These are some commonly asked questions about food safety during flooding situations.
Question: My basement was flooded. I had many canned goods stored there. Is any of the food safe?
Flood waters carry bacteria and, potentially, oil and chemical waste. If you handle containers exposed to floodwater, be sure to wash your hands carefully. Most food touched by floodwater needs to be discarded. Those items include:
Lori Scharmer serves as a North Dakota State University Extension service agent for Ward County.
+ Submerged glass jars with cardboard lid liners, such as most mayonnaise or salad dressing containers
+ Fresh fruits and vegetables
+ Submerged unopened jars of home-canned foods
Prep a 'Grab and Go' box
Your "Grab and Go" box in case of an evacuation should include:
+ Cash or traveler's checks for several days living expenses
+ Rolls of quarters
+ Emergency phone numbers:
- Doctors, pharmacies
- Financial advisers
- Repair contractors
+ Copies of important prescriptions:
+ Copies of children's immunization records
+ Copies of health, dental, and/or prescription insurance cards or numbers
+ Copies of auto, flood, renter's or homeowner's insurance policies (at least policy numbers)
+ Insurance company telephone numbers, including local agent and company headquarters
+ Copies of:
- Wills and/or trust documents
- Durable power of attorney
- Healthcare directives
- Stock and bond certificates
- Recent investment statements
- Home inventory
- Birth, death, adoption and marriage certificates
- Passports and other identity documents
- Employee-benefit documents
- First two pages of previous year's federal and state income tax returns
+ Back-up copies of computerized financial records
+ Keys to safe deposit box
+ Combination to safe
+ Negatives for irreplaceable personal photos
+ Computer user names and passwords
+ List of numbers:
- Social Security
- Credit card
- Bank account
- Driver's license
- Investment account
+ List of debt obligations, due dates and contact information
Informing friends and family about your evacuation plan is beneficial in case of injury or if families become separated. Having other people aware of your plan will reduce anxiety during stressful situations.
It is also beneficial to prepare an emergency contact card for each family member to keep on their person. This card should contain contact information for all household members, an out-of-town contact and other key emergency and medical providers.
+ All food in cardboard boxes, paper, foil or cellophane
+ Flour, sugar, spices and seasonings in bags or canisters
+ Canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted
+ Canned foods in undamaged cans can be salvaged, but the cans should be sanitized by following this process:
Mark the tops of the cans with the contents.
Remove labels and wash the cans in a strong detergent solution, using a scrub brush.
Prepare a sanitizing solution consisting of 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach per gallon of room- temperature water. Immerse the cans for 10 minutes.
Allow the containers to air-dry.
Question: A flood is on the way. I probably will have seepage and, potentially, sewage backup in my basement. What can I do to protect my food?
With imminent flooding, consider these tips to prevent floodwater from coming in contact with food:
+ Move food stored in the basement to the upstairs
+ Raise refrigerators and freezers by placing cement blocks under the corners
+ Move food from low to high cabinets
Question: Our power went out during a flood, leaving us without a working refrigerator or freezer for a couple of days. Is any of the food safe?
Temperature control is critical for keeping perishable food safe, so use a food thermometer to measure the temperature of the food. Foods in a freezer without power may stay frozen up to three days, depending on some factors. If the door was kept closed, the freezer was full and the temperature outside was moderate, you have a better chance of rescuing your food.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, if perishable food (meat, seafood, milk and casser-oles) stays above 40 F for more than two hours, it should be discarded.
If the frozen food still is partially frozen, as evidenced by ice crystals, you can refreeze the food and maintain safety and quality. If frozen food is thawed but still cold (40 F or lower), you can use it.
When in doubt, throw it out.
+ Plug basement floor drains with removable grids if sewer backup may occur.
Install drain plugs available from hardware stores. One type of plug has a rubber center that expands to fill the pipe when the top and bottom metal plates are squeezed. If a commercial plug is not available, a flexible rubber ball about 1-1/4 times the inside diameter of the pipe can be wedged into the drain to create a tight seal. Brace the ball securely in the drain with a 2-by-4 against the ceiling. Hold a board or piece of plywood on the ceiling and slide the 2-by-4 against the bottom of the board to avoid damage to plaster ceilings. For a suspended tile ceiling, remove ceiling tiles to get access to the ceiling joists. Span a 2-by-4 across the two joists and wedge the vertical 2-by-4 between it and the ball.
+ Cover basement floor drains with permanent grids.
Place a partially inflated inner tube around the drain, and top it with a square or two of plywood (not particle board). The plywood must be larger across than the inner tube to cover it. Brace this in place just as with the ball on the drain. Be prepared for some seepage.
+ Reduce flooding from other drains.
Unbolt toilets from the floor and plug the outlet pipe using the same procedure as for floor drains. Shower drains can be plugged this way too. Most washing machines and basement sinks have their drain connections about 3 feet above the floor so may not overflow if the water doesn't get that high. If necessary, these drains can be disconnected and capped or plugged with commercial plugs or braced rubber balls.
+ Prepare appliances for flooding
Shut off appliances at the fuse box or breaker panel. Put freezers, washer, dryers and other appliances up on wood or cement blocks to keep the motors above the water level. If high water is imminent and large appliances can't be moved, wrap them in polyethylene film, tying the film in place with cord or rope. The water will still get in, but most of the silt won't so cleanup will be easier.
+ Shut off electricity to areas of the home that might flood
Even if floodwaters are not reaching electrical outlets, the risk of electrical shock to someone working in a flooded basement is high with electric motors in the furnace, freezer, washer, dryer and other appliances. Shut off electrical breakers or unscrew fuses.
Don't stand in water and turn off electrical switches. If this must be done, use a dry piece of wood or a plastic or rubber pole to do the switching, and stand on a block of wood or a plastic crate that doesn't conduct electricity. If floodwaters are getting close to the electrical entrance box, call the power supplier and have the electrical supply to the house disconnected.
If the floor is damp but not really flooded, ground fault circuit interrupters reduce the risk of using electricity. In newer homes, interrupters can be identified by the buttons between the top and bottom outlets. They can be added to any outlet or in an extension cord to turn off the power if an electrical fault occurs.
For more information about dealing with flood issues, visit the NDSU Extension Service disaster information Web site at (www.ag.ndsu.edu/disaster/flood.html).