Handling Food Through Floods

(FN1549, Reviewed January 2024)
Lead Author
Lead Author:
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist
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Preparedness is a key to food safety during a flood. If you expect a flood, keep an adequate supply of food, water and emergency equipment on hand. This includes enough canned food and bottled water to last four to five days, a hand can opener, battery-powered radio, extra batteries and emergency cooking equipment like a camp stove with fuel to operate it.

Don’t forget flashlights, candles, matches, a kerosene lamp, fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit.

For an imminent flood, fill the bathtub and large containers with water. Each person will need a gallon of water per day. Turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting. The colder food is before a possible power failure, the better it will last.

If you might or do lose power, a 50-pound block of dry ice should keep the food in a full 18-cubic-foot freezer safe for two days.

Dry ice registers -216 F, so wear gloves or use tongs when handling it. Wrap it in brown paper for longer storage and separate it from direct food contact with a piece of cardboard. Fill a partly empty freezer with crumpled newspaper to cut down on air currents that cause the dry ice to dissipate.

Raise refrigerators or freezers by putting cement blocks under their corners. If you keep canned goods and other foods in a basement or low cabinets, move them higher.

Floodwater may carry silt, raw sewage, oil or chemical waste. If foods have been in contact with floodwaters, use this chart to determine their safety.

“Flooded’’ Foods


  • Meat, poultry, fish and eggs
  • Fresh produce
  • Preserves sealed with paraffin
  • Unopened jars with waxed paper, foil, cellophane or cloth
  • All foods in cardboard boxes or with cardboard seals, such as mayonnaise and salad dressing
  • Spices, seasonings and extracts
  • Home-canned foods
  • Opened containers and packages
  • Flour, sugar, grains, coffee and other staples in canisters
  • Canned foods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted
  • Food in glass jars


Undamaged canned goods are safe if you sanitize the containers. Mark contents on can lid with a permanent marker. Remove labels. Paper can harbor dangerous bacteria. Then wash cans in a strong detergent solution with a scrub brush.

Finally, immerse containers for 15 minutes in a solution of 2 teaspoons of chlorine bleach per quart of room-temperature water. Air dry before opening.

Sanitize dishes and glassware the same way. To disinfect metal pans and utensils, boil them in water 10 minutes. Discard wooden spoons, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, pacifiers and other porous materials.

For more information, www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood

North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota