Safety tips: Food, water and flooding

With severe flooding across much of the Midwest, ensuring safety and public health is of the utmost importance.

This includes making sure food is safe before being consumed, along with water. Bacteria levels can spike after a flooding event, as public health officials in Grand Rapids, Mich. have noted. They expect to find elevated levels of E. coli bacteria and the parasite Giardia after rivers in the area overflowed their banks and caused significant flooding throughout the area, according to MLive.comE. coli can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal illness.

Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on keeping food safe during and after floods.

  • If food has come into contact with flood water, don’t eat it. This includes any food in nonwaterproof containers, including those with screw tops and also those in cardboard boxes and home-canned goods. Canned goods should be closely inspected for signs of damage, such as swelling, leakage, rusting and denting. If you’re not sure it’s safe, throw it away.
  • To salvage canned goods that are not damaged, FSIS recommends removing the labels, which can hide bacteria. Wash the cans with hot water and soap, ensuring all bits of dirt and debris are removed. Rinse with clean water. Sanitize by either placing the cans in water and boiling the water for two minutes or by placing the cans in a solution of clean water and 1 tablespoon of bleach (1 tablespoon to one gallon of water).
  • Bottled water should be used until you’re certain your tap water is safe. If the building uses a well, FSIS recommends testing the water supply. When in doubt, contact your local health department or agricultural extension office.
  • If the power went out, check the freezer and fridge. See this handy chart from FSIS for a by-item guide to safe temperatures.
  • Cooking and eating utensils, dishes and cookware should be washed with hot, clean, soapy water. Rinse them and then sanitize them by boiling for 15 minutes or by immersing in the aforementioned bleach solution for 15 minutes. Countertops also should be thoroughly cleaned.
  • Produce from flooded gardens also should not be eaten. Floodwaters not only harbor potentially dangerous bacteria, they also can carry chemicals and contaminants that can’t be broken down or killed during cooking.

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