Food safety during and after a flood

Many Michigan communities are at risk of flooding in the weeks to come. Take preventative measures to spare your food and water.

It has been a cold and snowy winter in Michigan. That snow will eventually melt, releasing locked up water. Warming temperatures, melting snow and frozen ground combined are a recipe for flash flooding. Adding the impending spring rains and you will have a lot of accumulating water at once. Flood waters are dangerous and may contain sewage or other harmful substances. It is important to take proper precautions before and after a flood to ensure the safety of your food.

If you live in an area that is subject to floods, you may want to consider placing cement blocks under your refrigerators and freezers. If you keep canned goods and other foods in the basement or low cabinets, move them to a higher location. Items that can be saved in a flood include undamaged canned goods and commercial glass jars of food. These items can be saved if you: Remove the labels (which can harbor dangerous bacteria), mark with permanent marker, wash in warm water and detergent and immerse in a sanitizing solution of one tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of water for 15 minutes, and air dry. Damaged cans may show signs of swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, rust or dents and should be thrown away.

Flooded foods that should be discarded include:

  • Meat, poultry, fish and eggs
  • Fresh produce
  • Liquids or beverages in crown capped bottles or containers with pull-tops, corks or screw caps
  • Unopened jars with waxed cardboard seals such as mayonnaise and salad dressing
  • All foods in cardboard boxes, paper, foil, cellophane or cloth
  • Spices, seasonings and extracts
  • Home-canned foods
  • Opened containers and packages
  • Flour, sugar, grain, coffee and other staples in canisters

Wash all metal pots, pans, ceramic dishes and utensils in hot soapy water. Rinse, and then soak for 15 minutes in a bleach solution of one tablespoon of bleach per one gallon of water. Drink only purchased bottled water until you are certain your water supply is safe. Keep a three day supply of water, or a minimum of three gallons of water per person. Other emergency supplies include: Hand can opener, battery powered radio, extra batteries, camp stove or other emergency cooking equipment, flashlights, candles, matches, and first aid kit.

Michigan State University Extension recommends not eating or drinking anything that has come into contact with flood waters. When in doubt, throw it out!

For more information on emergency preparedness contact the Extension Disaster Education Network.

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