Floods can wreak havoc in farm fields and basements, but they can also make a mess in your kitchen. While food safety might not be what you immediately think about when you imagine the effects of flooding, it should be taken into consideration. What steps can you take to keep food safe in a flood?
Throw it Out
If you even think your food came into contact with flood water, toss it.
If boxes, paper, or plastic packaging has been damaged by water, don’t eat the food inside.
Do not eat foods or drink beverages that have screw-caps, twist caps (think soda or juice bottles), flip tops, or home canned foods if they have been in contact with flood water. There is no way to disinfect these items effectively. Bottled water that has not been in contact with flood water is safe to use.
Wooden cutting boards, wooden utensils, baby bottle nipples, or pacifiers that may have been contaminated by flood waters.
Ice in ice machines. Clean and sanitize with 1 Tbsp bleach to 1 gallon of drinking water on the interior of the ice machine, and then run through three cycles, discarding the ice after each run.
Sanitize and Save
Undamaged commercially canned foods can be saved if you remove the paper label, wash the outside of the can, rinse it, and then disinfect them with a solution of 1 Tbsp. of bleach in 1 gallon of potable water. After you have sanitized the cans, you can write the name of the food and the expiration date on the can for later use.
Run an empty dishwasher completely three times to ensure that water lines are flushed and cleaned before running dishes in it.
If bottled water is not available, boiling water can help kill harmful bacteria that can make you sick. If the water is cloudy, let it settle or filter through clean cloth, and then boil it. Once cool, store the water in a clean container with a cover.
Water that comes from a well that has been flooded should be tested and disinfected after the level of water has gone down. If you think your well is contaminated, it is best to contact your state or local health department for guidance.
Finally, when cleaning, protect yourself by wearing gloves to avoid skin contact and potential infection.
Here are some more tips from the FDA on flooding, power outages, and food safety.