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

from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.

After a flood, be cautious about handling foods and medications that were exposed to flood or unsafe municipal water. They may be contaminated with toxins or germs that can cause illnesses, such as hepatitis or gastroenteritis.

Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. This includes food packed in plastic, paper and cardboard containers that have been water damaged. Discard food and beverage containers with screw caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops and home-canned foods, if they have come into contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected. If in doubt, throw it out.

Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans or retort pouches (packages used to seal food for long-term unrefrigerated storage) can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash and rinse the outside of the containers, and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of safe drinking water. Be sure to put on new labels or write the food and expiration date on the containers when you're done.

Any medications — pills, liquids, drugs for injection, inhalers or skin medications — that have come into contact with flood or contaminated water should be discarded. The exception to this is drugs that are lifesaving and not easily replaced. In these cases, if the container is contaminated but the contents appear unaffected — for example, the pills are dry — the pills may be used until a replacement can be obtained. However, if a pill is wet, it is contaminated and should be discarded. After a flood, contact your doctor or pharmacist immediately about getting replacement medications.

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