Flood victims in south Louisiana are returning home and starting the clean-up process. LSU AgCenter food safety expert Wenqing Xu said any food touched by floodwaters should be discarded.

Xu said the one exception is undamaged, commercially-canned foods in metal cans.

“The cans will need reconditioning,” she said. “Remove the labels, and clean and sanitize the cans and let them air dry.” Don’t forget to mark the cans with what’s inside and the expiration dates, she added.

Home-canned foods should be thrown out.

Homeowners should also discard fruits or vegetables that received flooding. Floodwaters can carry a high microbial load, Xu said. Whether floodwaters remained on the garden or just touched the plants and then receded, she recommends picking and destroyed any edible parts of the plant.

“Home gardeners are at risk because food safety may not be on their minds, and they can’t see the bacteria on the plants,” Xu said

Food stored above the flood line in pantries and cabinets that took on water can be saved, just make sure you know where the highest point of the flood was. 

If a refrigerator flooded, food in there should also be discarded. If water did not make it into the refrigerator, but the power was out for an extended time, then the safety of the food inside could be compromised.

“Make sure the temperature in the refrigerator did not go above 40 degrees,” she said.

A flooded refrigerator that still works can be salvaged. Xu said to clean it with soapy water, then sanitize it with a bleach and water solution—a tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. Do not rinse the bleach solution off, but rather let it air dry. She also said if your water is not potable, do not clean with it unless you boil it first.

Cabinets, countertops, pots and pans, plates and utensils that received flooding and will touch food also should be cleaned and sanitized in the same manner, she said.

She also said if your dishwasher was flooded and still works, it can be used safely by running three empty cycles before using it to clean dishes.

A clean kitchen is the first step toward a healthy home, Xu said.