Don't Delay Food Cleanup But Be Careful

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Release date: 
July 25, 1999
Release Number: 
1282-05

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Disaster officials of both Iowa Emergency Management Division (IEMD) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urge owners of flood-damaged property not to delay cleaning their homes but to proceed cautiously.

Renters and homeowners should assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated. Mud left by floodwater can contain chemicals from sources as varied as your garden chemicals to a neighbor's septic tank to the oven cleaner you stored in the kitchen. It is important to clean everything touched by floodwaters as quickly as possible. Always wash your hands with soap and clean water after working in the area.

Cleanup carries its own risks. In addition to the potential contamination from floodwaters, there are other dangers. Before entering a building, inspect it. Be on the lookout for structural problems. Walls, floors, doors, windows, and foundations may have been weakened and damaged by moving and soaking floodwaters. Check for loose plaster, weakened floors, and ceilings that could fall.

Protect yourself. Wear sturdy shoes, long pants, and gloves. Carry battery-operated flashlights or lanterns to examine interior damage. Do not use matches or other open flames because gas may be trapped inside.

Make sure electricity is turned off. Call your utility company. Just because breakers are tripped, it doesn't mean that electric current isn't still coming to the building. Keep the power off until the electrical system is inspected. If you see sparks or broken and frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, call an electrician. Unplug appliances and lamps, remove light bulbs and remove the cover plates of wall switches and outlets that got wet. If local building codes allow you to disconnect switches and outlets from wiring, do so and replace the switches and outlets. If your building inspector says you cannot disconnect the wiring, pull the switches and outlets forward, away from the wall, and leave them connected.

Take photographs of flood damage to both the building and its contents for insurance claims. If possible, take pictures that show the high-water marks left on walls as well as other damage.

Watch out for animals, especially snakes, that may have been swept into your property. Use a stick to poke any debris.

Throw away food that has come in contact with floodwaters, including unopened jars.

In addition, homes and apartments that have flood damage are likely to have damp areas where molds, mildews, and other fungal organisms thrive. Since molds and related organisms may cause respiratory problems, it is important to use proper procedures in cleaning flood-damaged homes. A combination of household bleach and soap or detergent can be used to wash down walls, floors, and other mold-contaminated areas. This will eliminate fungal problems and their inherent dangers. Follow directions on containers and pay careful attention to all warnings on labels.

Don't let floodwater sit for long. Use a mop, squeegee, or wet/dry vacuum cleaner to remove standing water. Remove as much mud as possible. Plan to disinfect the basement at a later date. Once you've checked the water system for leaks, hose down the inside of the house and its contents. It's best to use an attachment that sprays soap to wash and rinse the walls, floors, furniture, sockets, electrical boxes and other major items that got muddy.

Disconnect and remove heating and cooling registers and ducts, then hose the ducts to prevent contamination from blowing through them at a later date. After hosing ductwork, wash with commercially available disinfectant or sanitizer. If ducts are in a slab or otherwise inaccessible, have them cleaned professionally.

People are often poisoned by carbon monoxide when using gasoline-powered appliances such as power washers or generators in clean up. Any fuel-powered small engine will produce carbon monoxide and ...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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