By: Texas A&M, Agrilife Extension
Food and drinks are often spoiled during storms and other disasters. After a power loss or a flood, you need to check each item to determine whether it is safe to eat or drink. Do not taste anything that you think is spoiled!
Foods to toss
- All food and drinks that have been in contact with floodwater
- Eggs, soft cheese, leftovers, meat, milk, poultry, seafood, refrigerator rolls and biscuits, and other potentially hazardous foods that have been above 40°F for 2 hours or longer
- Food that has an unusual color, odor, or texture
- Cans of food that are bulging, damaged, dented, or opened
- All home-canned food or drinks that have been in contact with floodwater
- Food or drinks in containers with flip tops, snap lids, screw caps, twist caps, or crimped caps (like those on bottles of soft drinks), and any that have come in contact with floodwater
What might be safe
You may save foods that were commercially canned or in pouches (such as shelf-stable juice packets or seafood pouches) if they are not damaged, if you have access to water that is safe for drinking, and if you do the following:
- Remove all the labels. They can contain dirt, bacteria, and other harmful materials from floodwaters.
- To remove any dirt from the cans and pouches, wash them with soap and water that is safe for drinking.
- Rinse the packages in safe drinking water.
- To kill germs, place the cans/packages in a sanitizing solution made from 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach and 1 gallon of water
- Let them soak for 15 minutes and then air- dry.
- Label the cans and packages with a marker. Use these foods first.
If you do not have enough safe drinking water, the best thing to do is throw away these foods. Keep that water available for drinking to avoid dehydration.
Disposing of unsafe food
If the garbage service is in operation, do the following:
- Wrap the unsafe food tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Place it in a container that has a tight-fitting lid.
- Store the container in an area away from people and animals until the local garbage collection service can collect it.
If the garbage service is not in operation:
- Bury the unsafe food at least 4 feet deep to prevent animals from digging it up. To help prevent diseases from spreading, bury it in an area that will not be disturbed in the near future and away from the nearest creek, pond, river, or water well.
- If you cannot bury the food, ask local law enforcement officials if you can burn it.
For more information
Disposal of Domestic or Exotic Livestock Carcasses, by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. November 2004
Food Safety for Consumers Returning Home After a Hurricane and/or Flooding, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. July 2014
Keep Food and Water Safe after a Natural Disaster or Power Outage, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 2005
Download a printer-friendly version of this publication: Identifying and Handling Spoiled/Unsafe Food After a Disaster
View this publication in Spanish: Identificacion y manejo de alimentos y bebidas contaminadas despues de un desastre
Do you have a question -or- need to contact an expert?