Handling Food After a Disaster
Aging Matters

If you've encountered a hurricane, tornado, or flood, you know the increased likelihood of contaminated food and water supplies. Other unexpected issues include electricity outages and loss of telephone and cable connection. The downtime can last for days, weeks, and potentially months.

The USDA developed a website giving useful tips and advice on handling food and other necessities following a disaster. But I've summarized the ones dealing with food and water. It'll help you prepare before emergency strikes, and know the steps to take to keep the food and water safe to consume. The thing to remember, get prepared.

Food Kit

  • Store a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Select the ones you and the family will consume
  • Prepare for special diet needs
  • Don't choose foods that make you thirsty
  • Select salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content

Since most power outages occur for at least a couple of days; stock canned foods, dry mixes and other staples that do not need refrigeration or cooking. Pack a can opener and paper plates and plastic utensils.

Visit FoodSafety.gov for the guidelines on what to throw out or keep. Maintain the refrigerator and freezer doors closed to maintain the cold temperature. The cooler will keep the food safely cold for about 4 hours if remains closed. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours or 24 hours if it is half-full. Put ice in the refrigerator to keep it cold and dry ice in the freezer. Know where to buy dry ice and block ice.

Never taste food to determine its safety.


If the refrigerator is without power for 4 hours and more:

  • Raw, cooked, or leftover meat, fish, eggs, luncheon meat, hot dogs
  • Casseroles, soups, stews, and pizza
  • Chicken, tuna, potato salads
  • Milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream, and soft cheeses

See the full list at fsis.usda.gov

Safe to eat

  • Whole fruits and vegetables (fresh)
  • Fruit and vegetable juices (unopened)
  • Dried fruits
  • Baked goods - bread, rolls, muffins, and cakes (except those with cream cheese frosting or cream fillings)
  • Hard and processed cheeses
  • Butter and margarine
  • Nuts

After a Flood

  • Drink bottled water
  • Do not eat food that has been in contact with flood water
  • Discard food that is not in a waterproof container or stored in cardboard boxes
  • Throw away food in damaged cans
  • Discard plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that may have come in contact with flood waters.
  • Wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, utensils (including can openers) with soap and water (hot water if available).
  • Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water - rinse and sanitize by applying one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water. Allow air-drying.


Store at least one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking, food preparation, and sanitation. Buy pre-packaged bottled water and do not open the containers until you're ready to use them.

Carol Marak, aging advocate, and editor at Seniorcare.com. She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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