Saturday, April 30, 2011
08:03 AM


Food Safety After a Flood

Phyllis Flanigan
University of Missouri Extension

When emergencies strike, like the flood last week, you need to take extra precautions when cleaning up after the disaster.  According to experts from the University of Missouri you will need to discard all food and any garden produce. You will also want to disinfect your kitchen utensils and cookware and clean and disinfect all surfaces in the kitchen just like other parts of the home.

Contamination can occur if filth and disease in flood waters covers, drips, or seeps into food. Discard all foods packed in foil, cellophane, paper, cloth, or cardboard that has come into contact with flood waters. Even if the contents seem dry, they may not be safe. Also pitch flooded meats, fish, poultry, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

You will also need to get rid of foods packaged in crown-capped bottles and glass or plastic jars and bottles because filth from the flood waters can get under the lip of these lids and contaminate food.  Throw away home canned foods covered with flood water. You can sterilize the empty jars and rings, and discard the flats.  Also pitch cans that are bulging or damaged because they will not be safe.

Garden produce exposed to flood waters will not be safe to eat. Do not try to disinfect, save or preserve the crops Ė not even the root crops. Experts say that if plants survive, the new produce that forms on them after the flood waters have receded is safe to eat. It will take about a month for gardens to become clean.

Use only foods that are sealed in airtight metal cans. Donít open them until you sanitize the cans. Remove labels and mark the contents on the cans with a permanent marker. Wash cans in a strong detergent solution. Use a scrub brush to remove all the dirt. You can sanitize by two methods. The first method is to put the cans in a bleach solution for two minutes. The solution is made of one tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach to one gallon of water.  The second method is to place cans in boiling water and boil for 10 minutes.  Then air-dry the cans.

How do you disinfect kitchen utensils and cookware? Wash all pots, pans, china, glass dishes, and cups that have been covered by flood waters with hot, soapy, disinfected water. To disinfect or purify water you can boil it vigorously for 3 minutes, or add unscented chlorine bleach (one-half teaspoon per two and one-half gallons of water), or even add 12 drops of tincture of iodine per gallon of water.  Use a brush to remove all the dirt and rinse in disinfected water and air-dry.  Throw away all dishes with deep cracks.

Any piece of equipment that can be taken apart should be cleaned in pieces. Dip in a sanitizing bleach solution and rinse in disinfected water.  Remember that plastic cookware, utensils, plates, dishes, cups and wooden utensils and bowls cannot be disinfected. Get rid of them. Plastic baby bottles, nipples, and plastic storage containers must also be pitched.

Kitchen utensils made of iron will rust. You can remove rust by scouring with steel wool. Then sterilize with a bleach solution and season by applying a coat of cooking oil and place in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.

When cleaning and disinfecting, be sure to wash exposed skin, such as hands and feet, frequently in purified water. Wear rubber gloves for extra protection. As food waters recede, use a disinfectant to clean walls and woodwork from top to bottom. One cup of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water can be used as a disinfectant. Be careful not to mix bleach with ammonia to avoid harmful fumes.

Donít let the flood get the best of you and your family. Stop by your local University of Missouri Extension center and ask for the free disaster recovery packet entitled Resources for Your Flooded Home.  The Butler County office is located at 222 North Broadway, Poplar Bluff (686-8064).

University of Missouri Extension Programs are open to all.

University Outreach and Extension David Reinbott, reinbottd@missouri.edu
Agriculture Business Specialist
Last modified: April 30, 2011