • Be cognizant of religious values or beliefs
    • Supplies will be needed for pets or services animals
  3. Fill out a family emergency plan or use it as a guide to creating your own. 
  4. Practice your plan with your friends, family, or household. 

For more information about creating a plan, visit www.ready.gov/plan.

The CDC also recommends planning ahead by staying…

  • Healthy: Know how to protect your safety and wellness.
  • Connected: Discuss ways to communicate with family, friends, and caregivers.
  • Calm: Practice ways to stay cool, calm, and collected during emergency situations.
  • Informed: Find reliable sources of health and emergency information.

Once you finish planning, it’s time to take action. Make sure to remember your…

  • Personal needs: Gather enough food, water, and medical supplies to last at least three days.
  • Prescriptions: Talk to your doctor about creating an emergency supply of prescription and necessary over-the-counter medications
  • Practical skills: Learn self-help and life-saving skills to use during an emergency.
  • Power sources: Prepare for power outages with backup power sources.
  • Paperwork: Collect and protect important documents and medical records.

 

Sources and Resources:
www.ready.gov/september
www.ready.gov/plan
www.cdc.gov/prepyourhealth/takeaction
www.vaemergency.gov/know-your-zone

Harmful Algae Bloom Advisory Expanded for Lake Anna

Harmful Algae Bloom Advisory Expanded for Lake Anna to north of Route 208;
In Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania Counties

Public Advised to Avoid Water Contact with Upper, Middle and Lower sections of Lake Anna above Rt. 208

RICHMOND, Va. – All portions of Pamunkey Branch, North Anna Branch, Lake Anna State Park Beach, as well as the Main Branch of Lake Anna from the “Splits” to the confluence of Pigeon Run above Route 208 in Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties are experiencing a harmful algae bloom (HAB). The public is advised to avoid contact with specific areas of the lake until algae concentrations return to acceptable levels.

Some harmful algae, called cyanobacteria, can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The area to avoid can be seen on an interactive Harmful Algal Bloom map. A status report containing the updated advisory areas may be viewed at Lake Anna HAB Status Report 8.8.22.

Samples results from collections on August 2 indicated that at eight locations in the North Anna, Pamunkey Branches, and at Lake Anna State Park, swimming advisories are necessary due to unsafe levels of cyanobacteria, which have the potential to produce toxins. People and pets are advised to avoid swimming, windsurfing and stand-up-paddle-boarding, as well as other activities that pose a risk of ingesting water. Activities such as boating may continue with proper precaution in advisory areas. Follow-up monitoring above Route. 208 on the lake is planned (weather permitting) for the first week of September.

Swimming advisories have been issued for the following areas of the lake:

Pamunkey Branch (contains changes from prior advisory, “Lower” added)

  • Upper – From the upper inundated waters of the Pamunkey arm of the lake downstream to the confluence with Terry’s Run
  • Middle – From the confluence of Terry’s Run with Pamunkey Creek downstream to Rt. 612 (Stubbs Bridge)
  • Terrys Run – from the upper inundated waters of the lake downstream to the confluence with Pamunkey Creek
  • NEW – Lower from the Rt 612 (Stubbs Bridge) downstream to near the confluence with North Anna (at the “Splits”), including the Lake Anna State Park Beach”

North Anna Branch (contains changes from prior advisory, “Lower” added)

  • Upper – From the upper inundated waters of the North Anna arm of the lake downstream to the Rt. 522 Bridge
  • Middle – From the Rt. 522 Bridge downstream to the Lumsden Flats/Rose Valley Cove
  • NEW – Lower from the Lumsden Flats/Rose Valley cove downstream to just before the confluence with Pamunkey Branch (at the “Splits”)

Lake Anna (Main Branch)

  • NEW – Upper from the confluence with the North Anna Branch & Pamunkey Branch (at the “Splits”) downstream to above the confluence with Pigeon Run (tributary along State Park)

Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth. Most algae species are harmless, however, some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins. Avoid discolored water or scums that are green or bluish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins.

