Joan Adam, Secretary of Health
South Dakota Department of Health

Flood Response - Food Safety

CONTENTS: Canned Goods | Freezer Failure | Refrigerator Failure

Generally, do not eat any food that has come in contact with floodwater. If the safety of any food or beverage is questionable, follow this rule: WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT.

Canned goods

Carefully examine all canned and bottled goods that have been submerged or come in contact with floodwater. Some cans or bottles may be safe to use after a good cleaning. Follow these guidelines:

  • After being under water, containers with cork-lined lids or caps, screw tops or pop tops are nearly impossible to clean thoroughly around the opening. Any major temperature changes can actually cause contaminants to be sucked into such containers. They should be discarded.
  • If they appear undamaged, tin cans are usually safe. Wash in bleach water (1/4-cup bleach in 1 gallon of water) for one minute, then dry to prevent rusting.
  • If cans have pitted rust spots that cannot be buffed off with a soft cloth, contamination may have entered through corroded holes in the walls of the can. Discard these cans.
  • Cans with ends that bulge or spring in and out when pressed should be discarded immediately. This usually means bacteria are growing inside and producing gas that expands the can. Do not taste the contents of such cans.
  • If a can is crushed, dented, or creased, closely examine it to see if it is safe to use. A dent may weaken the seam and allow contamination. If a dent or crease is very sharp, the contents may be contaminated. Discard these cans. Do not taste.

Freezer failure

When the electricity is off, a fully stocked freezer will keep food frozen for two days if the door remains closed. A half-full freezer can keep foods frozen for about one day. What can you do if the electric service will not be reconnected within one or two days?

  • Keep the freezer door closed.
  • If your friends have electricity, divide your frozen foods among their freezers.
  • Seek freezer space in a store, church, school, or commercial meat locker or freezer that has electrical service.
  • Know where you can buy dry and block ice. Dry ice freezes everything it touches; 25 pounds of it will keep a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for three to four days. When using dry ice, though, be sure to take several precautions. Never touch dry ice with bare hands! Also, do not stick your head into a freezer that contains dry ice. It gives off carbon dioxide, which replaces oxygen, so leave the door open a short time before examining your food.
  • If food is still "cold-to-the-touch" or below 45°F., it may be cooked and eaten immediately, or refrozen. (return to top)

Refrigerator failure

When the power goes off in the refrigerator, you can normally expect food inside to stay safely cold for four to six hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is.

  • Add block ice to the refrigerator if the electricity is off longer than four to six hours.
  • High-protein foods (dairy products, meat, fish, and poultry) should be consumed as soon as possible if power is not restored immediately. They cannot be stored safely at room temperature.
  • Fruits and vegetables can be kept safely at room temperature until there are obvious signs of spoilage (mold, slime, and wilt). In fact, with good ventilation, vegetables will last longer at room temperature. Remove them from the refrigerator if electrical service may not resume soon. (return to top)
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