The Safety of Food and Water After a Flood

 

Food safety after a flood

If flood waters have covered food stored on shelves, in cabinets, in coolers or in refrigerators…

Flood waters may be tainted with toxic or dangerous chemical or physical contaminants and/or pathogenic microbiological contaminants.   When food is packaged or stored in a container that is not waterproof, it should be thrown out if it comes in contact with flood water.  Some containers or types of packaging that are NOT waterproof include:

  • Cardboard boxes (remember, some “cans” are actually cardboard containers, such as dry drink mixes, nuts, and other foods)
  • Egg cartons
  • Cardboard drink cartons that may contain juice or milk
  • Plastic wrap
  • Cans or bottles with screw on caps, snap lids, pull tops or crimped caps

Throw out any raw fruits or vegetables, cartons of eggs or boxes containing juice, milk, cereals, rice, pasta, dinner kits or convenience mixes.

Canned foods should be inspected before using.  Discard any food in a damaged can—if the can is swollen, bulging, or leaking; there are holes, punctures, deep crushing or denting; or extensive rusting.

Home canned foods should not be salvaged if they come into contact with flood water.  They cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.

Salvaging commercially processed foods

Undamaged commercial foods that are packaged in all metal cans (some boxes look like cans—such as those that nuts are packaged in) or retort pouches (such as flexible shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches), can be made safe for eating.  Here are the steps to follow:

  • Remove the labels, if they are the removable kind, since they can harbor dirt and bacteria.
  • Thoroughly wash the cans or retort pouches with soap and water, using hot water if it is available.
  • Brush or wipe away any dirt or silt.
  • Rinse the cans or retort pouches with water that is safe for drinking, if available, since dirt or residual soap will reduce the effectiveness of chlorine sanitation.
  • Then, sanitize them by immersion in one of the two following ways:
  • Place in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for 2 minutes, or
  • Place in a freshly made solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available) for 15 minutes. 
  • Air‐dry cans or retort pouches for a minimum of 1 hour before opening or storing.
  • If the labels were removable, then re‐label your cans or retort pouches, including the expiration date (if available), with a marker.
  • Food in reconditioned cans or retort pouches should be used as soon as possible, thereafter.
  • Any concentrated baby formula in reconditioned, all‐metal containers must be diluted with clean, drinking water

Cleaning pots, pans, dishes, and utensils

Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).

Cleaning countertops

Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow to air‐dry.

Safe drinking water

The safest plan is to use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available.

If you don't have bottled water, you should boil water to make sure it is safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease‐causing organisms that may be present. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean, food grade containers with covers.

If you can't boil water, you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease‐causing organisms that may be in the water. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for disinfection. Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.

If you have a well that had been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department for specific advice.

Do you want to read more about this?

Keeping Food Safe During An Emergency.