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How to Handle Food
from a Flood

Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health
education specialist in Barton County,
University of Missouri Extension

Flood damage photo


Flood water can be toxic so precautions need to be taken to prevent illness. There are special ways of handling cooking utensils such as pots and pans and food that have been exposed to flood waters.


According to the Food Safety Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, you should not eat any food that has come in contact with flood water. Any food that is not in a waterproof container should be discarded. This includes any food that has a screw on cap, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps (like soda bottles) and home canned foods. Any food in cardboard containers such as infant formula and juice boxes should be also discarded.


The only food that can be saved if exposed to flood water is commercially prepared foods in metal cans or in retort pouches. Retort pouches are the ones that tuna fish and juice drinks are in. Special care must be taken before you open the containers though:

  • Remove the labels if they labels are removable
  • Wash the cans or pouches in hot soapy water brushing away any dirt or silt and then rise them in water that is safe for drinking
  • Sanitize the containers in one of two ways: 1. Place in water and bring to a boil and boil for two minutes or 2. Place in a freshly made solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest water available) for 15 minutes
  • Air dry the cans or pouches for at least one hour before opening or storing
  • Use a marker to re-label cans


Pots, pans and any other dishes or utensils that have been exposed to flood water should be washed in hot soapy water and then rinsed. They should then be sanitized by boiling them in clean water or immersing them in a solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of the cleanest water available for fifteen minutes. To clean countertops or other surfaces, wash them with hot soapy water and then rinse. Sanitize them with the drinking water and bleach solution as above and let them air dry.


Don’t take any unnecessary risks with foods that have been in a flood. When in doubt, throw it out!




Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009




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