Food Safety During Flood Disasters
When returning to your home after a flood you may need to evaluate the safety of food that was in your home.
If electricity has been off, the foods you keep in the refrigerator and freezer may become unsafe to eat even if they have not been contaminated by floodwater.
Without power, the refrigerator section will keep foods cool for 4-6 hours - if the door is kept closed, an upright or chest freezer that is completely full will keep food frozen for about two days. A half-full freezer will keep food frozen for one day. Avoid opening and closing the freezer unnecessarily.
Throw out perishable foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and leftovers that have been at temperatures above 4°C for more than two hours.
Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food, but the food will remain safe to eat. Foods that have thawed in the freezer may be re-frozen if they still contain ice crystals or are at 4°C or below.
Discard food that has been contaminated or spoiled due to water damage. You should also discard boxed foods, fresh vegetables and fruit, bottled drinks and home preserves, as well as medicines, cosmetics and toiletries if there is water damage. When disposing of food, do so in a manner that will not encourage or attract pests.
It is hard to make food directly exposed to flood waters safe to eat, especially if it has become heavily contaminated. Washing, sanitizing and properly cooking food may not destroy dangerous bacteria and chemical contaminants. Never eat or drink uncooked or raw foods exposed to flood waters, even if you have tried to wash and sanitize them.
Throw out previously opened bottled food and drink products because it is very hard to clean under the caps. Throw out unopened bottles if the contents show signs of seepage.
All dishes and utensils and food contact surfaces, such as drawers, shelves, cutting boards and countertops should be washed with warm soapy water, and then sanitized with boiling water or a diluted bleach solution of approximately one part bleach to 10 parts water.
Some sealed or canned food may be salvageable but should have labels removed and be washed and sanitized to ensure that when opened, the food won’t get contaminated. Cans must be discarded if there are any punctures, damaged or broken seals, if the contents show signs of seepage, or if the container is bulging or damaged.
A sanitizing mixture can be made by mixing 40 mL of household bleach in 1 litre of water (5 ounces or 10 tablespoons of 5 to 6 per cent household bleach to 1 gallon of water.
More information on precautions that should be taken regarding food that has come into contact with floodwaters, please visit the following Health Files
- Clean-up Following a Flood
- HealthLinkBC Food Safety
- Government of Canada: Food Safety in an Emergency
Wash your hands often if you have been cleaning up after a flood, especially before handling or eating food.
Infants and young children are especially vulnerable in an emergency.
Breastfeeding is the safest way to feed your baby. Offer the breast often, for nutrition and comfort.
- Breastfeeding (HealthLinkBC File #70)
- You can find more information on how to safely breastfeed your baby and/or young child during COVID-19 here
Babies who are formula-fed are at highest risk during an emergency. It can be difficult to safely prepare infant formula if you do not have clean water or electricity. Check local water quality advisories before using water to mix with formula or to clean and disinfect feeding equipment. Follow any guidance provided by local public health officials. If you don't know if your water is safe, use ready-to-feed infant formula.
- Feeding Your Baby Formula: Before You Start (HealthLinkBC File 69a)
- Feeding Your Baby Formula: Safely Making and Storing Formula (HealthLinkBC File 69b)
- Government of British Columbia: Water Quality Notifications
You can find more information on how to safely feed your baby during COVID-19 if you are using or thinking about using infant formula here.
Additional information available here:
If you have any concerns around infant formula or need advice on acceptable short-term alternatives, contact your local public health office or call 8-1-1 to speak with a nurse or dietitian at HealthLink BC.