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Food Safety During Flood Conditions

Potential hazards present in flood waters. Flood waters can contain foodborne pathogens, sewage, petroleum products and heavy metals as well as other contaminants. Some contaminants cannot be removed using standard cleaning and sanitation practices (product reconditioning) and cannot be removed using proper cooking procedures. Therefore, FDA guidelines state that many food products must be destroyed after exposure to flood waters.

Safety of food products. Do not consume any food products that may have been in contact with flood waters. Discard any home canned foods; they cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized. Discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula containers. Discard glass containers and containers with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps.

Safety of crops and fresh fruits and vegetables exposed to flooding. Crops (produce prior to harvest) and harvested, fresh fruits and vegetables exposed to flood waters are not safe for consumption. These products cannot be reconditioned, and the FDA considers them adulterated product (unfit for human consumption) that cannot enter the food chain.

Safety of commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans. After exposure to flood waters, commercially prepared foods in all metal cans must be properly cleaned and sanitized prior to use. Do not use any damaged cans; cans appear damaged if signs of leakage, holes, punctures or extensive deep rusting or severe denting that would prevent normal stacking or opening exist. Proper sanitation involves:

  1. Remove labels, if possible, which can harbor dirt.
  2. Wash in soap and hot water using a scrub brush.
  3. Wipe away all dirt and silt.
  4. Rinse with water that is safe for drinking. Any excess dirt or soap will reduce the effectiveness of chlorine sanitation.
  5. Sanitize by full immersion in one of the two following ways, being sure to use water that is safe for drinking (or if not available, the cleanest, clearest water available):
    • place in water, allow water to come to a boil and boil for 10 minutes
    • place in a freshly-made solution of 1 tablespoon unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water for 15 minutes
  6. Air dry cans for at least 1 hour before opening or storing
  7. Re-label with product name and expiration date (if available) using a marker
  8. Use food in cleaned and sanitized cans as soon as possible
  9. Concentrated baby formula in cleaned and sanitized cans must be diluted with clean drinking water
  10. For cooking, boil contents for 10 minutes before eating.

Sanitation of utensils and food preparation surfaces. All utensils and cookware (including can openers) should be washed in soap and hot water. Rinsed thoroughly in clean water and sanitized as described in step 5 above (boiling water or 15 minute immersion in chlorinated water). Countertops should be washed with soap and hot water, rinsed with clean water and sanitized using a chlorine bleach solution (1 tablespoon unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon drinking water). Allow surfaces to air dry prior to use.