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If flood water touched my food, can I still use it?

A readers preparedness pantry was flooded and wants to know if the food is able to be salvaged.

Dear Tess,

Help! Our basement flooded and the water got on some of our emergency food? Can I save it?



Hi Angela,

I’m sorry to hear about your home being effected by a flood. Some food can be saved if it has been exposed to flood waters. Floodwater often contains infectious organisms, including intestinal bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; Hepatitis A Virus; and agents of typhoid, paratyphoid and tetanus. It also may be contaminated by agricultural or industrial chemicals or by hazardous agents present at flooded hazardous waste sites.

According to the FDA, “undamaged, commercially-prepared foods in all-metal cans or retort pouches can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash the cans, rinse them, and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water. Finally, re-label containers that had the labels removed, including the expiration date, with a marker.”

Moreover, because other food sources could have been tainted, do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. If in doubt, throw it out! Further, do not eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth, and similar containers that have been water damaged. Foods and beverages with  screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops, and home canned foods should also be discarded, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected.

Your water sources may also be tainted. If the water is not potable or is questionable and bottled water is not available, then follow these directions to purify it:

  • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available.
  • If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil water to make it 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.
  • If you can’t boil 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 (or 8 drops) 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 agriculture extension agent for specific advice.

Again, I’m sorry to hear about the flood and I hope that some of your emergency food can be saved. Best of luck!



This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on May 19th, 2013

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