Last updated on 26 November 2009
Flooding: food safety advice
Flood water can be contaminated with sewage, animal waste and other waste, from drains or the surrounding area, and so could be contaminated with harmful bacteria or chemicals. Although, the water is usually very diluted and so the risks of getting ill are low. Following simple hygiene practices should be enough to avoid getting ill from flood water.
If you have been affected by flooding, either because your home has been flooded, or your water supply has been cut off, read our tips on how to prepare food safely.
It's important to follow good food hygiene to stop harmful germs that might be present in flood water spreading to food. Here are some general tips on keeping food safe:
- Don't eat any food that has been touched or covered by floodwater or sewage.
- Always wash your hands before preparing food.
- Clean and disinfect work surfaces, plates, pans, cutlery, chopping boards etc. before using them with food. If you have a working dishwasher, this is a more efficient way to clean and sanitise smaller items. Or use a suitable disinfectant.
- Clean and disinfect the inside of your fridge and food cupboards, if they have been touched by floodwater.
- Don't use work surfaces, plates etc. if they are badly chipped or damaged.
- If tap water may be contaminated, boil and cool it before using it to wash food that won’t be cooked, such as fruit or salad.
- If your power has been cut off and your fridge has not been working for a few hours, throw away the food inside. If your freezer has not been working, throw away any meat, fish or dairy products, or foods containing these, if they have started to get soft. Also throw away any food that you would eat frozen, for example ice cream.
- Store opened food in a container with a lid.
If you have a catering business and have been affected by flooding, ask for advice from the environmental health service at your local authority. To find the contact details of your nearest local authority you can use our online search facility at the link below.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
For fresh fruit and vegetables that are grown either for sale or for your own consumption:
- You should throw away any produce covered by flood water if it is ready to eat, and is grown above ground, such as lettuce or strawberries. It is fine to eat produce that is growing above the water and not contaminated with flood water e.g. fruit on trees.
- It is OK to eat produce that has been cooked, even if it has been contaminated by flood water this is because cooking will kill any harmful germs that might be present.
- You should wait at least six months after the area was flooded, before harvesting any new fruit or vegetables from that affected land. This is to make sure that any harmful germs that might be in the soil from the flood water will not survive and contaminate the produce. You do not need to wait before planting new crops if the fruit or vegetables will be cooked before being eaten.
If you need any more information, speak to the environmental health service at your local authority.
If your drinking water supply is either interrupted or contaminated by the flooding and you need to prepare formula feed for a baby, it is important to be careful with the water you use. Here are some tips on preparing formula safely:
- Ideally use water from a bowser (a water tank provided by water companies), or bottled water, brought to a 'rolling' boil and left covered to cool for no more than half an hour, then follow the manufacturer’s instructions on making up the feed. The use of unboiled bowser water should be avoided.
- Use cooled boiled water or cooled boiled bottled water for cooling the feed once it has been made up.
- Ready-to-feed liquid formula could be used instead.
- If there is no electricity or gas to allow boiling and you don’t have ready-to-feed liquid formula available, bottled water (table, spring or mineral water) can be used without boiling to prepare baby feeds, but the prepared feed should then be used immediately.
- Some bottled water labelled as 'natural mineral water' may have high levels of sodium or sulphate. When buying bottles of natural mineral water, look at the label and check that the figure for sodium (or 'Na') is not higher than 200mg a litre and sulphate (or ‘SO’ or ‘SO4’) is not higher than 250mg a litre. If it is, then try to use another water. If no other water is available, then use this water for as short a time as possible.