Food Safety Tips for Those Affected by the California Floods

An atmospheric river caused massive flooding in California, and residents are now bracing for more dangerous storms with the arrival of a second atmospheric river. Flood-affected residents need to keep food security in mind.

The narrow and rapid corridor of water vapor in the atmosphere is expected to bring heavy precipitation. Central and Southern California are likely to be affected by large amounts of rain, which could lead to flash flooding.

Residents should follow the steps below to reduce the risk of foodborne illness during this or other emergency events:

Plan ahead if you can.

  • If possible, raise refrigerators and freezers off the floor, placing cinder blocks under the corners.
  • Move canned goods and other foods that are stored in the basement or low cabinets to a higher area.

Food safety after a flood

  • Use bottled drinking water that has not been in contact with flood water.
  • Do not eat any food that may have come in contact with floodwater.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is a chance it may have come into contact with floodwater. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-on lids, snap-on lids, pull-on lids, and crimped lids.
  • Also, throw away cartons of juice/milk/baby formula and home-canned foods if they have come in contact with floodwaters. They cannot be effectively cleaned and disinfected.
  • Inspect canned foods; discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is manifested by swelling, leaking, punctures, holes, cracks, extensive deep rust, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a wheel-type manual can opener.
  • Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, bottle nipples, and pacifiers that may have come in contact with floodwaters. There is no way to safely clean them.
  • Wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) thoroughly with soap and water (hot water if available). Rinse and sanitize by boiling in clean water or immersing for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid bleach per gallon of potable water.
  • Wash countertops thoroughly with soap and water (hot water if available). Rinse and then sanitize using a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid bleach per gallon of potable water. Allow it to air dry.
  • Note: If your refrigerator or freezer has been submerged by floodwaters, even partially, it is unsafe to use and should be disposed of.

if the light goes out
Low temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping food at safe temperatures is key to reducing the risk of foodborne illness.

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours, and a full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half full) if the doors remain closed.
  • Use ice (dry, block, or cube) and frozen containers of water or gel packs to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible.

When power is restored
Before eating any food after a power outage, check the temperatures inside your refrigerator and freezer.

  • If the power outage did not last more than 4 hours, the refrigerated food should be safe as long as the doors are kept closed. When the power returns, check the temperature of the refrigerator or food. Perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, eggs, or leftovers with temperatures of 45 degrees F or below, as measured with a food thermometer, should be safe, but cook and eat as soon as possible.
  • Discard any perishable food that has been sitting in temperatures above 40 degrees F for 4 hours or more.
  • If the freezer thermometer reads 40 degrees F or below, the food is safe and can be refrozen. If you did not have a thermometer in the freezer, check each package for safety; You can’t trust appearance or smell. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
  • Be aware that perishable foods that are not kept properly refrigerated or frozen can cause food poisoning if eaten, even after they are fully cooked.

If you have questions about food safety during inclement weather or any other food safety related topic, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888MPHotline or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren. gov. These services are available in English and Spanish from 10 am to 6 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. Answers to frequently asked questions can also be found 24/7 at

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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