Outrage over the outage

Ashley Chaifetz, a PhD student studying public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, writes:

Winter storm Pax pelted North Carolina with an initial dose of snow and freezing rain, and is now traveling north on I-95. Although I’ve been fortunate so far, power outages are already affecting hundreds of thousands of Southerners. Losing electricity can be a nightmare — especially if it is for more than a couple of hours.1920543_10152192564303431_259801825_n
Alongside 4,500 of our neighbors, we spent four nights in a row without power in DC in the summer of 2013. It was  hot and humid, with temperatures in the 90s F not C). Our attempts to cook without electricity in the dark felt very much like a modern version of Little House on the Prairie. All I could think was that, if this was hurricane or a snowstorm, we would have had time to prepare (but maybe not).
There are currently 800,000 people without power from the snowstorm, leaving many with a food safety situation — a refrigerator with most of last week’s vegetables, defrosting chicken, jars of jams, peanut butter, and tomato sauce, cartons of eggs, chunks of cheese, quarts of milk, and once-canned goods stored in Tupperware. I know I would not be ready to toss all those vegetables into the compost, but depending on the time and temperature, some fridge contents will have to go.
According to USDA FSIS’s estimates, a closed fridge will keep its contents at refrigeration temperatures for about four hours and a closed freezer will keep food close to freezing for about 48 hours after the power goes out. If food temperatures rise above 41°F for more than four hours, pathogens within any meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy products (as well as many cooked foods) can grow to problematic levels. There is an increased risk in pastatemperature-abused leftovers made with high-protein foods (meat and meat substitutes); soft cheeses; milk and cream-based products; sliced tomatoes and cut leafy greens; and cooked pasta or rice. In the freezer, if meat, poultry, seafood or dairy products still have ice crystals, you can refreeze them when the power returns. If they are thawed for more than a couple of hours, they can be risky.
Making the risk management decision without a fridge/freezer thermometer and a food thermometer is tough and losing a bunch of food can be an expensive lesson. It isn’t a fantastic idea to guess temperatures without a thermometer, either; a guesstimate can increase risk of illness or lead to more waste.

Merry Christmas North Carolina, it’s noro season

After a couple of days in the 70s (that’s above 21C for the non-Americans) the weather in North Carolina has turned cold and crisp. Along with the cooler weather comes the seasonal warning for increased norovirus illnesses.Water plant
Noroviruses haven’t always been called noroviruses. In 1929 Dr. John Zahorsky wrote about children developing sporadic cases of vomiting, supplemented by watery diarrhea each year between November and May – and over 30 years of clinical practice, he coined the term winter vomiting sickness. According to a 1950 Time Magazine article, Dr. Zahorsky was a pediatrician working extolling the vitures of good sanitation during birth and infant care – one of the fathers of disease prevention.

In 1968, one of these winter vomiting sickness outbreaks occurred in an elementary school in Norwalk, OH. Teachers and students were both affected, with 32% of the primary cases spreading illness to others in their families and homes. After a collaborative investigation with researchers from NIH and Walter-Reed Army medical center a causative agent was found in the feces of the ill — a 27nm sized virus particle. Zahorsky’s illnesses then took on the name Norwalk. Since then, the name has morphed to Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses, which begat noroviruses.

As the weather turns cold, noro in the population emerges and becomes somewhat more stable in the environment. According to the Raleigh News and Observer lots of folks in North Carolina are getting sick.

With two outbreaks in North Carolina last week now confirmed as norovirus, the season for the hard-to-fight intestinal illness has begun, say state health officials.

The state Department of Health and Human Services is tracking 29 cases so far in Henderson and another six in Alamance County, said Ricky Diaz, a department spokesman.