Handle Food Safely Following a Flood
By: Ruth Vonderohe, UNL Extension Educator-Knox County
Examine food carefully after a flood. Contamination may occur if floodwaters have covered, dripped on or seeped into the food. Some foods may be protected by their containers. If you have any doubt about the safety of a food, it is always better to throw it out rather than risk disease.
The following guidelines will help you decide when to throw out foods and how to disinfect foods that can be saved.
Do not try to save the following foods if they have come in contact with floodwater:
-- Fresh produce from your garden, such as lettuce, cabbage and potatoes. In some situations, immature root crops may be safe if you do not harvest them for at least two weeks after the floodwaters recede. To be safe, however, have your local Extension office or health department test the garden soil for harmful bacteria.
-- Containers of nuts, spices, seasonings and flavorings.
-- Canisters or bags of grains, sugar, salt, coffee and tea.
-- Paper, plastic, cloth, fiber or cardboard boxes of food.
-- Plastic bags of food, even if boxes and containers inside the bags seem dry. These include pastas, cereals, rice, dried milk, crackers, cookies or mixes.
-- Screw-topped or crimp-topped jars or bottles of food that have been touched by floodwaters, even when jars have not been opened. This includes all home-canned foods in glass jars and bottles as well as all jams, jellies, honey, molasses, syrups, fruits, pickles, etc., in glass jars. There is no lid in use on glass food containers that will keep out water if the container is immersed.
-- Porous non-food items that are used with food or put into the mouth, and items made of hard rubber, plastic or other flexible (porous) materials, such as baby bottle nipples, pacifiers, and plastic or wooden dishes and utensils.
Disinfecting Food and Utensils After a Flood
Cans of Food. Cans that do not have dents or rust can be saved if they are handled properly before they are opened:
-- Remove labels. Use a permanent marker to immediately re-label each can.
-- Wash the cans in a strong detergent solution with a scrub brush to remove all silt.
-- Immerse scrubbed containers completely in a lukewarm solution of chlorine for one minute. See below for making a chlorine disinfecting solution.
-- Remove containers from the chlorine solution. Allow to air-dry before opening. Re-label with the permanent marker, if necessary. Use as soon as possible because containers may rust.
-- If it looks or smells wrong when you open a can or jar, discard it.
Dishes and Utensils. Glass, ceramic and china dishes, metal and glass cookware, glass baby bottles and empty canning jars can be saved in the following way:
-- Thoroughly wash them in a strong detergent solution, removing all filth and mud.
-- Disinfect china and glass dishes in a chlorine solution in the strengths described in the table below.
-- Disinfect metal pots, pans and utensils by boiling in water for 10 minutes.
Making a Chlorine Disinfecting Solution
Household bleaches contain from 2 to 6 percent chlorine. The amount of bleach to add to water depends on the percent chlorine it contains.
Check the bottle label and follow these guidelines:
-- For 2 percent chlorine in bleach, mix 2 teaspoons bleach per quart of water or 2 tablespoons per gallon.
-- For 4 percent chlorine in bleach, mix 1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water or 1 tablespoon per gallon.
-- For 6 percent chlorine in bleach, mix ½ teaspoon of bleach per quart of water or 2 teaspoons per gallon.
More (bleach) is NOT better. Chlorine can be harsh to hands, it is a carcinogen – so use chemicals as the label specifies.
Do not mix Chlorine bleach with other chemicals including dish detergent. Chlorine mixed with ammonia can cause a deadly gas. Ammonia may be in cleaning agents.
Source: Julie Albrecht, Ph.D., extension food safety specialist
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