Food Safety and Health After a Hurricane


  • Food may not be safe to eat during and after an emergency. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water.
  • Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water, perishable foods, and those with an unusual odor, color, or texture. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Do not use water you suspect or have been told is contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness says: 

“In a disaster like [Hurricane] Sandy, it is not uncommon to for us to have real problems with the quality of the drinking water. The water can get contaminated through breakdowns in the sewage treatment plants, through overflow of sewers and by all sorts of things that can make the drinking water unsafe. It is highly advisable to stay away from those potentially contaminated bodies of water.”

  • Do not use your fireplace for cooking until the chimney has been inspected for cracks and damage. Sparks may escape into your attic through an undetected crack and start a fire.
  • Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water.
  • Throw away food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Throw away perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) in your refrigerator when the power has been off for 4 hours or more.
  • Thawed food that contains ice crystals can be refrozen or cooked. Freezers, if left unopened and full, will keep food safe for 48 hours (24 hours if half full).
  • Do not cook and eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs or other refrigerated foods that have been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more.
  • Throw away canned foods that are bulging, opened, or damaged.
  • Food containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soda pop bottles), twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods should be discarded if they have come into contact with floodwater because they cannot be disinfected.
  • If cans have come in contact with floodwater or storm water, remove the labels, wash the cans, and dip them in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/250 mL) of bleach in 5 gallons of water. Re-label the cans with a marker. Include the expiration date.
  • While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.

Prevent Illness from Food and Water After a Hurricane (Centers for Disease Control)

Warning about NY/NJ public waterways released 10/31/12


Flood water and standing water pose various risks, including infectious diseases, chemical hazards, and injuries.

  • Eating or drinking anything contaminated by flood water can cause diarrheal disease. To protect yourself and your family:
    • Practice good hygiene (handwashing) after contact with flood waters.
    • Do not allow children to play in flood water areas.
    • Wash children’s hands frequently (always before meals).
    • Do not allow children to play with toys that have been contaminated by flood water and have not been disinfected. 
  • Flood waters may contain sharp objects, such as glass or metal fragments, that can cause injury and lead to infection.Open wounds and rashes exposed to flood waters can become infected. To protect yourself and your family:

Avoid exposure to flood waters if you have an open wound. Cover open wounds with a waterproof bandage. Keep open wounds as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean water.

  • Be aware of potential chemical hazards during floods. Flood waters may have moved hazardous chemical containers of solvents or other industrial chemicals from their normal storage places.
  • Flood waters can displace animals, insects, and reptiles. To protect yourself and your family, be alert and avoid contact.

Standing or Flood Water: Health Risks (Southwest Georgia Public Health)

Flood Water After a Disaster or Emergency (Centers for Disease Control)

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