May 05, 2017

'When in doubt, throw it out,' Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services urges regarding food stored near flood water

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) urges residents to be extremely cautious with food and cooking utensils stored in flooded buildings. Stored food and cooking utensils can become home to growing bacteria like salmonella and listeria, which can cause potentially serious food-borne illnesses. The bottom line is: when in doubt, throw it out.

“The best advice about food safety is this—when in doubt, throw it out,” said DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams. “Any food that may have come into contact with flood waters should be discarded.”

As waters recede, DHSS and local public health staff are working in affected areas throughout the state to help restaurants, groceries and other food-related businesses reopen quickly and safely for you and your family. These establishments are required to be inspected before reopening where DHSS and local public health staff help identify and correct any potential risks.

There are many precautions you should take when handling food, kitchen appliances and cooking utensils stored in flooded homes as well.

Safe drinking water: It is important to establish a source of safe drinking water in your home. You will need this not just for drinking, but for proper sanitization of items in contact with flood waters also.

Bottled water that did not come in contact with flood water is safe to drink. Tap water may be used, but may need to be boiled first. If you have a private well, water samples should be collected and tested before consuming after a flood.  You may contact your local public health agency or DHSS at 573-751-3334 to obtain a free well water testing kit.

Sanitization: Items that can be sanitized should be washed with soap and clean water and rinsed with clean water, then sanitized in one of the following methods:

  • Place in water. Bring water to a boil, and boil for a minimum of three minutes, or

  • Place in a freshly-made solution of one teaspoon of unscented liquid 5.25 percent chlorine bleach per gallon of safe drinking water for 1 minute.

Allow items to air dry completely before using or storing.

Sorting food items: Many food items are not edible if stored in a flooded building. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out, and never try to determine safety by tasting foods. Tasting and smelling are not reliable methods of detecting bacteria.

Residents should throw out any food that may have come in contact with flood waters. This includes any food not in a waterproof container such as cardboard boxes, bottles and jars with screw caps, home-canned items and containers with pull tops.

Commercially canned items in metal cans and food in retort pouches like those commonly used to package tuna may be sanitized and saved.

If the home lost power: Refrigerated items generally remain unspoiled if the power was out for less than four hours and the door remained closed. Frozen items may be safely refrozen if ice crystals remain visible in the food.

Handling cooking utensils: Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers. You can sanitize and save all other cooking and eating utensils. 

For more information on flood cleanup and recovery go to