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Keeping Food Safe Before and After a Flood (E3366)

February 23, 2018 - Author: Joyce McGarry

This bulletin replaces Michigan State University (MSU) Extension bulletin Meal Preparation and Food Safety During and After a Flood (WO1033), June 2006. Prepared by Joyce McGarry, MSU Extension Food Safety Educator.
When a natural disaster such as a flood strikes a community, the risk of getting a foodborne illness increases. Sewage or other harmful substances from the floodwaters may contaminate food in the home or environment. Take the proper precautions before and after a flood to ensure the safety of your food.

At all times

  • Plan your food storage on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water.
  • Keep coolers and frozen gel packs for food storage in case the power is out for more than 4 hours.
  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times to know your food is at safe temperatures. The refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below.

Before a flood

  • Raise refrigerators and freezers with cement blocks under each corner.
  • Move canned goods and other foods out of reach of floodwaters.

After a flood

Throw out:
  • All foods that have come in contact with floodwaters, if not in waterproof containers.
  • Cutting boards, plastic utensils, wooden spoons, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers. (There is no way to clean these items after they have come in
    contact with floodwaters)
  • Damaged canned items (those with swelling,
    leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, rusting, and
    crushing or denting that would not allow opening
    with a manual can opener).
  • Twist-top packages with damaged seams or
    unopened jars with waxed cardboard seals.
  • Fresh produce.
  • Home-canned foods.
  • Refrigerators or freezers that were under the
    floodwaters.

Save:

  • Undamaged canned goods and commercial glass
    containers of food untouched by floodwaters.
Remove labels that can harbor dangerous bacteria. Using a permanent marker, label the containers with contents and expiration date. Rinse the canned goods and commercial glass containers with potable, safe water. Sanitize one of two ways:
  • Place in water and allow the water to come to a
    boil. Continue boiling for 2 minutes. Air-dry before
    opening.
Or
  • Immerse in a fresh solution of 1 tablespoon
    unscented regular-strength (6%) bleach or
    1 teaspoon concentrated (8.25%) bleach per gallon
    of clean room-temperature water. Soak for 15 minutes. Air-dry before opening.

Pots, pans, dishes and utensils

  • Thoroughly wash with soap and water, using hot water if available.
  • Rinse and sanitize by:
Boiling in clean water for 10 minutes.
Or
Immersing in a fresh solution of 1 tablespoon unscented regular-strength (6%) bleach or 1 teaspoon concentrated (8.25%) bleach per gallon of clean room-temperature water for 15 minutes.

Countertops

  • Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water, using hot water if available.
  • Rinse and sanitize in a fresh solution of 1 tablespoon unscented regular-strength (6%) bleach or 1 teaspoon concentrated (8.25%) bleach per gallon of clean room-temperature water for 15 minutes.
  • Allow to air-dry.

Water

  • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to floodwaters if available.
  • Boil water to make sure it is safe. Boil for 1 minute.
  • Let cool and store in clean, covered containers.
  • If you cannot boil water, you can disinfect by adding 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented chlorine (6%) bleach to each gallon of water. Stir well. Let stand for 30 minutes and store in clean, covered containers.
  • Consider all wells, cisterns and other delivery systems in the disaster area unsafe until tested.

References and resources

Godwin, S. L., Coppings, R., Speller-Henderson, L., & Stone, R. W. (2012). What will you do when a disaster strikes? Cooperative Extension Faculty Research. (Paper 23). Tennessee State University.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2007, June). A consumer’s guide to food safety: Severe storms & hurricanes. (Rev. ed.)

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2013, July 30). Keeping food safe during an emergency. Retrieved from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safetyfact-sheets/emergency-preparedness/keepingfood-safe-during-an-emergency/CT_Index  


Related Topic Areas

Safe Food & Water, Food & Health, Severe Weather & Flooding


Authors

Joyce McGarry

Joyce McGarry
517-676-7207
mcgarryj@msu.edu

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