Don't Be Left in the Dark - Weathering Floods, Storms and Power Outages--Recovering from the Storm

What Food is Still Good?

Remember the general rule: When in doubt, throw it out!

Once the storm has passed and/or the power has been restored, go through your refrigerator and freezer and discard food that was not kept cold enough. The key to determining which food is safe to eat is knowing the temperature at which the food has been kept. The refrigerator should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. You can also use your food product thermometer to check individual food items.

Generally, food in the refrigerator will remain cold for four to six hours if the door isn't opened. A full freezer will stay frozen for two days; a half-full freezer for about one day.

Helpful Hints: Remember to Replenish Your Supplies
Don't forget to replenish your supplies. Go through the checklist and note additional items that your family requires. Add a few items a week to your normal grocery shopping to replenish your supplies.
  • Keep, Eat, or Refreeze

    Despite your best efforts, the food in your freezer may partially or completely thaw before power is restored. Foods may be safely cooked and eaten or refrozen if they still contain ice crystals. Foods that have completely thawed, but are still cold and have been kept cold for no longer than one or two days after thawing, may be eaten or refrozen if the following conditions are met:

    • Fruits may be eaten or refrozen if they still taste and smell good. Fruits beginning to ferment are not dangerous to eat but will have an off-taste.
    • Vegetables should not be eaten or refrozen if thawed completely, since bacteria multiply rapidly in these foods. If ice crystals are present, eating or refreezing is possible.
    • Meat and poultry should be discarded if the color or odor is poor or questionable or if the meat has been warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours. Unspoiled meat may be cooked and then eaten or refrozen.
    • Fish and shellfish should not be eaten or refrozen if thawed completely since these foods are extremely perishable. You may eat or refreeze if ice crystals are present.
    • Frozen dinners should be kept refrigerated and cooked as soon as possible.
    • Ice cream should be discarded.
  • Do Not Eat ... Discard!

    Throw away moldy items or food with an unusual odor or appearance. Throw away the following foods if they have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for over two hours:

    • Raw or cooked meat, poultry, seafood
    • Meat-topped pizza, lunchmeats
    • Casseroles, stews, soups
    • Milk/cream, yogurt, soft cheese
    • Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, creamy dressings
    • Cooked pasta, potato, rice, salads prepared from these foods
    • Refrigerator and cookie doughs
    • Fresh eggs, egg substitutes
    • Cream-filled pastries
    • Custard, chiffon, cheese pies
    • Gravies
  • Foods Okay to Keep

    There are foods that some people store in the refrigerator that also can be kept at room temperature for a few days. If you have any of the foods listed below stored in your refrigerator and the temperature in your refrigerator rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, these foods should be safe.

    • Butter, margarine
    • Hard cheese
    • Fresh fruit and vegetables (except fresh sliced fruit and raw sprouts)
    • Fruit juices
    • Dried fruits, coconut
    • Fresh herbs and spices
    • Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressing, peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce
    • Mustard, ketchup, olives
    • Fruit pies

Cleaning Up After a Flood

  • Garbage Storage, Collection and Disposal

    As you start cleaning, you will likely produce a great deal of garbage. Local authorities will tell you where and when collection will occur. Garbage invites insects and rodents. Rodents, in particular, may be looking for food because the flood may have destroyed their homes and normal food source. Store garbage in watertight, rodent/insect-proof containers with tight-fitting covers. Use plastic liners if available. Pile garbage in a convenient location but not near your well. If a rodent problem develops, use traps purchased at your local hardware, lawn, garden and grocery stores. Standing water is a breeding ground for some insects. When possible, drain or fill areas of standing water.

  • Flush Toilets

    If floodwaters are covering your septic tank and leach field, you should not use any flush toilets attached to the system. Septic systems rely on gravity to pull the wastewater down and away from the surface. When the system is flooded, wastewater can rise and mix with surface water, exposing people to human waste. If you are unable to use the toilets in your home, use portable toilets such as the type used for camping. Some communities may set up banks of commercial portable toilets for resident use.

  • Food, Containers and Utensils

    Raw foods that were exposed to flood waters may be contaminated and should not be eaten.

    • Food and food containers that have been in or splashed with floodwaters need to be either thrown away or properly cleaned.
    • Canned foods can be used unless the cans are swollen, rusted, seriously dented, or the contents cannot be identified. Wash off food cans that are still sealed and disinfect them for five minutes in a bleach solution of two teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water.
    • Discard food containers with lids that are screwed on or pressed on (such as soda and beer bottles). They cannot be cleaned adequately.
    • Clean and disinfect dishes, utensils and cookware in a solution of two teaspoons bleach per gallon of water. Do NOT use this method on sterling silver tableware. The bleach will cause these items to tarnish. Sanitize sterling silver by putting it in boiling water for at least two minutes.
  • Indoor Air

    During flood cleanup, the indoor air quality in your home or office may appear to be the least of your problems. However, flooding may cause indoor air quality problems that could last for a long time and cause you and your family to get sick. The next few pages provide information about how to reduce the likelihood that you will have indoor air quality problems. The information is intended to be used in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)/Red Cross booklet Repairing Your Flooded Home, which details general cleanup methods.

  • Preparing for Cleanup

    Get the free booklet, Repairing Your Flooded Home, from your local health department, FEMA or your local chapter of the American Red Cross (see listings the end of this section). Read that booklet carefully before cleanup because it discusses flood safety issues and can save your life. The booklet also contains detailed information about proper methods for cleaning your home.

  • Remove Standing Water

    For health reasons and to lessen structural damage, all standing water should be removed as quickly as possible.

    The water can "wick" into the walls causing a greater area to be affected. Standing water is a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, which can become airborne and be inhaled. Where floodwater contains sewage or decaying animal carcasses, infectious disease is a concern. Even when flooding is due to rainwater, the growth of bacteria and mold can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

    An exception to the water removal rule is if there is fuel oil floating on top of the water in a flooded basement. This usually happens when a basement floods and the oil tank was not properly fastened to the floor. The oil should be cleaned up before the water is pumped out. If the oil is not removed first, then the walls and floor will be coated with oil as the water is removed.

  • Drinking Water

    • Assume all water sources are unsafe until approved by your local health department.
    • Until water sources are approved, use health department - approved bottled water (look for the New York State Certificate number on the label), or water distributed by a health department-approved trank truck until your well is usable or public water has been restored.
    • If your well has been covered over with floodwaters, it should be disinfected.
    • Follow local offocials' water usage restrictions to conserve water.
    • If you must use water of unkonw quality, it should be disinfected.
  • Helpful Hints: Drying Out Your Home
    Dry out your home quickly to reduce bacteria and mold growth. Wet materials and furnishings that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within about 2 days should be discarded because they can be a source of bacteria and mold growth.
    1. Remove standing water with a mop, pail or wet/dry shop vacuum.
    2. Open windows and use a fan to evaporate remaining moisture.
    3. Close windows and cover any sump pump wells, then run a dehumidifier on the high setting. Continue using a fan to circulate air in any damp rooms. Run the dehumidifier until the holding tank fills at a slow rate.

    Excess Moisture and Indoor Air Quality

    Bacteria and mold brought into the home during flooding may present a health hazard. These organisms can penetrate deep into soaked, porous materials and later be released into the air or water.

    Coming into contact with air or water that contains these organisms can make you sick. High humidity and moist materials provide ideal environments for the excessive growth of bacteria and mold that are always present in the home. This may result in additional health concerns such as allergic reactions.

    Increases in home humidity over the longterm can foster the growth of dust mites that are a major contributor of allergic reactions and problems with asthma.

    Be patient. The drying out process could take several weeks and the growth of bacteria and mold will continue as long as humidity is high. If the house is not dried out properly, a musty odor, which signifies the growth of bacteria and mold, can remain long after the flood.

  • Remove Wet Materials

    Discarding items, particularly those with sentimental value, can be difficult for some people. However, keeping certain items soaked by water may be unhealthy. Some materials tend to absorb and keep water more than others. As a general rule, materials that are wet and cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried should be discarded because they can remain a source of bacteria and mold growth.

    Look in the FEMA/ Red Cross booklet, Repairing Your Flooded Home, "Step 4," for an explanation of how to dry out the different types of construction material that are used in your house (for example, plaster, wallboard, insulation). The booklet suggests that you may be able to dry out and save these building materials. You may, however, want to consider removing and replacing them to avoid indoor air quality problems. Because they take a long time to dry, these materials may be a source of bacteria and mold growth.

    In addition, fiberboard, fibrous insulation and disposable filters should be replaced if they are in your heating and air conditioning system and came in contact with water. If a filter was designed to be cleaned with water and was in contact with clean rain water only, thoroughly clean it before reinstalling.

  • Use Cleaners and Disinfectants Wisely

    Be careful about mixing household cleaners and disinfectants together. Check labels for warnings. Mixing certain types of products can produce toxic fumes and result in injury and even death.

    The cleanup process involves thorough washing and disinfecting of the walls, floors, closets, shelves and contents of the house. In most cases, common household cleaning products and disinfectants can be used for this task. FEMA also suggests using disinfectants and sanitizers when cleaning the heating and air conditioning ductwork if it has been flooded.

    Disinfectants and sanitizers contain substances that can cause other problems. The health effects from chemicals in household cleaning products vary greatly, from "no known health effects" to "serious health effects." Read and follow label instructions carefully and provide fresh air by opening windows and doors. If it is safe for you to use electricity and if the house is dry, use fans both during and after the use of disinfecting, cleaning and sanitizing products.

  • Avoid Airborne Asbestos and Lead Dust

    If you have to remove all or part of walls or floors, lead or asbestos-containing materials (for example, paint, plaster, pipe wrap) could be disturbed, causing lead dust or asbestos fibers to be spread around your home. Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of health effects, particularly in young children. Longterm exposure to airborne asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal lining. If you know or suspect that your home contains lead-based paint or asbestos, contact the New York State Department of Health at 800-458-1158 for information about steps you should take to avoid contaminating your home.

  • If An Oil Spill Occurs in a Flood

    If an oil spill has occurred in or near your home during a flood, contact the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Spill Hotline (800) 457-7362 to report the spill and to get help cleaning it up. DO NOT pump the water out into your yard because it might be mixed with oil and contaminate nearby wells, water bodies and homes.

    To control odors, keep all doors between the basement and the living space closed and avoid tracking oil in the home.

    For more information, see Residential Oil Spills and Flooding What Homeowners Need to Know.