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Hurricane Food Safety: Preparing for Florence

Posted in Food Safety on September 11, 2018

The past few days here in Virginia have been about prepping, and it isn’t over just yet. Hurricane Florence is raging in the Atlantic and we are still unsure where she will end up, but what we do know is that areas are expected to get over 20 inches of rain and that is devastating no matter where you call home.

Prepping for me is both a mental and physical game. We spend several days making sure that our outdoor animals (chickens) are safe and that things are clean in their coops prior to the storm coming in the event that we can’t properly clean for several days. We all know that Salmonella can be an issue with backyard chickens, so we like to be certain that things are tidy and in order.  We clean the coop with white vinegar and make sure that the interior is neat while the exterior is also swept up and the manure is added to the compost pile. This storm has been different for us because we have already had soaking rains this week and more to come before Florence ever gets here.

We also like to make sure that we have clean drinking water so we stocked up on a case of drinking water and a few gallons of water as well. I will also be adding water to buckets for flushing our toilet. Having a well makes things difficult as opposed to when I was a child on town water and knew that we had cold water if nothing else in case of a power outage.

As far as food safety we are preparing for that as well. We are so fortunate to have a generator to keep our refrigerator on the grid this time, but prior to this storm we were not so fortunate. There have been several storms where we lost a lot of food because I wanted to be safe rather than sorry.

Please stay safe and help your neighbors when needed.

The USDA has given us some guidelines to follow thankfully and I want to share some with those who may not be aware. We have several friends who are out on their own and this is their first major storm so they are new to preparing for a storm, living during a storm and also the post-storm stuff on their own.


How to Determine What Food to Keep or Discard

  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
  • Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.

Pots, Pans, Dishes, and Utensils

  • Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).

After a hurricane or flooding, people need to assess all food and food preparation areas and equipment to decide what to keep or throw away. Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the public water supply. Water in the hurricane-affected area may not be safe to drink. Local announcements should provide updated information on the supply.

  • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Do not eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth and similar containers that have been water damaged.
  • Discard food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops and home canned foods, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected.
  • Undamaged, commercially-prepared foods in all-metal cans or retort pouches can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash the cans, rinse them and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water. Finally, re-label containers that had the labels removed, including the expiration date, with a marker.


Area health departments will determine whether tap water can be used for drinking. If water is not potable or is questionable, follow these directions to purify it:

  1. Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available.
  2. If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. If water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off clear water for boiling. Boil the water and let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.
  3. If you can’t boil water, you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. If water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off clear water for disinfection. Add ⅛ teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.
  4. If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)