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Handling Flood Contaminated Foods

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Contaminated food may be a problem following any storm involving flooding.

Flood waters may carry silt, raw sewage, oil or chemical wastes. Filth and disease bacteria in flood water will contaminate food, making it unsafe to eat.

Thoroughly inspect any food left in the house after a flood. Flood water may have covered it, dripped on it, or seeped into it. Even though some foods (see below) 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

Do not attempt to save the following foods!

  • Opened containers and packages which have come in contact with floodwaters.
  • Unopened jars and bottles with paper waxy seals such as those containing mayonnaise or salad dressing.
  • Containers of spices, seasonings and flavorings.
  • Flour, grains, sugars, and coffee in canisters and bags.
  • Paper, cloth, fiber or cardboard boxes, even if the contents seem dry. This includes salt, cereals, pasta products, rice and any "sealed" packages of crackers, cookies or mixes within a large paper box.
  • Dented seams, bulging or rusty, leaking tin cans, or cans which havebeen tossed about and are found far from their normal storage spot.Seams on these cans may have been weakened or their seals broken, causing contamination or spoilage.
  • Jams or jellies sealed with paraffin.
  • Containers with non-sealed, fitted lids, such as cocoa or baking powder.
  • Commercially bottled carbonated beverages, if the cap is crusted with silt; don't attempt to wash, since pressure in bottles may cause an explosion.
  • Foil or cellophane packages.
  • All fresh vegetables and fruits which do not have a peel, shell, orcoating which can be removed before use; leafy vegetables.
  • Fresh meat, fish and poultry which have been in contact with floodwaters.
  • Home canned foods, even if the jar seems tightly sealed. (However, in some cases, tightly sealed home canned foods may be safe depending on flood conditions. If supply of canned food is extensive, contact a food preservation specialist, who can advise you after learning specific factsabout flood conditions.)

Food to Keep

The following foods are safe if you wash, and sanitize and cook fresh fruits and vegetables. Do not eat raw fruit even of it has been sanitized.

  • Undamaged tin cans: Be sure to wash and sanitize container (seebelow) before opening the can. For added safety boil food before using.
  • Potatoes: Wash, sanitize, dry, peel, and cook before using.
  • Citrus fruits: Wash well, sanitize, peel and heat to 160 degrees(F) for 10 minutes before using.
  • Apples and other fruits which can be sanitized, peeled and cooked before eating.

To Disinfect Cans and Commercial Glass Jars

All cans and commercial glass jars free of rust and dents mush be washed and sanitized before they are opened.

  • Remove labels and wash in a strong detergent solution with a scrub brush. Remove all silt.
  • Immerse scrubbed containers for 15 minutes in a cold (60-70 degrees (F)) chlorine solution. Household beaches contain from 2-6% chlorine. The amount of bleach to add to water would depend on the chlorine concentration.

    Amount of Bleach to Purify Water Based on Percent Chlorine
    Percent Chlorine BleachVolume of Bleach to add to 1 quart of waterVolume of Bleach to add to 1 gallon of water
    2% 2 teaspoons 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
    4% 1 teaspoon 1 tablespoons + 1 teaspoons
    5% 3/4 teaspoon 1 teaspoon
    6% 1/2 teaspoon 2 teaspoons

    Remove containers from solution and air dry before opening. Re-label if possible. Use as soon as possible, since containers may rust. Store containers where they will not be re-contaminated.

To Disinfect Fruits and Vegetables

  • Wash in a strong detergent solution with a scrub brush. Remove allsilt.
  • Soak in a chlorine solution for 15 to 20 minutes. (See table abovefor strength of chlorine.)
  • Rinse thoroughly with safe drinking water.
  • Peel if possible and cook thoroughly before eating. Refer any specificquestions to health authorities or your County Extension Agent.

 Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Hurricanes, Your Health and Safety

This information taken from a pamphlet prepared by:

The Collier County Cooperative Extension Service
14700 Immokalee Road
Naples, FL 33964
239 353 4244