After a Flood: Drinking Water & Food Safety
Contaminated water and food can make you sick. Microorganisms in water or bacteria in food can cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, or other symptoms.
Drinking Water Guidance
How do I know if water is safe for drinking or using?
- Your local health department will issue water advisories if your public water supply has been affected.
- If your well has been covered over with floodwaters, it should be assessed, repaired, and disinfected before using. See our publication, Restoring and Sampling Private Wells after a Flood.
Where can I find potable water?
- Use bottled water certified for sale in New York State, water from a state certified tanker, or from an approved public water system.
- Follow local officials' water usage restrictions to conserve water.
What if I can't find potable water?
If you cannot find potable water, there are methods to disinfect and make water potable. You should always disinfect water of unknown quality before using it for drinking, food preparation, or personal hygiene.
Before using either of these disinfection methods, let suspended particles settle to the bottom, or strain the untreated water through layers of paper towels, clean cloths, or paper coffee filters.
- It is best to bring water to a rolling boil water for one minute and let it cool OR if boiling is not possible,
- Add 1/8 of a teaspoon or eight drops of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not taste and smell of chlorine at that point, repeat process and let stand for another 15 minutes.
If your area was on a boil water notice and you are notified that you no longer need to boil your water, flush your pipes and water equipment with clean water before resuming use. See publication, Boil Water Notices – Checklist for Residents and Homeowners.
Wash your hands!
Wash your hands with soap and clean water. If you do not have clean running water, use water that has been boiled and cooled, or disinfected before preparing or eating food.
Avoid eating contaminated foods; when in doubt, throw it out! Discard:
- Food if there is any chance it has come into contact with floodwaters.
- Food containers with screw-caps, snap lids, and home canned foods if they have come in contact with floodwaters.
- Food cans that are swollen, rusted, seriously dented, or whose contents cannot be identified.
- Moldy foods or foods with an unusual odor or appearance.
- These foods IF they have been above 40° Fahrenheit for over two hours:
- Meat, poultry, seafood, meat substitutes
- Pizza with toppings, lunchmeats
- Casseroles, stews, soups, cooked vegetables
- Milk/cream, yogurt, soft cheese
- Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, creamy dressings
- Cooked pasta, potato, rice, (salads containing these foods)
- Refrigerator and cookie dough
- Fresh eggs, egg substitutes
- Custards and cream-filled pastries
How to clean and disinfect commercially canned food, dishes, utensils, and cookware
- Remove labels from cans.
- Wash in soapy potable water and rinse.
- Disinfect with solution of one tablespoon of unscented household bleach per one gallon of water and air dry.
- Re-label cans, including expiration date.
Other Related Publications
There are many other flood-related publications available on our website.
- After a Flood: Drinking Water & Food Safety
- Boil Water Notices: Checklist for Residents and Homeowners
- Find Your Local Health Department
- Carbon Monoxide: Know the Hazards
- Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer
- Don't be Left in the Dark
- Flood Cleanup and Home Repair
- Sampling and Restoring Private Wells after a Flood
- Flooding Quick Reference Guide
- Health Checklist for Repairing Your Flooded Home
- How to Avoid Getting Sick & Injured after a Flood
- How to Use a Disposable Respirator
- Information about Mold
- Residential Oil Spills and Flooding
- Repairing Your Flooded Home, American Red Cross