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Handle water, food safely in aftermath of hurricane
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricane damage threatens two things necessary for human and animal survival: water and food. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina's flood waters, people are discovering how precious clean drinking water can be.
Jimmy Bonner, water quality specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said boil-water notices have been prevalent across the state and consumers should follow that advice.
"This is not a good time to drink water from an unproven source, which includes household taps in damaged communities. If there's any question about it, don't drink it. If it is available, bottled water is the safest choice for drinking and food preparation," Bonner said.
If bottled water is not available, Bonner said the best way to make sure water is drinkable is to bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute. In emergency situations where bottled water is not available and boiling is not possible, water may be purified with household bleach or purification tablets.
"Clean sanitized containers that have held food or beverages, such as soda, water, juice or punch. Do not use milk jugs to store drinking water," Bonner said. "Make sure the containers are cleaned and sanitized. First, wash the inside and outside with hot, soapy water and rinse. Then sanitize by rinsing with a solution of 1/2 teaspoon of household bleach per pint of water. Finally, rinse again with clean water."
Liquid household bleach is the most common additive used to purify drinking water. Make sure that it contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite (chlorine). Choose regular, full-strength bleach, and do not use scented bleach. Add bleach at a rate of four drops of bleach to 2 liters of clear water. One-gallon containers will need 1/8 teaspoon for clear water.
Peggy Walker, Extension nutrition and food safety area agent based in Panola County, said cooking and eating habits must change to fit the situation during a power failure or flood.
"Whatever situation you're in, remember to observe safe cooking practices to avoid eating contaminated foods," Walker said. "Cooked vegetables, eggs, meat and meat dishes, and dairy foods cannot safely be kept at room temperature for more than two hours, including preparation and serving time. Don't even think about eating these potentially hazardous foods."
Do not serve foods such as ground meats, creamed foods, meat salads or custards in disaster situations because these spoil easily and are potential sources of food-borne illness. If necessary, substitute canned or powdered milk for fresh milk.
"Once canned milk is opened, though, it must be handled just as carefully as fresh milk. Use it up or dispose of it after two hours at room temperature," Walker said. "If you are using canned milk or formula to feed a baby, open a fresh can for each bottle while your power is out. Use only boiled, disinfected or bottled water to mix powdered milk or baby formula, and use it immediately after it is mixed."
Prepare and eat foods in their original containers when possible. This will help if dishwashing facilities are limited.
In addition to meat, poultry and seafood, Walker said to avoid eating the following foods if they have been without refrigeration for more than two hours:
- Cooked vegetables.
- Home-canned vegetables.
- Foods made with cream sauces.
- Cream or cottage cheeses.
- Milk, custard or cream pies.
- Melted ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Canned foods and freeze-dried or dehydrated items usually can be eaten safely as long as cans and packaging are not damaged or contaminated. To be safe, wash cans in clean water before opening with a can opener. Do not use any packaged goods that have gotten wet.
"When cooking during a power failure, remember to conserve fuel and water as much as possible," Walker said. "Choose foods that cook quickly if you have limited heat for cooking. Consider one-dish and no-cook meals."
Alternative cooking methods include using outdoor grills; candle food warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots; wood-burning stoves; and fuel-burning camp stoves or charcoal burners, which should be used only outdoors.
Substitute liquids from canned vegetables for water in cooked dishes, remembering these liquids should be left unrefrigerated no more than two hours. Also, drain and save juices from canned fruits to use as a substitute for water in salads and beverages.