University of Illinois Extension
Disaster Resources - University of Illinois Extension

Flood-Contaminated Foods

[download an Adobe Acrobat version of this file]

Floodwaters may carrysilt, raw sewage, oilor chemical wastes. Filth and disease-causing bacteria in floodwater will contaminate food, making it unsafe to eat.

Thoroughlyinspect anyfood leftin thehouse aftera flood. Floodwater may have covered it, drippedon it or seeped into it. Eventhough some foods are protected by their containers, if you are in doubt about the safety of a food, throw it out rather than risk disease.

Use the following guidelines when deciding which foods to discard and which to save.

Food To Discard

  1. Opened containers andpackages which havecome incontact with floodwaters.
  2. Unopened jars and bottles.
  3. Containers of spices, seasonings and flavorings.
  4. Flour, grains, rice, sugar and coffee in canisters or bags.
  5. Paper, cloth, fiber or cardboard boxes, even if the contents seem dry. This includes salt, cereals, pasta products, rice and any"sealed" packagesofcrackers, cookiesormixes within a larger paper box.
  6. Commercially-canned foods that are dented, bulging, rusty or leaking. Cans which havebeen tossed aboutand are found far from their normal storage spot. Seams on these cans may have beenweakened ortheir sealsbroken, causing contamination or spoilage.
  7. Jam or jelly sealed with paraffin.
  8. Containers with non-sealed,fitted lids, suchas cocoaor baking powder.
  9. Commercially-bottled carbonatedbeverages. If the capis crusted with silt, don't attemptto wash since pressurein bottles may cause an explosion.
  10. Foil or cellophane packages.
  11. All fresh fruits and vegetables.
  12. Fresh meat, fish and poultry which have been in contact with floodwaters.
  13. Home-canned foods.
  14. Foods in containers with pull-tops, corks or screw caps.
  15. All foods thatwere coveredby water whichmay havebeen contaminated with industrial waste, even those foodssealed in unopened cans.
  16. Iffloodwaterhas entered your freezer orrefrigerator, dispose of all food not sealed in metal cans.

Food To Save

Commercially-canned foodsare usually safe afterbeing in flood waters if the metalcan appears undamaged.But discardcans if theyare rusty, creased,dented, crushed, bulgingor have ends that springin and out. The contents may becontaminated.DO NOT TASTE.

All cans must be washed and sanitized before they are opened.

To disinfect cans:

  1. Remove labels.(They harbor bacteria.) Washcans in strong detergent solution with a scrub brush.Remove all silt.
  2. Immerse scrubbed containers for 15 minutes in cold (60-70°F) chlorine solution.Household bleaches contain from 2% to 6% chlorine.Theamount of bleach to add towater depends on the percent chlorine it contains:

    % chlorine in
    Volume of bleach
    to add to
    1 quart water
    Volume of bleach
    to add to
    1 gallon water
    2 teaspoons
    1 teaspoon
    1/2 teaspoon
    2 tablespoons
    1 tablespoon
    2 teaspoons

  3. Remove containersfromsolutionandair-drybefore opening.
Foradditional safety,thoroughly cookthe cannedfood before eating it.

Issuedby SusanBrewer, Universityof IllinoisExtension Food Specialist.

February 1995

Return to:

Scroll to TopScroll to Top