Food Safety First

By Charlyn Fargo

September 15, 2017 5 min read

So many families have been affected by Harvey and Irma, and unfortunately, the hurricane season isn't over yet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and offer guidance on food safety issues after a hurricane or flooding, as detailed below.

The first order of business in cleaning up after a disaster is to assess all food and equipment to determine what should be kept or thrown away. Is the water safe to drink? Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available. If you don't have bottled water, boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. If water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off clear water for boiling. Boil the water and let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.

Here are some other guidelines provided by

—Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with floodwater. If in doubt, throw it out. And do not eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth and similar containers that have been water damaged.

—Discard food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops and home canned foods, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected.

—Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans or retort pouches can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash the cans, rinse them and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water. Then re-label containers.

—Discard wooden cutting boards, wooden dishes and utensils, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers that have come into contact with floodwater. These items cannot be safely cleaned.

—Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).

—Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow to air dry.

—If the power in a refrigerator goes out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours if the door remains closed. Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time.

—Once the power is restored, determine the safety of your food. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety.

Discard refrigerators that have been submerged in floodwater, or if enough moisture was present from liquefied food items to reach the insulation inside the equipment.

Run your dishwasher (empty) through three complete cycles to flush the water lines and assure that they are cleaned internally before washing dishes and utensils in it.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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