Food Safety After a Disaster

FEMA video in partnership with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Director of Food Safety Education, Chris Bernstein, about food safety after a disaster in American Sign Language (ASL).

Preparedness information and resources can be found in the Preparedness section. Information on emergency preparedness for individuals with disabilities or access/functional needs is on the ADA/FNSS page.

Transcript

Hello, my name is Chris Bernstein, and I am the Director of Food Safety Education at the US Department of Agriculture. I'm here today to talk to you about food safety for returning home after a disaster.  

Coming back home after a disaster can be a very challenging experience. One of the most important things you and your family will have to do is sort through the food in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.  

You will need to throw away any food that has come into contact with flood water. This includes anything that is not in a waterproof container. Do not use food containers that have caps, snap lips, or pull tops that have come in contact with flood water. Any cardboard boxed food (such as macaroni and cheese, dry pasta, baby formula) contaminated with flood water is not safe to eat and should be tossed.  

Inspect all canned food to see if there is any swelling, leaking, holes, dents, or rust. Canned food can be saved and used to eat only if you do the following things:

  • Remove the label off the can.
  • Brush or wipe away any dirt.
  • Thoroughly wash the can with soap and water (hot water if available). Use water that is safe for drinking to rinse off the can.
  • Sanitize the can by immersion in either one of two ways:
    • Put the can in a clean pot full of water and bring to a complete boil for 2 minutes; or
    • Put the can in a clean pot full of clean drinking water and add one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water used. Soak can in pot for 15 minutes.
  • Let can air-dry for at least one hour before opening or storing can.
  • Write with a permanent marker on the can what is inside and the expiration date (if available).
  • Canned food items should be used as soon as possible after cleaning. 

You will also need to clean your pots, pans, dishes, and utensils by thoroughly washing them with soap and water (hot water if available).

  • Rinse and sanitize them by boiling them in clean water or immersing them in clean drinking water and add one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water used.
  • Soak in water for 15 minutes. 

Your drinking water may not be safe to drink when you come home after a disaster. You may need to use bottled water or boiled water. If you do not have bottled water, boil the water for one minute before letting it cool down. Store the water in clean containers with lids.  

If you are not able to boil water, you can disinfect it by using household bleach. This will help to kill most organisms in the water that might cause diseases. Add 8 drops (or 1/8 teaspoon) of regular, unscented liquid household bleach for each gallon of water to disinfect your water. Leave water alone for 30 minutes. Store the water in clean containers with lids.  

These safety tips should help you figure out what food you can save or have to throw away, how to clean your pots, pans, dishes, and how to make sure that your water is safe to drink. For more information on food safety, visit USDA’s website at www.fsis.usda.gov.