After a flood, are food and medicines safe to use?

After a flood, be cautious about handling foods and medications that were exposed to flood water. They may be contaminated with toxins or germs that can cause illnesses. Here's some information that may help you determine what to discard and what to keep.


Any medications — pills, liquids, drugs for injection, inhalers or skin creams — that have come into contact with flood water or contaminated water should be discarded.

If a drug is a life-sustaining treatment, you may use it only if the contents appear to be unaffected — for example, the pills are dry — and only until a replacement can be obtained. If a pill is wet or discolored from contact with water, consider it contaminated and throw it out.

If the power was out for an extended time, drugs that require refrigeration should be discarded. If it is a life-sustaining medication, such as insulin, keep using the medication only until you can replace it. The medication will not be effective through its original expiration date.

Contact your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible after a flood to get replacement medications.

Refrigerated and frozen foods

If the electricity to your home was out, foods in the refrigerator or freezer may be spoiled. As a general rule, an unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. Food will last about 24 hours in a half-full, unopened freezer and about 48 hours in a full unopened, freezer.

If the power has been out longer than four hours or you're unsure of how long, throw out any perishable foods in the refrigerator, such as dairy products, meats, fish and leftovers. Throw out perishable frozen foods that have thawed in the freezer.

Canned and dry goods

Don't eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. This includes food packed in plastic, paper and cardboard containers, as well as home-canned food. Discard food and beverage containers with screw caps, snap lids, crimped caps, twist caps or flip tops.

Commercially prepared food in undamaged all-metal cans or retort pouches can be saved. Retort pouches are the flexible, sealed, plastic-and-foil pouches that are used to package foods that are traditionally sold in cans, such as soups or tuna.

You'll need to remove the labels from the cans. Thoroughly wash and rinse the outside of the containers and then disinfect them for 15 minutes in 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon of safe drinking water, or 16 milliliters of bleach to 4 liters of water.

Write the name of the food and the expiration date on the containers after you've disinfected them. Use these food items as soon as possible.

Last Updated Nov 11, 2020

© 2023 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of Use