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Water and Food Safety After a Hurricane

Hurricane Katrina — which slammed into the Gulf Coast on Monday — is leaving power outages and flooding in its wake.

In those conditions, is food in refrigerators and freezers safe? How about the safety of drinking water? The FDA offers this advice:

Water Safety After Floods and Hurricanes

Don't assume that local drinking water is safe after a flood or hurricane. Listen to local announcements on water safety.

If you can't get bottled water and tap water safety is questionable, purify your drinking water. Here are three ways to do that:

—Boil water vigorously for one to three minutes (three minutes for altitudes above 1 mile).

—If you can't boil water, add eight drops (an eighth of a teaspoon or 0.75 milliliters) of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water, stir it well, and let the water stand for 30 minutes before you use it. This should get rid of any bacteria in the water but won't kill parasites.

—Water-purifying tablets are another option. Look for them at pharmacies or sporting goods stores.

After the Storm: Health and Safety Tips from WebMD

Food Safety After Floods and Hurricanes

If flooding has happened, immediately evaluate your supply of stored food and water.

Perishable items (like meat, poultry, milk, seafood, and eggs) that are not properly frozen or refrigerated may make people sick, even if those foods are cooked thoroughly.

Don't eat any food that's come into contact with floodwater.

Throw out food that's not in a waterproof container if there's any chance floodwater touched it. That includes food containers with screw caps, snap lids, and home-canned foods.

Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved. Here's how:

—Remove the labels

—Thoroughly wash the cans

—Disinfect the cans with a quarter of a cup of bleach per gallon of water.

—Relabel the cans with a marker. Include the expiration date.

Get rid of wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby-bottle nipples, and pacifiers. They can't be safely cleaned if they've been touched by floodwater.

Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water. Then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of a quarter of a cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

Learn How to Survive the Emotional Trauma of a Storm

During a Power Outage

Keep refrigerators and freezers closed to help them stay cold inside.

An unopened refrigerator will stay cold for about four hours. An unopened full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours, if it's half full).

Dry or block ice can help, if you stocked up before the power cut. Figure on 50 pounds of dry ice to keep an 18-cubic foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days.

If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish, or eggs while they're still at safe temperatures, cook them thoroughly.

Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.

For formula-fed infants, use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water, if possible. For concentrated or powdered formulas, used bottled water if the local water source might be contaminated.

After a Power Outage

If you kept an appliance thermometer in your freezer, check it. If it's 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.

No thermometer in the freezer? Check each package of food. Look for ice crystals - a sign that the food is still safe — or items that are 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Don't just go by smell or appearance.

Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as the power is out for no more than four hours.

Discard any perishable foods (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.

Are You Prepared if a Hurricane Strikes Your Area?

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCE: News release, FDA.