(September 17, 2004) - The Cabinet for Health and Family Services reminds Kentuckians that common food and water safety precautions can help keep families healthy during severe weather and other emergencies.
Power outages and flooding during severe weather and other emergencies can be more than just inconvenient when frozen and refrigerated foods and drinking water supplies are affected.
Anita Travis, manager of the Food Safety Branch of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said frozen and refrigerated foods require special handling and storage during power outages. "Meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs and cooked vegetables can be hazardous to eat if not kept at the proper temperature," she said.
The Cabinet offers the following information to help storm victims keep their food safe and their families healthy.
Keep freezer and refrigerator doors closed. Cooling loss occurs rapidly and safe storage time is reduced when doors are opened unnecessarily. Cover these appliances with blankets or other insulating materials to further reduce cooling loss.
Most modern refrigerators in good condition will maintain safe food temperatures without electricity for two to four hours if kept closed. Beyond that time, any foods which are not ready to eat or cannot be fully cooked before eating and contain meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, etc., should be thrown away. Refrigerated food should be kept at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Unopened freezers will maintain foods at safe temperatures for two to four days depending on freezer size and whether full or partially full, although thawing will occur. If power is restored within this period, transfer thawed foods to the refrigerator and use promptly. If power isn’t restored, use only fresh, ready-to-eat foods or foods that can be cooked immediately. Do not eat any food that has been contaminated by leakage from other thawed and thawing foods.
Do not eat perishable foods that have been at temperatures above 45 degrees for more than two to four hours. Do not eat any foods that have an odor.
Sealed food containers such as cans that have been exposed to flood waters or been soiled by wind, rain or splash may be washed in soapy water, rinsed in clean water and sanitized in a solution of 1 tablespoon household bleach in 2 gallons of warm water. Coat metal containers that have been cleaned with mineral or cooking oil to prevent rust. Do not save food stored in containers with pull-tabs or screw-on or press-on lids that have been splashed or submerged in contaminated water.
Follow the rule, "when in doubt, throw it out" when unsure how long foods have been exposed to unsafe temperatures or when foods do not look or smell as they should. Other food items not requiring refrigeration should be thoroughly inspected prior to consumption.
Local health department Food Inspectors will be working closely with commercial food service establishments and retail food stores that experience flooding to assure that consumers have a safe food source available.
After the May floods of this year, some local health departments received complaints relative to failed septic tank systems and the accompanying odors and inconvenience. Kentucky has experienced unusually large amounts of rain this year, which is a major contributor to this problem. It was noted that as the waters receded and returned to normal levels, many of these issues were resolved. Should the new rains reach the predicted levels in the near future, we can anticipate these problems will reoccur. The local health departments will have a supply of private well disinfection kits available for your use.
Private water source users may also disinfect drinking water by pouring a solution of 2 quarts regular, unscented 5.2 percent household bleach and 10 gallons of water into the well. Because the capacity of water supply/storage systems can vary, this is a general recommendation applicable to most wells and cisterns. Allow the well to stand idle for 12-24 hours. Open faucets and run water until a chlorine (bleach) odor is noticeable. If in doubt about the safety of your water supply, use bottled water from an approved source until household water can be tested.
The Cabinet’s Division of Epidemiology offers the following guidelines relative to tetanus vaccination and floods. Walking or working in floodwaters, by itself, is not an indication for tetanus vaccination. However, individuals exposed to contaminated floodwaters who incur dirty or significant wounds may risk contracting tetanus. Therefore, persons with wounds that are not clean or minor should be vaccinated if more than five years have elapsed since the last dose of tetanus containing vaccine. More frequent boosters are not indicated and have been reported to result in an increased