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Food Safety Following an Emergency

In This Section:

Food Safety During a Power Outage

Food Safety After a Fire

Food Safety After a Flood

Food Safety During a Power Outage

Without power, a full upright or chest freezer will keep everything frozen for about 2 days. A half-full freezer will keep food frozen for 1 day. Your refrigerator section will keep food cool for 4 to 6 hours, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.

Tips to keep your food safe during a power outage:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors shut as much as possible.
  • If your power will be out for a long time, store your food in a friend’s or neighbour’s freezer if you can.
  • Use ice to help keep your refrigerator and freezer cold.
  • If your frozen food has thawed, it can be re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals or feels refrigerator-cold.
  • Discard any thawed food that has risen to above 4°C (40°F) and remained there for 2 hours or more. Discard any food with a strange colour or odour immediately. When in doubt, throw it out.


Food Safety After a Fire

Fires are extremely unfortunate events, and people often try to salvage what they can, including food. Fire can jeopardize the safety of food.

Smoke and Fumes

Toxic fumes released from burning materials are one of the most dangerous elements of a fire. Fumes and smoke from the fire can contaminate food and drink, making it unsafe to eat or drink.

Heat from the Fire

Heat from the fire may activate food spoilage bacteria in cans and jars, and can partially cook fresh foods. This can make previously safe food, unsafe. High heat may also cause cans and jars to split or rupture, making the food unsafe.

You should discard:

  • All food that may have been exposed to fumes, smoke, heat and/or chemicals used to fight the fire.
  • Food stored in permeable packaging such as cardboard, plastic wrap, screw-topped jars, bottles, etc. This also includes home canned products and dry foods such as sugar, flour, rice and bakery products.
  • Foods stored at room temperature in cabinets or on shelves where the food could have been contaminated. This includes potatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables and dried fruit.
  • Food stored in refrigerators or freezers that have become contaminated. Refrigerator seals may not be airtight and may allow fumes inside. Any food with an off flavour or odour when it’s prepared should be thrown out.
  • Discard foods packaged in cans or jars that have split or ruptured or have other visible signs of damage because they have been exposed to heat.

Cleaning After a Fire

  • Remove all damaged equipment, utensils, linens and single service items.
  • Clean and sanitize all areas and equipment including utensils, cookware, dishware, food contact surfaces, food preparation equipment, floors, floor drains, sinks.

To clean and sanitize:

  • Thoroughly wash with soap and water to remove dirt, silt or chemicals.
  • Rinse with clean water.
  • Sanitize with a chlorine bleach solution (5 ml (1 tsp.) bleach per 750 ml (3 cups) water.


Food Safety After a Flood

It is important to understand that flood water can jeopardize the safety of food.

How does a flood make food unsafe?

Flood water may carry silt, raw sewage, oil or chemical waste. If the flood water comes into contact with food, it can contaminate the food and make it unsafe to eat. Unpackaged foods that come into contact with the flood water may be contaminated. Packaged food can also be contaminated when flood water covers or seeps into food containers.

What do I do with food that may be unsafe because of a flood?

Thoroughly inspect all food items and discard any food that has been contaminated by flood water. If you are in doubt about the safety of any food, throw it out rather than risk illness or disease.

Note: Food that has been contaminated or spoiled may not look different. You cannot usually see chemicals or pathogens on food.

The following food safety tips can assist you to determine which foods to discard and which to save.

You should discard:

  • Food stored in permeable containers. Screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped-cap containers are examples of containers that may not be waterproof.
  • Food wrapped in paper, plastic cloth, fibre or cardboard.
  • Food that has come in direct contact with flood water. This includes meats, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables (raw or cooked).
  • Home-canned food in glass containers that have come in contact with flood water. Throw away the food and the flat part of the lids. The empty jars can be washed and sterilized for future use.
  • Commercially-canned foods that are damaged. Cans that are bulging, swelling, leaking, punctured, dented or have holes, fractures or are rusting should be thrown out.
  • Porous items that may come in contact with food or with a person’s mouth. These items include: baby bottle nipples and pacifiers; wooden bowls; and plastic, paper or foam food storage containers and utensils.

Only food in commercially sealed, unopened, water proof airtight jars or metal cans should be considered safe once the containers are cleaned and sanitized according to the instructions in the cleaning section below.

How do I clean after a flood?

Clean and sanitize all areas and non-permeable equipment affected by flood water. This includes: utensils/silverware, cookware, dishware, food contact surfaces, food preparation equipment, floors, floor sinks, floor drains, and furniture.

Use the following cleaning and sanitizing method to clean and disinfect:

  • Thoroughly wash with soap and water; ensure that any dirt, silt or chemicals are brushed or wiped away
  • Rinse with clean water
  • Sanitize by immersing in:
    • a mild bleach solution made with 5ml (1 tsp) bleach per 750 ml (3 cups) water;


  • hot water of 77° C (170° F) or hotter
  • Air dry

If applicable, closed undamaged cans containing food can be sanitized by placing them in water and allowing the water to boil and continue to boil for at least two minutes, or by immersing them for two minutes in a mild bleach solution made with 5ml (1 tsp) bleach per 750 ml (3 cups) of water. When sanitizing cans, remove labels prior to washing and sanitizing. Re-label cans after air drying. Cans that have been cleaned and sanitized should be used as soon as possible as they may rust.