Minimizing losses in the BC wildfires

Minimizing losses in the BC wildfires | Insurance Business

Minimizing losses in the BC wildfires
The wildfires that have engulfed large portions of BC continue to put homeowners and businesses in the region at risk. BC is now entering, historically, its busy wildfire season. Wildfires tend to be fluid and are ever-changing, day by day and moment by moment, which is made evident by the continued need to monitor evacuation alerts and orders.

As recently as August 8th, a fire started 20 kilometres southwest of Salmo that prompted local leaders to issue an evacuation alert for the McCormick Creek area. The south east portion of the province continues to experience a growth in fire activity. Over 3,800 personnel, with an infusion of another 400 international representatives this week, make up the firefighting efforts to combat these on-going wildfires.

At this stage, it is difficult to quantify the true insurance impact of the wildfire. However, as Anthony Black, National Catastrophe Manager at RSA Canada explains, “the vast majority of claims lodged so far are related to mass evacuations and food spoilage caused by power outages”. With that in mind, Black believes it’s important for brokers to share some key tips with clients on what to do when the lights go out.

“It’s really important to keep the doors shut on your refrigerator and freezer,” Black says. “A power outage won’t cause a fridge of freezer to warm up immediately, but every time you open the door huge amounts of cold air will escape. Keeping the door shut dramatically slows the warming and keeps food cooler for much longer.”

If the door is kept shut, a fully packed freezer will store food safely for 48 hours, while a half full freezer maintains food at safe temperatures for up to 24 hours. A modern fridge generally keeps food cold for around four hours if the door is shut.

“Think of it like a countdown: food items start warming up as soon as fridge or freezer loses power, but it will take a while before it hits danger territory from a safety perspective,” Black says. “Fill up space in your freezer to help maintain the cold by storing containers of water, which will freeze and act as ice packs, in such circumstances. It's also an effective way to store drinking water for emergencies.”

If the power is out for four hours or less, food should be safe to consume and, according to Health Canada, any food that has ice crystals or feels refrigerator-cold should be safe for consumption. The most reliable way of determining if your food is at risk is to place a thermometer in the fridge or freezer for a few moments. Fridge temperature is usually around four degrees Celsius and freezers are around 17 degrees Celsius. Black supports a cautionary approach, “when in doubt, throw it out.”

Below is a general guideline compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food Safety on foods that are safe and foods that should be avoided during a prolonged power outage.
Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes Discard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Soft cheeses (blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella etc.), low-fat cheeses, shredded cheeses Discard
Hard cheeses (Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano etc.), processed cheeses, grated cheese in a can or jar Safe
Dairy products (milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk etc.) Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard
Fresh fruits (cut/sliced), cooked vegetables, tofu, pre-washed greens Discard
Fruit juices, raw vegetables, canned fruit, fresh fruits Safe
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if above 10 C for over 8 hours
Peanut butter, jelly, vinegar-based dressings relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, Hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces (oyster sauce), creamy-based dressings Discard
Cooked pasta, fresh pasta, rice, potatoes Discard

“If the power has been out for several days, we would not encourage the insured to open the appliance, instead the insured should make a list of the food they had from memory, along with approximate costs and present it to their adjuster,” Black says. “The adjuster will arrange for the removal and disposal of the fridge or freezer and its contents.”

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