Food Safety in Weather Emergencies: Keep, Eat, Discard, and Clean

Follow toss and keep advice for frozen and refrigerated foods if you have been without power. When in doubt, throw it out. Toss food containers touched by floodwaters and clean and disinfect all cookware, utensils and commercially-canned foods.

Keep, Eat, or Discard?

Frozen Food

If the power is out long enough, the food in your freezer may partially or completely thaw before power is restored. If food has ice crystals, it may be safely cooked and eaten, or refrozen. Discard any food that looks or smells bad.

Foods that have thawed, but are still kept at 400F or below may be safely eaten or refrozen, although refreezing thawed foods can affect taste and food texture. Purchase an appliance thermometer and use it to check your freezer temperature.

Refrigerated Food

Toss! If fridge is above 40 degrees F. Keep! These foods should be safe, even at room temperature
Meat, poultry, seafood Butter, margarine
Pizza Hard cheese
Lunch meats Fresh whole fruit and vegetables (except raw sprouts)
Casseroles, stews, soups Unopened fruit juices
Cooked or cut fruits or vegetables Dried fruits
Milk/cream, yogurt, soft cheese Fresh herbs and spices
Cooked pasta, potatoes, rice, salads prepared from any listed foods Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressing, peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, hot sauce
Cookie or other refrigerated doughs Mustard, ketchup, olives
Fresh eggs, egg substitutes Fruit pies
Cream-filled pastries or custard  
Gravies, sauces  
Moldy food or food with an unusual odor or appearance  

Handling Food Containers, Canned Food, and Cookware

  • Discard all foods exposed to floodwaters.
  • Toss food containers that have been submerged in or splashed with floodwaters.
  • Commercially-canned foods can be cleaned and kept unless cans are swollen, rusted, extremely dented, or the contents cannot be identified.
  • Discard food containers with lids that are screwed on, snapped on, or pressed on, such as soda and beer bottles. They cannot be cleaned adequately.
  • Toss all home-canned foods.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Food Containers, Dishes, Utensils, and Cookware

  • Use soap and clean water to wash dishes, utensils, and cookware.
  • Disinfect with a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid unscented chlorine bleach per 1 gallon of water. Do not use this method on sterling silver. Bleach will cause items to tarnish. Instead, put sterling silver in boiling water for at least 2 minutes.

Commercially Canned Foods

  • Remove labels from cans.
  • Wash in soapy water and rinse.
  • Disinfect with solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid unscented chlorine bleach per 1 gallon of water and air dry.
  • Re-label cans and include the expiration dates.