|When Flooding Occurs|
Severe storms, flooding and power outages are a frequent occurrence in Washington state. Being prepared and knowing the basics about food and water safety is essential to your health and comfort as well as that of your loved ones.
Preparedness is the key to reducing the risk of foodborne illness during and after a disaster or power outage. Below are simple steps to ensure that your food and water supply is safe should a disaster or power outage occur.
Monitor the temperature of your refrigerator.
Bacteria can grow very quickly at temperatures between 40 - 140 degrees Fahrenheit. To reduce the risk of foodborne illness and minimize the loss of food, refrigerators should maintain a temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and freezers should maintain 0 degrees Fahrenheit (1).
To accurately monitor the temperatures, place one appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and one in your freezer. During a power outage you will be able to determine if your food supply is safe based on the temperature readings.
Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the refrigerator if the power goes out. Freeze leftover foods, meat, and poultry and group the food together in the freezer to help keep it keep them at a safe temperature longer.
In case of potential flooding, store foods on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water.
Water is essential for survival and a supply of fresh water should be stored in case of a disaster. The minimum amount to store is three gallons for each person in your household to take care of drinking, cooking and hygiene needs for the first 72 hours of a disaster. To safely store water and information on how to treat drinking water see our Prepare in a Year - Storing Water page.
Protecting stored foods when the power goes out.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- A full refrigerator will maintain safe temperatures for up to four hours if it is unopened.
- A full freezer will maintain safe temperatures for up to two days; a half-full freezer for one day if it is unopened.
- Discard at-risk refrigerated foods that are warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If in doubt, throw it out.
- If you think the power will be out for several days, try to find some ice to pack inside the refrigerator and freezer.
- Remember to keep your raw foods separate from your ready-to-eat foods.
- Foods to be concerned about (foods are categorized into groups):
- Potentially hazardous foods - are the most important. These include meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs and egg products, soft cheeses, cooked beans, cooked rice, cooked potatoes, cooked pasta, custards, pudding, etc.
- Some foods may not be hazardous but the quality may be affected. These foods include salad dressings, mayonnaise, butter, margarine, produce, hard cheeses, etc.
- Some foods are safe - these are carbonated beverages, unopened bottled juices, ketchup, mustard, relishes, jams, peanut butter, barbecue sauces, etc.
When do I save and when do I throw out food?
- Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as the power is out no more than a few hours and the doors have been kept closed. Potentially hazardous foods should be discarded if they warm up above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Frozen foods which are still frozen are not a problem. If potentially hazardous foods are thawed but still have ice crystals, you should use them as soon as possible.
- If potentially hazardous foods are thawed and warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you should discard them.
How do I know if the food is unsafe to eat?
- You cannot rely upon appearance or odor. Never taste food to determine its safety.
- Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they've been warm too long, food poisoning bacteria may have grown enough to make you sick.
- If possible, use a thermometer to check the temperature of the foods. If potentially hazardous foods are colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they are safe.
What happens when the power goes back on?
Allow time for refrigerators to reach the proper temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower before restocking. Stock the refrigerator with all fresh foods.
For additional information, see our Prepare in a Year - Extended Events.
~ Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water ~
Inspect and throw away...
- Throw away any food that is not in a waterproof container if it has come into contact with flood or storm water.
- Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps.
- Discard cardboard juice, milk, baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water - they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
- Throw away any canned food in damaged cans. Damage can include: swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or severe crushing or denting.
- Commercially prepared food in undamaged cans or retort pouches can be saved by using the following procedures:
- Discard removable labels as they can harbor dirt and bacteria.
- Wipe off any dirt or silt.
- Thoroughly wash the cans and retort packages with soap and water (use hot water if available) then rinse with water that is safe for drinking (if available).
- Sanitize the cans and pouches by immersion using one of the following methods:
- Place the cans or pouches in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for two minutes, or
- Place the cans or pouches in a solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available) for 15 minutes.
- Allow the cans or retort pouches to air dry for a minimum of one hour before opening or storing.
- Re-label cans and pouches using a marking pen.
- Use the food from the sanitized cans and retort pouches as soon as possible.
Thoroughly wash and sanitize...
- Metal pans, dishes and utensils by:
- Washing with soap and clean water (use hot water if available).
- Rinsing and sanitizing by boiling them 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.
- Countertops by:
- Washing with soap and hot water (if available) and rinse.
- Sanitizing the countertops by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
- Allow to air dry.
See our video: Food safety after a flood
Additional Tips and Information:
- Emergency food supply
- How to safely store water (PDF)
- Flood Safe
- Flood Fact Sheet (PDF)
- Prepare your family, your home and your neighborhood
- Prepare for Extended Events
- View "How To" preparedness video clips
(1) USDA Food and Drug Administration:
- Food and Water Safety During Power Outages and Floods