Floods – what to do after a flood

Floodwater can be contaminated with sewage, agricultural and industrial waste, and other substances that can cause illness.

There is a danger that any food, surfaces and cooking utensils that have come into contact with floodwater might be contaminated.

Spills and sewage discharges can also contaminate water supplies and food gardens.

Throw out food that might not be safe to eat

Follow these steps:

  • Throw out food that has come into contact with floodwater or has an unusual odour, colour or texture. Do not taste or cook it.
  • Check canned and unopened bottled food and throw out any cans that are dented, swollen or damaged. Some cans and bottled products might be salvageable. For cans that appear useable:
    remove the label and thoroughly wash the outside of the can with drinking-quality water
    sanitise the can in bleach (check the bleach container label for the concentration of bleach recommended) for 1 minute, then rinse in drinking-quality water re-label the can with a waterproof pen
  • Vegetable gardens can take a month to become suitable for harvest after flood or sewage discharge. Discard all leafy green produce or damaged vine or dropped tree fruits. After 1 month, wash other vegetables then sanitise in a weak bleach solution of 1 tablespoons bleach to 2 litres of water. Then rinse in drinking-quality water, peel and use. Monitor announcements and consult local authorities after other sorts of contamination. If in doubt throw it out.

Clean and sanitise surfaces and food utensils.

Follow these steps:

  • Carefully check dishes, pots, pans, cutlery and kitchen equipment that might have been in contact with floodwater. Throw away damaged or cracked items, items made from porous material such as wood, plastic or rubber including wooden chopping boards as they cannot be adequately sanitised.
  • Wash utensils and surfaces in hot, soapy, drinking-quality water. Take apart and clean the non-electrical pieces of any kitchen equipment that can be safety taken apart and then rinse in clean, hot water.
  • Sanitise silverware, metal utensils, pots, pans and kitchen equipment in pieces by boiling in water for 10 minutes. Sanitise dishes by immersing glass, porcelain, china and enamel-ware for 10 minutes in a disinfecting solution of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per 2 litres of warm water. Then rinse. Clean cupboards and counters with hot soapy water then rinse with a chlorine bleach solution before storing dishes or food.
  • Air dry items because towels might have been splashed with contaminated water.
  • Commercial and most domestic dishwashers are capable of sanitising all eating and cooking utensils as part of their normal cycle.

    Water for drinking

    In an emergency such as a flood or contamination event, tap water and private water supplies such as from tanks, wells and bores sometimes might not be safe to drink and use for cooking and cleaning.

    Monitor public announcements and those from the local water supplier to know if tap water is safe to use.

    Private water supplies should be tested before using again – contact your council.

If the water is unsafe:

  • use only bottled, boiled or treated water – in that order of preference – for drinking, cooking or preparing food, washing utensils and surfaces, brushing teeth, hand washing, making ice, and bathing
  • only treat contaminated water if no drinking-quality water can be obtained:
    filter cloudy water through a clean cloth or allow it to settle, then pour off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water vigorously for 1 minute then leave it to cool and store in a clean, covered container. Boiling will ensure water safe from most types of harmful bugs but will not remove chemical contaminants
  • only if water cannot be boiled, treat it with chlorine or iodine tablets. Follow the directions that come with the tablets. This might not kill all bugs and will not remove any chemical contaminants.
  • thoroughly clean any containers used to store water with hot soapy drinking-quality water, then rinse with a bleach solution before use.