To prevent illness, people should:

  • Avoid contact with any area of the lake where water is green or an advisory sign is posted, WHEN IN DOUBT, STAY OUT!
  • Not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water.
  • Keep children and pets out of the areas experiencing a harmful algae bloom and quickly wash them off with plenty of fresh, clean water after coming into contact with algae scum or bloom water.
  • Seek medical/veterinarian care if you or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near an algal bloom.
  • Properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature to ensure fish filets are safe to eat.
  • Contact the Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 1-888-238-6154 if you suspect you experienced health-related effects following exposure to a bloom. Please do not call this number for map or status updates.
  • Visit SwimHealthyVA.com to learn more about harmful algae blooms or to report an algae bloom or fish kill.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, which includes the VDH, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Old Dominion University Phytoplankton Laboratory, will continue to monitor water quality in the lake. In general, advisories will be lifted following two consecutive test results with acceptable levels for algal cell counts and toxin concentrations. An advisory may be lifted or maintained at the discretion of the health department. For example, after one test an advisory may be lifted if results are within safe levels for swimming if other information indicates exposure or human health risk is low.

For more information visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com.

National Immunization Awareness Month

Each year, August is dedicated to bringing awareness of the everchanging advancements and life-saving measures involved with vaccination through the annual recognition of National Immunization Month. Since 2020, an even larger emphasis has been placed on getting immunized as COVID-19 vaccines first became available and began making headlines worldwide. Now more than ever, it is important to understand how vaccinations work to protect your health and wellbeing. With 71.8% of Virginians fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, there’s no better time to dive deeper into the ins and outs of immunizations. 

What are vaccines and how do they work?

Vaccines stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases and are usually administered through needle injections in the U.S., but some can be given by mouth or sprayed into the nose in other parts of the world.

Specialized immune cells in the body recognize and attack infectious invaders in different ways, as described by the CDC here

  • Macrophages are white blood cells that swallow up and digest germs, plus dead or dying cells. The macrophages leave behind parts of the invading germs called antigens. The body identifies antigens as dangerous and stimulates antibodies to attack them.
  • B-lymphocytes are defensive white blood cells; they can produce antibodies to fight off infection.
  • T-lymphocytes are another type of defensive white blood cell that recognizes a familiar germ if the body is exposed again to the same disease.

A vaccine introduces a small amount of a specific antigen into the body, allowing the immune system to recognize the antigen and create a set of antibodies to be “deployed” if that antigen ever becomes active again. Antibodies are selective for specific antigens, so vaccines spur development of these specialized immune cells for a specific virus or bacteria. Creating this team of specially trained immune cells takes time and can require retraining – which is why some vaccines require boosters. 

What immunizations are necessary? 

Currently, approximately 10 vaccines are recommended for children at specific ages beginning at birth through adolescence. You can see the full schedule of recommended vaccines in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here. The number of vaccines suggested for adults varies by specific age groups, in addition to recommended prevention based on certain jobs, international travel, or health conditions. The Virginia Department of Health recommends talking with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about getting vaccinated.

Vaccine Goals

The vaccine schedule for individuals living in the United States is designed to create herd immunity. This population-level immunity occurs when a large enough percentage of the population has developed antibodies to fight a certain virus that its spread from person to person becomes unlikely. Herd immunity can be achieved through vaccination or prior infection, though the World Health Organization strongly recommends using vaccination to reach herd immunity as the severity of infection varies significantly and can result in unnecessary illness and death. 

Resources

References

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-indications.html#table-indications

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niam/index.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/herd-immunity-and-coronavirus/art-20486808 

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pregnancy/index.html

Maternal Health Awareness Month

What is Maternal Health Awareness Month?

