Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency

If you are in a disaster or emergency, it’s important that you take steps to prevent illness from unsafe food.

After A Disaster

Throw away the following food:

  • Perishable food that has not been refrigerated or frozen properly due to power outages
  • Food that may have come in contact with floodwater or stormwater
  • Food with an unusual odor, color, or texture.

Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks and smells normal. When in doubt, throw it out!

Graphic of Infographic for Eat Safe Food after a Power Outage

Learn more about what you can do to keep your food safe before, during, and after a power outage.

During and after a power outage

Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible while the power is out.

A full freezer will keep food safe for 48 hours (24 hours if half-full) without power if you don’t open the door. Your refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours without power if you don’t open the door.

Throw out the following foods:

  • All perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) in your refrigerator when the power has been off for 4 hours or more.
  • All perishable foods in your freezer if they have thawed.

You can safely refreeze or cook food from the freezer if the food still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated. Check this FoodSafety.govexternal icon chart for a list of what foods you should throw out and foods you can refreeze.

After a flood

Do the following with food that may have had contact with floodwater or stormwater.

Throw away the following foods or food containers:

  • Food with an unusual odor, color, or texture.
  • Food in packages that are not waterproof.
  • Food in cardboard containers, including juice/milk/baby formula boxes.
  • Food containers with screw caps, snap lids, crimped caps, twist caps, flip tops, and snap tops.
  • Home-canned foods. They cannot be disinfected.
  • Canned foods or food containers that are bulging, open, or damaged.

Throw out cans or food containers that spurt liquid or foam when you open them or contain food that is discolored, moldy, or smells bad. When in doubt, throw it out!

Clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces that have been flooded
Throw out wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers if they have come into contact with floodwaters. Sanitizing methods are not effective for removing floodwater contaminants from these items.
Clean and sanitize dishes, utensils, and other surfaces that touch food (like refrigerator drawers or kitchen countertops) in a four-step process:

  1. Wash with hot, soapy water.
  2. Rinse with clean, safe water.
  3. Sanitize:
    • Make a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/240 mL) of unscented household chlorine bleach in 5 gallons of clean water.
    • Soak items for 1 minute in the beach solution (solution should completely cover the items).
    • For items that you can’t put in the solution (like countertops), apply solution with a cloth.
  4. Allow to air dry.

How to salvage commercially prepared food in cans and plastic or metal pouches (like flexible, shelf-stable juice packages):

  1. Remove labels if possible. Note the expiration date.
  2. Brush or wipe away dirt or silt.
  3. Wash cans and pouches with hot, soapy water.
  4. Rinse cans and pouches with clean, safe water.
  5. Sanitize cans and pouches in one of two ways:
    1. Place them in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/240 mL) of unscented household bleach in 5 gallons of water for 15 minutes, OR
    2. Put in a pot of water, bring to a boil, and continue boiling for 2 minutes.
  6. Re-label cans or pouches with a marker. Include the expiration date.
  7. Use food in cans or pouches as soon as possible.

After any disaster or emergency

If you suspect the disaster has caused damage to your home’s structure do not use your fireplace for cooking until the chimney has been inspected for cracks and damage. Sparks may escape through an undetected crack and start a fire.

More Information
Page last reviewed: September 8, 2020