Disaster Preparedness and Recovery

Food Safety After a Flood

Floodwaters may carry silt, raw sewage, oil, or chemical waste, which can make storm-damaged foods unsafe to eat. If you have a question about the safety of any item, dispose of it.

Discard the following foods if they have been exposed to floodwaters:

  • Fresh produce, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs
  • Any food in boxes and sealed packages even if the contents seem dry
  • Food in glass jars, including unopened jars with waxed paper, foil, cellophane or cloth covers
  • Home-canned foods (Some tightly sealed home-canned foods may be safe depending on conditions. Contact a food preservation specialist or local health department for advice.)
  • Preserves sealed with paraffin; spices, seasonings, and extracts
  • All opened containers and packages
  • Foods in bags or canisters
  • Cans that are dented, leaking, bulging, or rusted; cans that have been tossed about and are far from their normal storage spot
  • All foods that were covered by water that may have been contaminated with industrial water, including foods sealed in unopened cans

Cans of food that do not have dents or rust can be saved if they are handled properly before they are opened.

  • Be sure to wash and sanitize undamaged containers before opening the can. For added safety, boil food before using.
  • To disinfect undamaged cans, remove paper labels (paper can harbor bacteria) and relabel with a permanent marker.
  • Wash the containers in a strong detergent solution. Use a brush to remove any dirt and silt.
  • Rinse the scrubbed containers.
  • Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands during the disinfection process.
  • Immerse the clean, rinsed containers in a lukewarm (75 to 120 degrees F) solution of chlorine for 15 minutes. Use 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
  • It is important to change this disinfecting solution frequently. It must be dumped if you see the water starting to lose its clarity.
  • Remove the containers from the bleach solution and allow them to air dry before opening or storing. Use disinfected containers as soon as possible because they may rust.

Adapted from resource material developed by the North Dakota Extension Service entitled “Coping with Floods: After the Flood Information” WVU Extension Service Disaster and Emergency Management Resources
Food Safety After a Flood
Section 12.12 Page 2

Updated 7/15/15/mlb