Baton Rouge – Residents of areas affected by Hurricane Katrina may have experienced water contamination or power outages that led to food spoilage. The Department of Health offers the following food and water safety tips:
1. Contaminated Water May Need Boiling
Flooded public and private wells, flooded treatment plants and pressure losses from broken lines and lost electrical power greatly increase the risk of contaminated water. If drinking water has been contaminated, and a “boil water” notice has been issued for an affected area, residents should take the following precautions:
· Water used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, making ice and washing hands should be boiled. Bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute before use.
· Young infants and pregnant women should use bottled water instead of boiled tap water for drinking and cooking. Boiling concentrates levels of nitrate in water. Most adults are not affected by nitrate, but it may be dangerous to infants under six months of age and unborn children.
· Use bottled water for preparing infant formula for children six months of age and younger.
Residents should continue to boil their water until tests on samples taken after flooding show the water to be safe. Customers of public water systems should contact their utility company or water service operator for information on the water quality. Private well users should contact their parish health unit for advice.
2. Disaster Victims Cautioned about Food Handling
Citizens should be careful not to use foods damaged or spoiled due to loss of electricity or flooding, according to State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. Citizens are urged to use the following guidelines:
· Refrigerated foods that have reached a temperature of 41 degrees or more, or which have been kept for 8 to 12 hours without refrigeration, should be used immediately or discarded.
· Do not open freezers until you plan to use or discard the contents; most freezers will keep food safe for 36 to 48 hours following a power outage if left closed.
· After a freezer is opened, and if the temperature of the food is above 41 degrees, use immediately or discard it.
· Do not refreeze thawed foods.
· Wash and sanitize (using 1 ½ cups of household bleach to one gallon of water) cans of food (and can openers as well) that have been exposed to flood waters prior to opening them.
· If fresh fruits and vegetables or food in plastic, cardboard or paper containers have been wet by floodwaters, do not eat them.
· If you must discard food, place the food in a sealed plastic bag or container for disposal in your local landfill.
It is also important to remember that, following a hurricane, people often shelter in close quarters and share food more than usual. This can put them at a higher risk for spreading foodborne illnesses person-to-person.
For example, following hurricane landfalls in Florida, several residents contracted Norwalk virus. This gastrointestinal disease was spread by several people sharing ice from a cooler, inadvertently spreading the illness to each other.
To avoid spreading disease, follow the above food safety tips and practice good hygiene when sharing with others. It is important to wash your hands in hot, soapy water and take extra care when around people who have been recently affected with severe diarrhea or vomiting, as this could be a sign of a contagious stomach illness.
If you have questions about food safety, call your sanitarian at your parish health unit or contact your regional public health administrator.
For more information on post-hurricane services that LDH/OPH provides, contact the Emergency Operations Center Public Information Desk at 225-763-5754, or visit www.dhhemergencynews.com.