By Stephanie Ostrowski, DVM

What you didn’t know about milk cows: Most people are vaguely aware that cows typically get milked twice a day. They are less likely to understand how and why it is important that dairy cows not miss a milking—as is likely to happen when dairies are affected by catastrophic weather like a hurricane. In addition to the lost milk production, unrelieved internal pressure in the mammary glands (from one or more missed milking cycles) creates a negative biofeedback loop. If pressure within the cows’ mammary glands is not relieved within a short time (24 hours), the negative biofeedback loop causes cows to decrease, and then (after about 72 hours) actually cease milk production. If the teat sphincter functionality is compromised (causing them to leak milk), cows are also more likely to develop mastitis (a form of inflammation caused by bacterial infections). During Hurricane Rita in 2005, approximately half the commercial dairy farms in Mississippi were put out of business within a week because they did not have back-up generators to provide emergency power for their milking operations when the electric grid sustained severe damage. Although the Mississippi Commissioner for Agriculture urgently requested emergency generators from FEMA, at that time dairy farms were not classified as “essential infrastructure,” and his request was denied. Twelve years later, both the farmers who make up the dairy industry and FEMA are better prepared to respond to power outages affecting time-sensitive and essential U.S. food security infrastructure — including dairy cows! Read more about the effect of Hurricane Irma on Florida’s dairy industry HERE.


Pathogens from flood waters can’t be washed off fresh produce: The state of Florida produces more fresh fruits and vegetables than any other state except California, and is the top tomato state in the country. As with backyard gardens, Hurricane Irma has turned many of Florida’s commercial fruit and vegetable fields into patches of pathogens that can’t be washed away. From the Food and Drug Administration to county extension agents, experts on fresh produce are warning of the dangers of eating fresh produce that has been touched by floodwaters. Even the thick rinds of pumpkins and melons cannot protect the edible portion of the produce if it has been exposed to floodwater. READ MORE

USDA approves actions to help SNAP families: USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) recently approved a temporary waiver and supported other actions that will help households participating in the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Florida, Georgia and the Virgin Islands and the Nutrition Assistance Program in Puerto Rico access food in the wake of Hurricane Irma. FNS also is working closely with the affected states and territories to be ready, if appropriate, to make use of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) to offer continuing food assistance after commercial channels of food distribution have been restored and families are able to prepare food at home. READ MORE.


Flood waters continue to pose safety threat: As flooding from the recent hurricanes subside across the United States, people are moving back into flooded, homes, businesses and schools, in order to salvage whatever possessions may remain. Entrance into still or formally flooded areas can be quite risky because of debris, heavy metals, chemical pollutants, molds and bacteria. Appropriate safety equipment is essential. Decontamination is best done by professionals, but beyond the financial reach of many home and business owners. Guidelines for safe cleanup are available from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) HERE and HERE.

Tests show Houston flood waters contaminated with bacteria, toxins: Floodwaters in two Houston neighborhoods have been contaminated with bacteria and toxins that can make people sick, testing organized by The New York Times has found. Residents will need to take precautions to return safely to their homes, public health experts said. It is not clear how far the toxic waters have spread. But Fire Chief Samuel Peña of Houston said over the weekend that there had been breaches at numerous waste treatment plants. READ MORE.

Meat processing companies have room to improve water procedures: Meat processing companies have continued varying efforts to reduce their risks associated with water scarcity, but they have plenty of room for improvement compared with others in the food sector, according to a new benchmarking analysis published Monday. The second “Feeding Ourselves Thirsty” report is published by by Ceres, a nonprofit organization working with major investors in publicly traded companies to find sustainable solutions to challenges including water scarcity, pollution, climate change and human rights abuses. READ MORE

Are our hurricane models out of date? Last week, researchers at the University of California, Davis, overlaid FEMA’s flood-zone maps on top of satellite imagery of the devastating flooding around Houston after Harvey poured more than 40 inches of rain across the region. The preliminary assessment found that two-thirds of the inundation occurred outside the federal agency’s 100-year floodplains, and more than half of the deluge happened “outside of any mapped flood zone,” even including 500-year events, in areas that should face only “minimal flood hazard.” Harvey was rare in its severity, but this also  arguably highlights inadequacies in our federal flood risk assessments; by some calculations Harvey represents the third “500-year” flood in the Houston area in the past three years. READ MORE


Man poisoned by apricot kernel extract: A 67-year-old man has developed cyanide poisoning after consuming apricot kernel extract, according to the journal BMJ Case Reports. Apricot kernels, which come from splitting the stone inside apricots, contain amygdalin which is converted to cyanide in the human body. Apricot kernels have been touted as a new “superfood,” as a new “superfood”, bursting with vitamins, with potential cancer-fighting properties, and a vital ingredient in detoxes. Read more HERE and HERE.


Sanitary street washing started because of hepatitis outbreak: Sanitary street washing will commence in downtown San Diego and will continue every other week to combat the city’s deadly hepatitis A outbreak. The city is responding to a letter sent by San Diego County, asking the city to move forward with a list of specific sanitation actions designed to help control the spread of the disease, which has killed 15 people and hospitalized nearly 300, many of them homeless and living on streets without adequate access to restrooms or showers. READ MORE


Could ship navigation be ‘highjacked’? Recent fatal accidents involving two vessels in the U.S. Seventh Fleet have led to speculation about whether somehow navigation was compromised by a cyber intrusion, and Global Positioning System (GPS) spoofing has been highlighted as a possible contributing factor. Investigations are still underway, but there have been incidences of GPS “spoofing” against commercial shipping and targeting other nation’s vessels. The threat is considered so serious that just last month, the U.S., South Korea, and the UK announced they are returning to radio navigation as a back-up to repeated disruptions of GPS ship locations systems. READ MORE