Food Safety after flooding
If you don’t know someone named #Harvey, by now – am sure that you don’t want to see anything named Harvey come close to you – especially if you live in the great state of Texas, like me.
There has been countless homes (including a few relatives and friends of mine) flooded from this epic hurricane #Harvey event and as they get ready to begin the recovery phase, wanted to share a few safety tips with y’all.
After flooding and hurricane, one needs to review all food and food preparation areas and equipment to decide what to keep or throw away. Flooding, can contaminate the public water supply as well (did you hear about city of Beaumont?). Water in the hurricane-affected area may not be safe to drink. Local announcements from radio stations and health department should provide updated information on the water supply in your area.
- Don’t eat food that may have come into contact with flood water. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Don’t eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth and similar containers that have been water damaged.
- Don’t save food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops and home canned foods, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected and this is not a way to save a few $.
If you have commercially-prepared foods in metal cans or retort pouches, they can be saved.
- Remove all labels
- Thoroughly wash the cans, rinse them and then disinfect them
Sanitizing solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water should be adequate.
- If tap water is not potable or is questionable, follow these directions:
- Use clean (fresh bought) bottled water if it is available.
- DIY: You can boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. Cloudy water can be filtered through clean cloths and boiled. Boil the water and let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.
- DIY: If you don’t have power or gas available, you can disinfect water using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. If water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths, and draw off clear water for disinfection. Add ⅛ 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 water well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.
Food Contact Surfaces and Equipment
- Wear protective clothing, such as gloves, to avoid skin contact, irritation or infection while cleaning.
- Discard ALL wooden equipment (cutting boards, dishes and utensils), plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers that have come into contact with flood water. These items cannot be safely cleaned.
- Metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils (including can openers): Clean with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and sanitize by boiling in clean water or immersing for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).
- Countertops: Clean with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow to air dry.
- Don’t avoid cleaning corners, cracks and crevices, door handles and door seals in rooms that have been affected by flood water.
- If the power in a refrigerator goes out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
- Once the power is restored, determine the safety of your food. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
- Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the door was kept closed. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
- Perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.
- Discard refrigerators that have been submerged in flood water, or if enough moisture was present from liquefied food items to reach the insulation inside the equipment.
- Run your dishwasher (empty) through three complete cycles to flush the water lines and assure that they are cleaned internally before washing dishes and utensils in it.
I am not a medical physician and I am not able to provide your health and well-being suggestions but don’t forget to ask them and/or check with your local health department for tips and safety.
I wish each and every one of you a quick recovery and send my prayers for you and your families.