Food Safety after a Flood
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Floods can occur at any time and cause significant damage to homes and properties. Flood water may carry dirt, raw sewage, oil or chemical waste. If flood water comes into contact with a food item, it may contaminate it and should be discarded.
What do I do with food that may be unsafe because of a flood?
The best thing to do is throw away any food item that has been in contact with contaminated flood water. Even if a food package appears dry it may have been contaminated if the flood water seeps into food containers. Food that has been contaminated or spoiled may not look different. You cannot usually see chemicals or germs on food.
Carefully inspect all items that have been in direct contact with flood water. Throw out:
- All foods packaged in containers with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped-caps. Examples include soda beverages, juice beverages and bottled water.
- Foods wrapped or stored in paper, plastic, cloth, fiber or cardboard. Examples include meats, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, flour, sugar, candy, cereal, baked goods, dried beans, and rice.
- All partially opened glass or plastic jars and bottles with remaining food in them. Flood water may have seeped into the lids of these containers and contaminated the food.
- Home-canned food in glass containers. Throw away the food and flat part of the lids. The empty glass jars can be washed and sterilized for future use.
- Commercially-canned foods that are damaged. Cans that are bulging, swelling, leaking, punctured, dented or have holes, or are rusting should be thrown out.
- Porous utensils that may come in contact with food or with a person’s mouth. Examples include wooden bowls, plastic, paper or foam storage containers and utensils.
Note: Only food in commercially sealed, unopened, undamaged, water proof, airtight glass jars or metal cans may be considered safe once cleaned and sanitized before use.
How to clean up after a flood
It is important to clean and sanitize all surfaces and equipment that has been in contact with flood water. This includes: utensils/silverware, cookware, dishware, food contact surfaces, food preparation equipment, floors, floor sinks, floor drains, and furniture.
Use the following method to clean and sanitize surfaces and equipment:
- Wash with soap and warm water thoroughly
- Rinse with clean water
- Sanitize by spraying or immersing in:
- A mild bleach solution made with 5 mL (1 teaspoon) of unscented household bleach per 750 mL (3 cups) of water for at least two minutes; or
- Hot water of 77°C (170°F) or hotter
- Air dry thoroughly
Only undamaged, commercially-prepared foods in sealed, unopened, airtight, waterproof cans, or glass jars are safe to use. However, these cans or jars must be carefully inspected, cleaned and disinfected before use.
Cleaning and sanitizing steps:
- If possible, remove the labels on cans or jars since they could have come into contact with dirt or bacteria.
- After labels are removed, you can sanitize by placing them in a mild bleach solution made with 5 ml (1 tsp.) bleach per 750 ml (3 cups) of water for at least two minutes.
- Air-dry all cleaned food cans or jars to prevent potential contamination when the containers are opened. Be sure to re-label your cans or jars, including the “best before” date, with a permanent marker.
- Cans or jars that are cleaned and sanitized should be used as soon as possible.
- Cans that are bulging or damaged are unsafe and should be thrown away immediately.
Remember WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!
Canadian Food inspection Agency. (2019). Food Safety in an Emergency. Retrieved from https://inspection.canada.ca/food-safety-for-consumers/fact-sheets/food-handling/emergency/eng/1331578972167/1331579901110
Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture Food Safety. (n.d). Food Safety After a Flood. Retrieved from https://novascotia.ca/agri/documents/food-safety/factsheet-flood.pdf