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Handling Food and Water After a Flood


After a major storm or flood, you must assume all water sources are contaminated until they are proved safe. Purify all water used for drinking, cooking and for washing eating and cooking utensils. Also purify the water used for washing hands, body and kitchen and bathroom surfaces. Do NOT try to use or purify water that has a dark color, an odor or contains floating material. Note that the purification procedures outlined here reduce biological contamination only; if you suspect chemical contamination, do not use the water.

Choose ONE of these methods to purify water that has biological contamination. Boiling is the most effective method of disinfecting water, particularly for people who have severely weakened immune systems (infected with HIV/AIDS or cancer, transplant patients taking immunosuppressive drugs or people born with a weakened immune system) and for infants and elderly who wish to take extra precautions.

  • Boil water for one full minute in a clean container. The one-minute boil time begins after the water has been brought to a rolling boil. (The flat taste can be eliminated by shaking the water in a bottle or pouring it from one container to another.)
  • If the water is clear, mix 1/8 teaspoon or 16 drops of unscented, liquid chlorine laundry bleach with one gallon of water and let it stand for at least 30 minutes prior to consumption. If the water is cloudy or colored, use 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water. Be sure to mix thoroughly. If the treated water has a chlorine taste, pour it from one clean container to another several times.

    References: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency, 2005 and Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Office of Public Health, News Release, Drinking Water Warning Issued to Southeast La. Residents, August 31, 2005.
  • Other treatments such as iodine or purification tablets are not recommended.

Foods and Food-preparation Items Contaminated by Floodwater

  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with floodwater.
  • Discard all food that came in contact with floodwaters including canned goods. It is impossible to know if the containers were damaged and the seals compromised.
  • Discard wooden cutting boards, wooden spoons, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers. There is no way to safely clean them if they have come in contact with contaminated floodwaters.
  • Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water.
  • Clean and sanitize all kitchen surfaces, especially those that may have been contaminated by floodwaters.
  • Wash and sanitize your dishes, utensils and kitchen appliances before using them.
Foods Flooded While “On the Vine”

Discard any fruits and vegetables you did not harvest before a flood. This applies to any food product which was maturing or mature at the time of the flood, both above and below ground. Examples include squash, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. Most home garden plants will die from the flood. In the absence of specific research on the safety of produce from a plant which was exposed to floodwater before fruit set, and given the uncertainty of what may have been in the floodwater, the LSU AgCenter recommends pulling up and discarding a flooded garden and replanting it.

For more information about food safety during power outages, go to the LSU AgCenter's Power Outage site.
Last Updated: 6/15/2015 5:01:34 PM
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