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Departments » Emergency Management » Public Health info
General Information

Public Health Information: Flooding and food safety

Cleaning Up After Flooding: Disease Prevention and Water Safety

Disease Prevention

If flood water or sewage leaks into your home, you must clean and sanitize as soon as possible. Because flood water and sewage may contain disease-causing organisms, keep children, people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and pets out of the contaminated area.

1.Wear rubber gloves, goggles, and boots at all times. Protect any wounds from contact with sewage. Avoid tracking sewage into clean areas.
2.Remove all flood waters and sewage by draining and pumping.
3.Remove all soil and sewage with shovels and wet vacuums. Clean and sanitize all tools and machines after use.
4.Remove all highly absorbent items like carpet and padding, mattresses, and upholstered furniture. These items should be bagged in plastic or labeled as contaminated with sewage and disposed of properly.
5.Wash down all walls, floors, and surfaces with clean water and a low-suds detergent. Rinse with warm water. All saturated drywall and insulation should be inspected to determine whether removal is required.
6.Sanitize all surfaces by rinsing for 15 minutes with 8 tablespoons of chlorine bleach per gallon of water used.
7.Open windows and use fans and dehumidifiers to dry out the area.
Water Safety for Private Wells
Wells that have been flooded should be considered unsafe and should not be used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, hand washing, dish washing, or clothes washing until well water is tested and found safe to drink. A well can be contaminated even if it has not been submerged by flood waters.
You should suspect contamination if your well casing becomes inundated or if you notice taste, color, or sediment changes in your water. Your well and entire plumbing system should be disinfected. This procedure is best done by a licensed well driller or pump installer with appropriate expertise and equipment.
After disinfection is complete, you should have your well water tested for total coliform bacteria. Water sample bottles are available at the health department.
Bottled water or water from a public water supply outside the flooded area should be used until your well water is confirmed safe to drink.
Septic Systems

Remember: Whenever the water table is high or your sewage system is threatened by flooding there is a risk that sewage will back up into your home. The only way to prevent this backup is to relieve pressure on the system by using it less.

• Use common sense. If possible, do not use the system if the soil is saturated and flooded. The wastewater will not be treated and will become a source of pollution. Conserve water as much as possible while the system restores itself and the water table falls.

• Do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house.

• Be sure the septic tank’s manhole cover is secure and has not been damaged.

• Do not compact the soil over the soil absorption field by driving or operating equipment in the area. Saturated soil is especially susceptible to compaction, which can reduce the soil absorption field’s ability to treat wastewater and lead to system failure.

• Pump the septic system as soon as possible after the flood. Be sure to pump both the tank and lift station. This will remove silt and debris that may have washed into the system. Do not pump the tank during flooded or saturated drainfield conditions. At best, pumping the tank is only a temporary solution. Under worst conditions, pumping it out could cause the tank to try to float out of the ground and may damage the inlet and outlet pipes.

• Have your septic tank professionally inspected and serviced if you suspect damage. Signs of damage include settling or an inability to accept water. Most septic tanks are not damaged by flooding since they are below the ground and completely covered. However, septic tanks and pump chambers can fill with silt and debris, and must be professionally cleaned. If the soil absorption field is clogged with silt, a new system may have to be installed.

• Only trained specialists should clean or repair septic tanks because tanks may contain dangerous gases. Contact the health department for a list of septic system contractors who work in your area.

Public Health

Food Safety Guidelines for Power Outages

When electrical power has been restored following an outage, the following guidelines should be used when handling potentially hazardous food that has been stored in refrigerators and freezers that may have lost power.

WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!

If the power is out for less than 4 hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer.
If the power is out for longer than 4 hours, follow the guidelines below:
• For the Freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
• For the Refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
• Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40° Fahrenheit.
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