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Missourians Affected by Storm Damage Urged to Be Cautious with Food and Cooking Utensils to Avoid Illness

Missourians Affected by Storm Damage Urged to Be Cautious with Food and Cooking Utensils to Avoid Illness

In response to flooding across northeastern, eastern and other parts of Missouri, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is urging residents to be extremely cautious with food and cooking utensils stored in flooded homes. Stored food and cooking utensils can become home to growing bacteria like salmonella and listeria, which can cause potentially serious food-borne illnesses. The bottom line is: when in doubt, throw it out.

“We really want people whose homes have flooded from the storms to be careful with their food and cooking utensils, and you should not eat any food that has come in contact with flood water,” said Jane Drummond, DHSS director. “We know food is expensive, but keeping food that may have become wet is just not worth the risk of getting sick from it.”

Below are food safety tips people should follow:
Non-perishable Food: Cans, bottles, jars or boxed items such as cereals, peanut butter, canned fruits and juices, bread products, fresh/raw fruits kept in cupboards and cabinets that are wet and received water damage should be discarded immediately. Any food that is not in a waterproof container should be discarded. This includes any food that has a screw on cap, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps (like soda bottles) and home canned foods. Any food in cardboard containers such as infant formula and juice boxes should be also discarded.

The only food that can be saved if exposed to flood water is commercially prepared foods in metal cans or in retort pouches. Retort pouches are the ones that tuna fish and juice drinks are in. Special care must be taken before you open the containers though:

Remove the labels if the labels are removable.
Wash the cans or pouches in hot soapy water brushing away any dirt or silt and then rise them in water that is safe for drinking.
Sanitize the containers in one of two ways: 1. Place in water and bring to a boil and boil for two minutes or 2. Place in a freshly made solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest water available) for 15 minutes.
Air-dry the cans or pouches for at least one hour before opening or storing.
Use a marker to re-label cans.

Never Taste Food to Determine Its Safety: Sight, smell and taste are not accurate indicators of a food item’s safety, since the bacteria that can cause illness cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature longer than four hours, bacteria can grow and multiply rapidly. Some bacteria can produce toxins, which are not destroyed by cooking and can cause illness. Remember the food safety adage “when in doubt, throw it out.”

Floodwater can be toxic so precautions need to be taken to prevent illness. There are special ways of handling cooking utensils such as pots and pans and food that have been exposed to flood waters.

Pots, pans and any other dishes or utensils that have been exposed to floodwater should be washed in hot soapy water and then rinsed. Dishes and utensils should then be sanitized by boiling them in clean water or immersing them in a solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of the cleanest water available for fifteen minutes.
To clean countertops or other surfaces, wash them with hot soapy water and then rinse. Sanitize them with the drinking water and bleach solution as above and let them air dry.
Clean and Sanitize: Refrigerators and freezers that experienced extended power outages and that contained food that it was necessary to discard should be cleaned and sanitized prior to restocking. Wash the interiors of the units with warm soapy water, rinse with clear water and then wipe the units’ inside surfaces with a cloth or sponge dipped in a mild bleach solution made by mixing 1 capful of bleach in a gallon of clear water. Allow to air dry and restock the units when they can maintain food at safe temperatures of 41°F or less.

Use a Thermometer: Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times to see if food is being stored at safe temperatures (34 to 45°F for the refrigerator; 0°F or below for the freezer). The key to determining the safety of foods in the refrigerator and freezer is how cold they are. Bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 41 °F cause most food-borne illness.

Refrigerated Items. Discard any perishable food that has been above 41°F for four hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. If food was not out of temperature for four hours or more, it should be safe to consume.

Leave the Freezer Door Closed: A full freezer should keep food safe about two days; a half-full freezer, about a day. Adding bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer will help maintain foods at safe temperatures. You can safely refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals or feel cold to the touch, however the food may suffer some quality loss in flavor and texture.

Contact your physician or the local health agency to report any symptoms you or your family are experiencing which you feel are related to consuming spoiled food. Some signs and symptoms of food-borne illness include stomach cramping, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and headache.

While most food-borne illness resolves itself in a few days, it can become serious and even life threatening for young children, senior adults, and people with weakened immune systems. With food-borne illness, as with any kind of illness, if symptoms persist or worsen, a person’s healthcare provider should be contacted.

Associated audio with this story is available through the Missouri DHSS web site, under the news link: