State health officials issue guidelines on mold and food safety after flooding

The Kentucky Department of Public Health has issued several safety guidelines in the wake of this weekend's flooding.

Health officials are asking people to avoid flood waters if possible, since they might contain contaminants that could pose health hazards.

Officials say homeowners whose homes have water damage are urged to follow recommendations to limit mold damage and to ensure proper food handling and storage.

Officials say mold fungi can grow both indoors and outdoors, and it can accumulate in homes that have flood or water damage. Mold grows best in warm, damp, and humid conditions and it spreads by making spores.

"Though mold is almost always present in the air, it grows best in damp areas where humidity levels are high," said William Hacker, M.D., DPH commissioner, in a news release. "The recent heavy rains throughout the state caused significant flooding, and many homes experienced water damage. This is a concern for homeowners not only because of damage to their home, but also because problems due to mold may result if left untreated."

Health officials say you can recognize the signs of mold by looking for discolored walls possibly showing water damage, or green or black spots apparent on the walls.

Mold has a musty, earthy smell or a foul stench. Officials say people with allergies are affected by mold exposure the most.

To decrease mold exposure, and to reduce mold in your home, health officials say you should keep the humidity level of your home between 40 and 60 percent. It's suggested you use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to do that. Officials say you should always use exhaust fans when showering or cooking.

Officials say you should always use protective glasses or goggles when cleaning up small areas affected by mold. It's also suggested you wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves, and wash all clothing afterwards.

If you're cleaning up a lot of mold, officials say you may want to use a basic respirator or a suitable mask to prevent breathing the spores.

The DPH also provided the following tips for mold cleanup:

- Ensure that the area is well ventilated before beginning.

- Remove all previously soaked porous items that have been wet for more than 48 hours and are not able to be cleaned and dried.

- Disinfect hard surfaces; a solution may be mixed of 1 cup of household bleach with 1 gallon of water.

- Contact a mold remediation consultant for severe mold cases.

The DPH is also concerned about food safety for those who lost power because of the flooding.

People are asked to keep freezers closed to maintain the proper temperature for frozen foods. Officials say a full freezer will hold the temperature for around 48 hours, or for 24 hours if the freezer is half full.

Health officials say a refrigerator will only hold its temperature for about four hours. Items like milk, dairy products, meats, eggs, and leftovers should be placed in a cooler surrounded by ice, if the power outage lasts more than four hours.

Dry ice can be used to keep refrigerators cold, but officials say you should never touch it with your bare hands or breathe its vapors in an enclosed area.

Once your refrigerator or freezer begins operating again, the DPH says you should follow these guidelines to decide what to do with foods:

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

- Throw out any perishable food in your refrigerator, such as meat, poultry, lunchmeats, fish, dairy products, eggs and any prepared or cooked foods that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours. Bacteria can multiply to unsafe levels under these conditions.

- Fresh fruits and vegetables are safe as long as they are still firm, and there is no evidence of mold or sliminess.

- If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when power comes back on. If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.

- If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety.

- If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, it is safe to refreeze.

- Raw meats, poultry, cheese, juices, breads and pastries can be refrozen without losing too much food quality.

- Prepared food, fish, vegetables and fruits in the freezer can be refrozen safely, but food quality may suffer.

For more information about health concerns regarding flooding, click on the link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's web site below.

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