Food Safety in Flooding: What to Keep & What to Throw Away

By September 24, 2018November 18th, 2020No Comments

How to Determine What Food to Keep or Discard

  • Do not eat any food that may have come into 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 into 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, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.

Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches
Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved if you do the following:

  • Remove the labels, if they are the removable kind since they can harbor dirt and bacteria.
  • Thoroughly wash the cans or retort pouches with soap and water, using hot water if it is available.
  • Brush or wipe away any dirt or silt.
  • Rinse the cans or retort pouches with water that is safe for drinking, if available, since dirt or residual soap will reduce the effectiveness of chlorine sanitation.
  • Then, sanitize them by immersion in one of the two following ways:
    • Place in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for 2 minutes, or
    • Place in a freshly made solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available) for 15 minutes.
  • Air-dry cans or retort pouches for a minimum of 1 hour before opening or storing.
  • If the labels were removable, then re-label your cans or retort pouches, including the expiration date (if available), with a marker.
  • Food in reconditioned cans or retort pouches should be used as soon as possible, thereafter.
  • Any concentrated baby formula in reconditioned, all-metal containers must be diluted with clean, drinking water.
The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes.” For more information, please visit www.fsis.usda.gov.

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