By Theophilus Franklyn, Environmental Health Officer
In light of the start of the hurricane season, this article will focus on health and disaster. The recent eruption of the La Soufriere volcano brought with it landslides and lahars after heavy rains. Close to more than 20,000 people were displaced and had to seek shelter in schools and private homes, where there have been many issues to contend with and now, although many have returned home, we are now entering a very active hurricane season which may pose many challenges.
In this article we will focus on food and water safety from an environmental health standpoint and look at some food safety measures.
Water is one of the most natural and important elements in life as humans cannot live without it. We need water for a wide range of purposes, from the digestive process to domestic purposes. When a disaster strikes, it can destroy natural bodies of water such as ponds, streams and rivers resulting in pollution, rendering them contaminated. Inevitably, this can cause water-borne disease such as cholera, and typhoid fever just to name a few. Additionally, gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea can result from drinking contaminated water.
Preventative measures that can help allay waterborne diseases/problems include discarding of food that became contaminated with flood or storm water after the disaster. Also desist from using contaminated water for domestic purposes such washing dishes, brushing teeth and bathing.
You could also use one teaspoon of unscented liquid bleach in one quart of water to sanitise containers for storing water or other receptacles that are intended to be used.
Water should always be boiled before use to kill microorganisms that can cause illnesses.
Disasters bring many changes and challenges with them. One such challenge is food safety whereby many may be displaced from their original environment and now housed in shelters. Issues such as power outages and storage challenges are all cause for concern when it comes to food safety. In addition to these issues, vector control is also important, such as the control of rodents and pests. Flood waters can drive these rodents and pests out of their homes and into ours and they can transmit diseases such as leptospirosis and dengue fever to name a few.
In order to prevent food poisoning in these environments, the following precautions should be taken to ensure food safety:
- Select foods that have a long shelf life and require little or no cooking, this will prevent spoilage and less incidents of food poisoning.
- Check cans for dents, rust, swelling and leakage. These can cause food poisoning if we are not vigilant or observant when purchasing or using them.
- Check for expiry dates and best before dates before purchasing or storing food items. This will help eliminate old stocks by using the first in, first out (FIFO) method.
- After a disaster, throw away perishable foods that were not refrigerated properly due to power outages and those with an unusual odor, color or texture. Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells, and taste normal. Always remember… When in doubt, throw it out!
In conclusion, disasters, no matter how small or big, should be taken seriously as it disrupts our food and water system. Our health is our wealth!