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Food Safety during Floods and Other Emergencies

emergency food supplies

Nimitz Freeway after the 1989 earthquake. Oakland, California, USA. October 1989.

Floods, earthquakes, power outages, and other emergencies can easily contaminate your food supply, rendering it unfit to eat. Learning about food safety is an important part of disaster preparation. Here are some important tips to get you started.

Refrigerators and Freezers

The USDA recommends that you keep fish, poultry, meat, and eggs at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, while frozen food needs to stay at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. If your power goes out, keep your refrigerator door closed as much as possible, so that you preserve its cold air as long as you can.

In general, if you have a good quality refrigerator and it was sufficiently cold prior to the power outage, it will likely keep your food cold enough for about 4 hours, as long as the door stays closed. For freezers, the comparable amount of time is 24 hours for a half-full freezer or 48 hours for one that is full of food.

If your freezer is not full, group your frozen foods as closely together as possible, as this will help them stay cold for a longer period of time. Get either dry ice or blocks of ice to help keep your fridge and freezer as cold as possible for as long as you can. If possible, it is a good idea to find out where you could acquire block or dry ice ahead of time, before you are faced with an emergency.

Emergency Food Supply

To ensure that you have food to eat during a disaster, keep an emergency supply of food available that you will not need to heat or keep cold. Stock up on boxed and canned food, emergency jugs of water, powdered milk, and other items that you might need, along with a can opener and the necessary utensils. If you think your home is at risk of flooding, store this emergency food supply at a high enough location in your house that it will not be affected by floodwater. Have a few coolers available, as well as thermometers so you can tell if food is still at safe temperatures. Store the thermometers in your fridge and freezer so they are already there if you need them.

emergency food storage

Vehicles and debris line a canal in the downtown area of Ofunato, Japan, following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami. March 15, 2011.

Floods and Fires

If a flood occurs in or around your home, do not drink tap or well-water. Use bottled water until you are certain that the water supply is safe again. It is a good idea to keep 3 days worth of water on hand for such emergencies.

If flood water gets into your home and touches your food supply, throw the food away, even if it is sealed in packages or cans. Do not eat it. You should assume that all floodwater is contaminated, and you do not know whether the seal or can is 100% watertight. Also throw away plastic and wood kitchen utensils, pacifiers, and baby bottle components. Wash metal and ceramic dishes and then boil them to sanitize.

Similarly, if there was a fire in your home, it is a good practice to throw away your food, as it could be contaminated from the fire’s fumes. This includes food in freezers and refrigerators, as fumes can get into those chambers. Thoroughly wash all your cookware and then sanitize them for 15 minutes by fully immersing them into a solution made from 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per each quart of water.

Source: USDA

Image sources:  Joe Lewis and Matthew M. Bradley




This article is intended for informational purposes only. Before beginning any construction project at your home or taking steps to prepare for an emergency, please ensure that you take necessary safety precautions; consult construction professionals, your local authorities, and disaster safety experts whenever necessary. Water Damage Defense accepts no responsibility for the actions you take during an emergency or as you prepare for one.