Our home was flooded during severe weather. What should we do with food and medicines that got wet?
Answers from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.
After a flood, be cautious about handling food and medications that were exposed to flood or unsafe municipal water. They may be contaminated with toxins or germs that can cause illnesses. Here's some information that may help guide you about what's safe to use.
Is your medication still safe?
Any medications — pills, liquids, drugs for injection, inhalers or skin medications — that have come into contact with flood or contaminated water should be discarded. The exception to this is drugs that are lifesaving and not easily replaced.
In these cases, if the container is contaminated but the contents appear unaffected — for example, the pills are dry — the pills may be used until a replacement can be obtained. However, if a pill is wet or appears discolored from contact with water, consider it contaminated and throw it out.
If the power was out for an extended time, and you keep life-sustaining medication, such as insulin, in the refrigerator, keep using the medication until you can get a new supply. But be aware that the medication may not be as potent as usual when it reaches room temperature.
Contact your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible after a flood to get replacement medications.
Kitchen cleanup after a flood
Don't eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. This includes food packed in plastic, paper and cardboard containers that have been water damaged.
Undamaged, commercially prepared food in all-metal cans or in packages used to seal food for long-term unrefrigerated storage (retort pouches) can be saved. But you'll need to remove the labels, thoroughly wash and rinse the outside of the containers, and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon safe drinking water. Be sure to write the food and expiration date on the containers when you're done.
Discard food and beverage containers with screw caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps or flip tops, and home-canned food if they have come into contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected. If in doubt, throw it out.
In addition, utensils, dishes and cutting boards made from wood or plastic cannot be properly disinfected. These need to be thrown away if exposed to flood waters.
Also keep in mind that if the electricity to your home was out, foods and medications stored in the refrigerator may be spoiled. As a general rule, an unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. Food in a full freezer that stays unopened will last for about 48 hours. If the freezer is only half full, food will last about 24 hours if left unopened.
If the power outage lasted longer than those times or you're not sure how long the power was out, throw out all of the contents of the refrigerator.
Sept. 07, 2017
See more Expert Answers
- Emergency preparedness: Safe drug use after a natural disaster. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/EmergencyPreparedness/ucm085200.htm. Accessed Aug. 10, 2017.
- Food safety for consumers returning home after a hurricane and/or flooding. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm076993.htm. Accessed Aug. 10, 2017.
- Keep food and water safe after an emergency. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/foodwater/facts.html. Aug. 10, 2017.