Food safety after a flood

If your home has been flooded or your water supply has been cut off, it’s important you know how to prepare food safely.

Flood water can be contaminated with sewage, animal waste and other waste, from drains or the surrounding area. This means it may contain harmful bacteria, viruses or chemicals.

Following simple hygiene practices will help you to avoid getting ill from flood water.

Safe food preparation and storage

To stop harmful bacteria that might be present in flood water spreading to your food, we advise that you:

  • don’t eat any food that has been touched or covered by floodwater or sewage
  • clean and disinfect all work surfaces and kitchen equipment before using them with food – in a dishwasher if you can, or by using a suitable disinfectant
  • throw away wooden chopping boards and wooden spoons if they have come into contact with flood water
  • clean and disinfect the inside of your fridge and food cupboards if they have been touched by flood water
  • don’t use work surfaces or things like plates if they are badly chipped or damaged
  • if your tap water may be contaminated, boil and cool it before using it to wash food that won’t be cooked, such as fruit or salad

Preparing baby food

If your drinking water supply is either interrupted or contaminated by flooding, it is important to be careful with the water you use. When preparing formula and baby feeds:

  • ideally use bottled water
  • bring water to a ‘rolling’ boil and leave it covered to cool for no more than half an hour
  • follow the manufacturer’s instructions on making up the feed
  • use cooled, boiled water for cooling the feed once it has been made up

If there is no electricity or gas to allow boiling, bottled water can be used without boiling to prepare baby feeds. The prepared feed should then be used immediately.

Some bottled water labelled as ‘natural mineral water’ may have high levels of sodium or sulphate. When buying bottles of natural mineral water, look at the label and check that:

  • the figure for sodium (or ‘Na’) is not higher than 200mg a litre
  • the figure for sulphate (‘SO’ or ‘SO4’) is not higher than 250mg a litre

If it is, try to use another water. If no other water is available, then use this water for as short a time as possible.

Always wash your hands before preparing formula and before feeding an infant. You can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer for cleaning your hands if the water supply is limited.

Remember to clean feeding bottles with bottled, boiled, or treated water before each use.