Maternal and infant health and mortality are impacted by poverty, gender inequality, age, multiple forms of discrimination, lack of access to adequate health facilities, inadequate technology, and lack of infrastructure. The death per live birth for black women is three times higher than that of white women. Between 2007 and 2016, the national maternal mortality rate for black women with at least a college degree was five times higher than white women with a similar education, illustrating the direct connection between race and maternal mortality, beyond race-associated socioeconomic factors. The Virginia General Assembly notes that the root cause of these disparities is longstanding structural racism which results in poor health indicators and outcomes for individuals and communities of color.  

Illustration of fetus in utero by Chidiebere Sunday Ibe.

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly designated July as Maternal Health Awareness Month through House Joint Resolution No. 111. During this month, we recognize the current state of maternal health in the Commonwealth and promote awareness of the many ways to improve it. 

The overall health of the mother as well as the child is critical throughout the pregnancy. As many changes take place during pregnancy, it is especially important to pay attention to emotional as well as physical health. There are several steps that can be taken to assist in maintaining optimal mental and physical wellness.

  1. Create a plan – Review your existing health insurance policy to understand what is covered from prenatal needs to newborn care. Learn more about insurance coverage during pregnancy here. Consult with a health care provider to discuss any existing health conditions, prescribed medication and/or lifestyle changes (drug and/or alcohol use) that may need to be modified prior to conception. 
  2. Prenatal care – Regular check-ups and daily choices (including taking a daily multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid) throughout the duration of pregnancy can contribute to a safe and healthy delivery. The following represents a complete schedule for prenatal medical visits:
    • Weeks 4 – 28 of pregnancy – checkup every 4 weeks (1x per month)
    • Weeks 28 – 36 of pregnancy – checkup every 2 weeks (2x per month)
    • Weeks 36 – 41 of pregnancy – checkup every week (4x per month)
  3. Postnatal care – It is equally important to continue care post-delivery, particularly during the 12 weeks following birth, sometimes called the “4th trimester.” The first postpartum checkup should occur within 6 weeks of delivery to evaluate recovery from labor and birth. As of 7/1/2022, Medicaid and FAMIS MOMS members in Virginia now have full coverage through 12 months postpartum. In addition to physical postpartum healing, mental health can be especially challenged during this period. Postpartum depression can develop in anyone following delivery, so it is important to communicate your mental health symptoms with your healthcare provider, lean on your support system (family, friends, childcare, community organizations), and utilize mental health resources, including the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS. 

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and other health organizations offer a wealth of information and resources regarding pregnancy, family planning, WIC Benefits (Women, Infants, and Children), breastfeeding, and more.  

References:

VDH Launches Lead Testing in Drinking Water at Virginia Schools and Child Care Centers

Today, the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Office of Drinking Water (ODW) announced the launch of a statewide voluntary Lead Testing in Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Centers in Virginia program. This free program will test for lead in drinking water in select Virginia public schools and child care centers.

The purpose of this program, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is to help Virginia public schools and child care centers identify lead occurrences in their drinking water and reduce exposure.  Currently, the program has approximately $1.1 million in funding, which will be able to collect and analyze 40,000 samples.

Virginia public schools (K-12) and child care centers interested in participating in this program should enroll at leadinvawater.org.  Selected schools/child care centers will be notified by the VDH team.

Selection to the program is based on available funding with prioritization based upon the affordability criteria established by the state under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), to include schools with at least 50% of the children receiving free and reduced lunch and head start facilities. Priority will also be given to elementary schools and child care centers that primarily serve children 6 years and under and older facilities that are more likely to contain lead plumbing.

“This program is an amazing opportunity to partner with schools and child care centers to help identify and reduce lead exposure in drinking water in children,” said Dr. Tony Singh, deputy director of the Office of Drinking Water. “Every action we take to reduce lead exposures improves the health of our children.”

Protecting children from lead exposure is important for lifelong health, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the EPA.  Lead is especially harmful to the health of children because it can interfere with brain development.

Lead can enter drinking water when plumbing materials that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content. The most common sources of lead in drinking water are lead pipes, faucets, and fixtures. Lead pipes are more likely to be found in older cities and homes/buildings built before 1986 before the SDWA banned lead in plumbing fixtures.

To learn more about this program visit leadinvawater.org or email info@leadinvawater.org.

Grilling Safety: Tips on How to Prevent Injury


backyard with a grill and table

Number of fires caused by grills

While grilling can be a fun summer activity, precautions must be taken to prevent bodily injury, as well as property damage and destruction. According to the National Fire Protection Association, an annual average of 10,600 home fires involving grills, hibachis, or barbecues resulted in nearly a dozen deaths, 160 injuries, and approximately $150 million in direct property damage. These statistics are due to a number of factors, including leaving the equipment unattended among others. (See Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Home grill fires by leading factors contributing to ignition 2014-2018


Note. This graph was produced by M. Ahrens in 2020, depicting the common factors of fires.

The following preventative actions are recommended to decrease the risk of fires.

Grill Placement and Usage: 

  • Only use propane and charcoal grills outdoors and place the grill at least three feet away from the home, deck railings, and out from underneath leaves and overhanging branches. 
  • Keep children and pets at least three feet away from the grill. 
  • Pay particular attention to loose clothing and dangling jewelry which may present a hazard.

Propane Grills:

Check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year – you can do this by applying soap and water to the hose and checking for bubbles. If there are bubbles or a propane smell, and there is no flame, turn off both the gas tank and the grill. If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop or if you smell gas while cooking, do not attempt to move the grill, immediately move away from it, and call 911 (Ahrens, 2020). 

If you find there are no gas leaks prior to lighting the grill, open the lid and check for any hidden nests, hives, or animals. It is good practice to thoroughly clean the grill to remove any excess grease before and after use. While cooking, remember to never leave the grill unattended. Once you are done, clean the grill each use to remove fat and grease that can start a fire (FEMA). Since propane gas is heavier than air, it will sink closer to the ground and can enter your home through doors, windows, and dryer vents. Never store the cylinder near these entry points. Also, make sure the propane tank is stored upright on a flat surface so that it can’t roll or tip over.

Charcoal Grills:

Only use a starter fluid designated for charcoal. Once you’re finished grilling, ensure that the charcoal and ashes are completely cooled by leaving the lid closed for 48 hours. For a faster process, douse the embers with water. After 48 hours, place the cooled ashes in a metal container or wrap them in foil before putting them in the garbage (Lam, 2020). 

Food Safety in Grilling:

 In addition to the dangers of suffering physical injury from improper outdoor cooking, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates there are approximately 48 million cases of food poisoning each year of which grilling plays a significant part.  It is important to pay particular attention to the temperature of your food before, during, and after its preparation.

  • Keep meat, poultry, and seafood refrigerated until ready to grill. When transporting, keep food below 40°F in an insulated cooler. 
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked hot enough to kill germs.  (see Figure 2 for safe minimum internal temperatures). 
  • When using a BBQ smoker, monitor the air temperature within the smoker to be sure the heat stays between 225°F and 300°F throughout the cooking process. This will ensure the meat is fully cooked. 

Figure 2.  Correct temperature to grill different types of meat

Note. This graph was produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020, to show the right temperature to cook meat to ensure food safety.

145°F Whole cuts of beef, pork, or lamb (let rest 3 minutes before serving)
145°F Fish (whole or fillet)
160°F Hamburgers, sausage, and other ground beef, pork, or lamb
165°F Chicken, turkey, and other poultry

 

References:

Ahrens, M. (2020, May). Home grill fires – NFPA. Retrieved July 7, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food Safety. Retrieved July 7, 2022.

FEMA. Grilling Fire Safety Flyer – U.S. Fire Administration. Retrieved July 7, 2022, from 

Lam, D. (2021, July 2). Backyard grilling seems safe, until it isn’t. NPR. Retrieved July 7, 2022,