Food safety after flooding
- Published: Wednesday, July 27, 2022
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Floods can devastate property and have lasting effects on a community. In the aftermath, people might not think about the consequences flooding can have on food.
Floodwater often contains sewage or animal waste that could contaminate foods with harmful organisms, said Londa Nwadike, food safety specialist for University of Missouri Extension and Kansas State Research and Extension.
Organisms in floodwater might include pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, which can cause foodborne illness.
“Floodwaters might also contain petroleum products such as gasoline and oil, which can cause nausea, vomiting and other short- and long-term effects if consumed in large quantities,” she said.
When in doubt, throw it out
The only foods you can keep after exposure to floodwater are commercially prepared foods in undamaged metal cans and retort pouches. Retort pouches are used to package items such as shelf-stable juices.
“All other foods exposed to floodwater should be thrown away,” Nwadike said.
This includes food in the refrigerator and freezer, as well as all foods in boxes, paper, foil or cloth. Also dispose of spices, seasonings and extracts. Throw away any home-canned foods exposed to floodwater, as it is difficult to properly disinfect the seals.
Toss out flooded foods stored in open containers, packages or canisters, as well as foods with caps and pull-tabs, such as condiments and soft drinks.
Clean and disinfect
Don’t open cans or retort pouches until you have sanitized them. Remove labels and note the contents with a permanent marker. Brush or wipe away any dirt or silt. Wash the containers thoroughly with soap and water, then rinse.
You can sanitize cans and retort pouches by two methods. The first method is to put them in a bleach solution for 15 minutes. Use 1 tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach for every gallon of water. The second method is to place them in continuously boiling water for two minutes, then air-dry.
Thoroughly wash all metal and ceramic utensils and cookware with hot, soapy water. Then rinse and disinfect by boiling in clean water or immerse for 15 minutes in a bleach solution.
Throw away all dishes with deep cracks. Plastic cookware, utensils, plates, dishes, cups, and wooden utensils and bowls can’t be disinfected, so get rid of them. Plastic baby bottles, nipples and storage containers must also be pitched.
For more information
- “Resources for Your Flooded Home” (MU Extension publication MP904), extension.missouri.edu/mp904.
- “Food Safety After a Flood” (K-State/MU Extension fact sheet), www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/MF3199.pdf.
- "Frequently Asked Questions About Handling Flooded Produce" (MU Extension/K-State fact sheet), missourifamilies.org/foodsafety/newsletters/FSfactsheet_FloodedProduceFAQ.pdf.
- More flood-related resources at extension.missouri.edu/programs/flood-resources.
- “What Consumers Need to Know About Food and Water Safety During Hurricanes, Power Outages, and Floods” (U.S. Food and Drug Administration food facts for consumers), www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/food-and-water-safety-during-power-outages-and-floods.
Writer: Curt Wohleber