Strong winds and heavy rain continue to wreak havoc across parts of the South today as Hurricane Michael meanders out of Georgia and heads up the mid-Atlantic Coast.
In addition to the devastating damage that is immediately visible today, less obvious hazards in the wake of the massive storm are expected to last weeks. Food safety dangers come in various forms and can cause severe illnesses and deaths as floodwaters recede.
Among the most vulnerable foods are fresh fruits and vegetables. They are breeding grounds for pathogens when power outages cause the loss of refrigeration and temperature control. Fresh produce that comes into contact with floodwater can be instantly contaminated with a wide range of bacteria, viruses and parasites.
The toxic composition of floodwater is such a serious food safety hazard that federal law prohibits the sale, distribution or donation of any produce or other food crops from fields that are flooded. Special inspections are required before such crops can even be used for animal feed.
Hurricane Michael leaves behind a treacherous, dangerous landscape that will likely pose risks to human health for weeks to come, experts say.
The water itself can carry bacteria and viruses that pose a major health hazard.
Among the medical dangers are cholera, Hepatitis A and vibriosis, said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Glatter said storm victims need to stay focused on staying healthy while they await recovery efforts. That may mean not rushing outside as soon as the skies clear.
“Don’t panic— try to take things one step at a time when you feel overwhelmed,” he said.