NSF International’s Post Hurricane Emergency Safety Tips: What You Can Do to Keep Your Drinking Water and Food Safe

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To help protect the safety of both food and drinking water, public health and safety organization NSF International provides the following safety tips.

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Cheryl Luptowski, Home Safety Expert at NSF International says, “The most important thing to remember is to play it safe and practice these simple tips. Also, if you don’t have to go outside, then don’t.”

More than 8 million Americans have been left without power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and authorities estimate that it could be a week or longer before it is restored. To help protect the safety of both food and drinking water, public health and safety organization NSF International provides the following safety tips.

Methods of Purifying Water

Both public and private water supplies can be compromised during extensive flooding. If you aren't sure about the quality of your water supply, don’t drink it. There are several ways to purify water that may have been contaminated or comes from a questionable source:

  • Boiling water – Will destroy most bacteria, cysts and viruses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends boiling drinking water for a minimum of two to three minutes at a good rolling boil.
  • Liquid (not granular) household bleach – Should be free of additives or scents and contain a hypochlorite solution of at least 5.25 percent. The American Red Cross recommends adding 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water and letting the water stand for at least 30 minutes. If the water doesn't have a slight bleach odor, repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. A filter certified for chlorine reduction can be used to reduce excess chlorine.
  • Purification tablets – If you have them in your emergency kit, be sure to follow the directions on the package. Chemical disinfectants are generally effective against most forms of bacteria and viruses, but may not kill intestinal parasites (cysts), so boiling or filtering for cysts may still be needed.

Determining if Food in the Refrigerator or Freezer is Still Safe

  • Perishable foods such as meat, milk and eggs need to be kept refrigerated at or below 40º F.

Frozen foods need to be kept at or below 0º F. If the power is out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. The average refrigerator can usually keep food safely cold for about four hours if left unopened. A freezer may hold a safe temperature for 24 - 48 hours depending upon its fullness.

  • Placing dry or block ice in the freezer or refrigerator can help keep foods cold for a longer period.
  • Keep appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is being kept at the correct temperature. NSF certified food thermometers can be used to check the temperature of individual food items to make sure they haven't exceeded 40º F.

What to Keep and What to Throw Out After a Flood

  • Don't rely on appearance or odor to determine if a food product is safe — most disease-causing organisms cannot be detected in this manner.
  • Discard all food that came in contact with flood waters, including canned goods.

Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers as there is no way to safely clean and sanitize them.

  • Dishes and cookware that are heat resistant can be washed in a certified dishwasher on the sanitizing cycle or washed by hand and dipped in a 50 ppm bleach solution.

When in Doubt, Throw It Out

Although some may advise that some canned foods may be salvageable, it's best not to take chances – just throw them away.

Sanitizing Your Home

When surfaces in homes are exposed to flood waters, fire or other potentially harmful residues, they need to be properly cleaned and sanitized. To avoid pushing dirt or bacteria further into your home, always start the cleaning process where food is prepared and work outward into the rest of the home.

Surfaces should first be rinsed to remove visible dirt residue, then washed with a mixture of hot water and detergent. After cleaning, rinse the surface with clean, potable water and allow to dry. Sanitizing can be accomplished using a bleach/water mixture or other sanitizing agent specifically formulated to kill germs and bacteria.

Proper Hand Washing

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most important thing that you can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness is to wash your hands. While hand sanitizers can help kill germs, they are not as effective as hand washing at removing dirt and soil.

Cheryl Luptowski, Home Safety Expert at NSF International says, “The most important thing to remember is to play it safe and practice these simple tips. Also, if you don’t have to go outside, then don’t.”

Editor’s note: To schedule an interview with Luptowski, contact Greta Houlahan at houlahan(at)nsf(dot)org or 734-913-5723.

More information: Additional drinking water and food safety emergency tips can be found on NSF International’s website.

About NSF International: NSF International (http://www.nsf.org) has been testing and certifying products for safety, health and the environment for nearly 70 years. As an independent, public health and safety organization, NSF is committed to protecting and improving human health on a global scale. NSF protects families by testing and certifying thousands of consumer goods each year, including kitchen products and appliances, personal care products, dietary and sport supplements, bottled water, toys, pool and spa equipment, water treatment systems, plumbing fixtures and many other products used in homes every day. Look for the NSF mark on products you purchase.

Operating in more than 150 countries, NSF is committed to protecting families worldwide and is a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Food and Water Safety and Indoor Environment. In addition, NSF also and certifies organic food and personal care products through Quality Assurance International (QAI).

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Greta Houlahan
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