Script: Food Safety During Floods
Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service
Food Safety at home podcast series. These podcasts were
designed with you in mind - the consumer - who purchases and
prepares meat, poultry and processed egg products for your family and friends.
Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging
from safe storage, handling, and preparation of meat, poultry and
processed egg products to the importance of keeping foods safe
during a power outage.
So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Welcome to “Food Safety at Home.” This is Gertie Hurley with the Food Safety and
Inspection Service. I am your host for this segment. In a previous episode we talked about Food Safety
During a Power Outage.
Today we have Diane Van with us from the Food Safety Education Staff who will tell us
what we need to know to keep our food safe during - and after a flood.
Welcome to the show, Diane.
Thank you Gertie. It's my pleasure to be here.
A flood or other natural disaster can jeopardize the safety of your food.
Knowing how to keep the food safe and how to determine if food is safe will help lower
the potential loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness to you and your
Diane, I know that we say plan head for a flood, what things should we consider?
Yes Gertie. It’s important to plan ahead especially if you live in a flood area. Keep
an adequate supply of food, water and emergency equipment on hand. This includes
enough canned food to last 4 to 5 days, a hand can opener, battery powered radio,
extra batteries and emergency cooking equipment like a camp stove with fuel to operate
Also plan to store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated
water. Coolers are a great help for keeping food cold if the power will be out for
more than 4 hours-have a couple on hand along with frozen gel packs or ice. When your
freezer is not full, keep items close together-this helps the food stay cold longer.
And we shouldn't forget to pull out our thermometer, right?
That's right Gertie. Digital, dial, or instant-read food thermometers and appliance
thermometers will help you know if the food is at a safe temperature. Keep appliance
thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer at all times. When the power is out, an
appliance thermometer will always indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and
freezer no matter how long the power has been out. The refrigerator temperature
should be 40 °F or below; the freezer, 0 °F or below. If you’re not sure a particular
food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer.
What should we do if flood waters cover food that's stored on shelves and in cabinets?
Do not eat any food that may have come in contact with flood water. Discard any food
that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into
contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with
screw caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Also, discard cardboard
juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with
flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by
swelling, leaking, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or
crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual,
wheel-type can opener.
How should pots, pans, dishes, and utensils be cleaned?
Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with
soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling
in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of
unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest,
clearest water available).
What about drinking water Diane? Is that safe?
Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available. If
bottled water is not available. Boil water to make sure it is safe. Boiling water will
kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. If the water is
cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear
water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean
containers with covers.
Now, what if you can't boil water for drinking? What do you do then for drinking
If you can't boil the water, you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will
kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water.
If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw
off the clear water for disinfection. Add 1/8 teaspoon of regular, unscented, liquid
household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30
minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.
If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected
after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact
your local or state health department or agricultural extension agent for specific
What do you do if your refrigerator or freezer was submerged by flood waters?
If your refrigerator or freezer was submerged by flood waters-even partially, it is
unsafe to use and must be discarded. Make certain you "childproof" the units so that
children can’t get trapped inside.
Should food in the freezer be refrozen if it thawed or partially thawed?
Yes, the food may be safely refrozen if the food still contains ice crystals or is at
40 °F or below. You will have to evaluate each item separately. Be sure to discard any
items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw
meat or raw poultry juices. Partial thawing or refreezing may reduce the quality of
some food, but the food will remain safe to eat.
That’s it for this session. We’ve been talking to Diane Van from the Food Safety
Education Staff. Thank you Diane for your helpful advice. I am Gertie Hurley. I’d like
to thank you for joining us for this episode of "Food Safety at Home" and remember,
"Be Food Safe."
Well, that’s all for this time. Thanks for joining us today
for another episode of food safety at home!
For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free
meat and poultry hotline at 1-888-mphotline. That’s
You can also get answers to food safety questions online from our
virtual representative "ask karen" at
Let us know what you think of this podcast by sending your
comments to email@example.com.
Thanks for tuning in.
Last Modified: August 5, 2008