Food safety before and after a flood

Food safety tips to prepare for and recover from flooding.

An aerial shot of a flooded neighborhood.
Photo: Pixabay.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flooding from thunderstorms causes more deaths than any other natural disaster. The combination of heavy rainfall, warming temperatures, melting snow and frozen ground are a recipe for flash flooding.  Floodwaters are dangerous and could contain pathogens including E.coli, Salmonella, Hepatitis A and norovirus.  It is important to take proper precautions before and after a flood to ensure the safety of your food.

If you live in an area that is prone to flooding, to stay above water, you may want to consider placing cement blocks under your refrigerators and freezers. If you keep canned goods and other foods in the basement or low cabinets, move them to a higher location. The Food and Drug Association recommends having unscented liquid household bleach on hand, an emergency supply of food and water and medication,  in addition to being prepared for power outages.  

Michigan State University Extension recommends not eating any unpackaged food that has come in contact with floodwater. 

Foods that should be discarded after contact with floodwater include:

  • Meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
  • Fresh produce.
  • Liquids or beverages in crown capped bottles or containers with pull-tops, corks or screw caps.
  • Unopened jars with waxed cardboard seals such as mayonnaise and salad dressing.
  • All foods in cardboard boxes, paper, foil, cellophane or cloth.
  • Spices, seasonings and extracts.
  • Home-canned foods.
  • Flour, sugar, grain, coffee and other staples in canisters.

Additionally, damaged cans that show signs of swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, rust or dents should be thrown away.

Items that can be saved after a flood include undamaged canned goods and commercial glass jars of food.  These items are safe if you remove the labels (which can harbor dangerous bacteria), label with a permanent marker, wash in warm water and detergent and immerse in a sanitizing solution. 

Wash all metal pots, pans, ceramic dishes and utensils in hot soapy water. Rinse, and then soak for 15 minutes in a bleach solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach per 1 gallon of water. Drink only purchased bottled water until you are certain your water supply is safe. Keep a three-day supply of water or a minimum of three gallons of water per person. Other emergency supplies include a hand can opener, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, camp stove or other emergency cooking equipment, flashlights, candles, matches and first aid kit. 

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