Minnesota residents in parts of northeastern Minnesota hit by flooding can take steps to safeguard their health, state health officials said.
People living in flooded areas are undergoing significant challenges right now,” said Aggie Leitheiser, assistant commissioner of health. “By taking certain precautions, they can protect themselves from flood–related illness or injury. Knowing what can and can’t hurt them is important.”
Here are some things to consider if you’re in a flooded area:
People should assume their private well is contaminated if the well casing was under water. Well water should not be used for drinking or cooking until the well and distribution system are flushed out, disinfected and tested for contamination. Meanwhile, they should use bottled water for drinking and cooking.
If flood water came within 50 feet of the well, but the well was not under water, you may still want to have your water tested as a precaution. However, you do not need to disinfect your well before having it tested.
Never use generators, grills, or other gasoline-, propane-, or charcoal-burning devices indoors, inside your home, garage, carport; or near doors, windows, or vents. These items produce carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that kills more than 500 Americans each year.
To keep children safe:
- Don't let them play in or near floodwater or in areas that have flooded recently.
- Wash your child's hands frequently with clean water, especially before meals.
- Discard any soft toys that may be contaminated with sewage. Young children may put these items into their mouths.
- Disinfect other toys that may be contaminated by washing them with a solution of two teaspoons bleach in one gallon of water.
Food Safety Guidelines
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. Refrigerators will keep food cold for about four hours when left unopened.
- A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
- If the food stored in the refrigerator has been held above 41 degrees F for more than four hours, throw it away.
- If food stored in the freezer has thawed but is still below 41 F, it can be refrozen. Although the quality of the food may be compromised, it should remain safe to eat.
- Commercially canned foods in good condition are safe if you remove the labels. Wash sealed cans with warm water and detergent, and then disinfect them using a solution of one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of clean water. Re–label the cans so you know what is inside. Destroy canned goods if the can surface is badly rusted or pitted, swollen or leaking, or badly creased or dented at the rims or seams.
- Rigid plastic containers without a screw top are safe if they are have not been damaged, the container has not been submerged in water or other liquids, any soil on the container can be removed, and the closure has no soil, rust or dents.
- Foods that are packaged in paper, boxes, containers with screw-top lids, or other non-water-proof pages are not safe if they have come in contact with flood water. Throw them away.
- “When it comes to food safety during a flood, always remember one basic rule,” Leitheiser said. “If in doubt, throw it out.”
Other Tips and Myths
- Floodwater may be contaminated, but it is unlikely that simple skin contact — even with raw sewage — will make you sick. Generally, you must swallow floodwater, or something that’s been contaminated with floodwater, to get sick. Wash your hands with clean water before you eat, drink or put anything in your mouth.
- There is currently no reason to believe that area residents face an increased risk of a disease outbreak. However, state and local public health officials are monitoring carefully for any cases of infectious illness that might be connected with the flooding to ensure that they respond quickly in the event of an outbreak.
- Public health officials routinely recommend getting a tetanus shot every 10 years. The flooding is not a reason to get one right now or to get shots for typhoid, polio or any other vaccine–preventable disease. However, people who get puncture wounds should talk to their physicians if they have not had a tetanus shot within the last five years, no matter where or how they got hurt.