Press Release

August 28, 2007


State public health department provides tips for staying healthy after the flood

Food safety, cleanup and preventing illness information  

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois Department of Public Health is offering guidance to flood victims on how to stay healthy in the days and weeks flowing the recent flooding. After a flood, personal precautions regarding hygiene, cleanup and food safety need to be taken.

“While dealing with personal property damage after a flood can be consuming, it’s important to remember there are steps you need to take to protect your health. Exposure to floodwater can cause illness, so you need to take precautions during cleanup and make sure you are properly disinfecting areas that have been exposed to floodwaters,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, Illinois Department of Public Health Director.

Following a flood it is important to maintain good hygiene to minimize the risk of disease and illness. One of the most important things to do to prevent the spread of waterborne disease is always wash your hands with soap and clean, warm, running water. This is important when:

  • Preparing or eating food
  • Handling a baby
  • After toilet use
  • After handling objects contaminated with floodwater or sewage.

When no regular safe water supply is available, use bottled, boiled or chemical disinfected water for washing hands and brushing teeth.

Parents should not allow children to play in floodwater or in areas that have been flooded. Contaminated toys should be disinfected in a solution of one ounce of bleach (1/8 cup) in two gallons of water.

Flooded indoor areas must be scrubbed with warm soapy water. Particular attention should be paid to food-contact surfaces (counter tops, pantry shelves, refrigerators, stoves, cutting boards, etc.) and areas where small children play. Next, rinse with a solution made by adding 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of laundry bleach to each gallon of water.

Wash all linens and clothing in hot water or have them dry cleaned. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, should be air dried in the sun and then vacuumed and sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant. Steam-clean all carpeting.

If there has been a back-flow of sewage into the house, remove and discard any absorbent household materials, such as wall coverings, cloth, rugs and sheetrock. Be sure to wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during the cleanup.

Although disease outbreaks are rare after flooding, open sores that are exposed to contaminated water could result in tetanus. The tetanus bacteria typically enter the body through places where the skin is broken. Anyone with a wound that becomes contaminated should go to a doctor to determine if a tetanus booster is necessary.

Precautions should also be taken with canned, refrigerated and frozen foods along with drinking well water.

Generally, do not eat any food that has come in contact with floodwater. Carefully examine all canned and bottled goods that have been submerged or come in contact with floodwater. Some cans or bottles may be safe to use after a good cleaning. Follow these guidelines:

  • After being under water, containers with cork-lined lids or caps, screw tops or pop tops are nearly impossible to clean thoroughly around the opening. They should be discarded.
  • If they appear undamaged, tin cans are usually safe. Wash in bleach water (1/4-cup bleach in 1 gallon of water) for one minute, and then dry to prevent rusting.
  • If a can is crushed, dented or creased, closely examine it to see if it is safe to use. A dent may weaken the seam and allow contamination.

When the electricity is out, a fully stocked freezer will keep food frozen for two days, if the door remains closed. A freezer half full can keep foods frozen about a day. Another option is to buy dry ice. However, it should not be touched with bare hands because it freezes everything it touches. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice will hold a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing temperature for three to four days. Because dry ice also gives off carbon dioxide, the freezer door should be left open a short time before examining food. If you are unsure how long the electricity has been off, take extra precautions. Food that smells bad, is slimy, has an unusual color or is room temperature should be discarded. If food is still “cold-to-the-touch,” it may be cooked and eaten immediately, or refrozen.

When a refrigerator is without power, food inside can stay safely cold for four to six hours, depending on how warm it is in the kitchen. Adding block ice to the refrigerator will help keep goods cold, but as the ice melts, the water may saturate food packages. Consequently, food packages should be kept away from ice as it melts. Dairy products, meat, fish and poultry should be consumed as soon as possible after the power goes out since they cannot be stored safely at room temperature. However, fruits and vegetables can be kept at room temperature until there are obvious signs of spoilage such as mold, slime and wilting. With good ventilation, vegetables last longer at room temperature.

To dispose of foods that have gone bad, place them in tied garbage bags and in covered garbage containers. If you do not have garbage bags, wrap the food in newspaper and store in tight-lid garbage cans until pick up. These procedures will help eliminate insect and rodent infestations. When stored outside, plastic bags, paper bags or bale units containing garbage must be stored in a manner inaccessible to insects and rodents.

After disposing of these foods, clean refrigerators, freezers and storage areas with soap and water. Use warm, not hot, water and soap. The area should then be sanitized by using a chlorine bleach rinse of approximately one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach to a gallon of water.

Public and private water supplies may be contaminated in a flood. After a flood, consider all water unsafe. Listen for public announcements on the safety of your area’s water supply and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Private water wells should be pumped out, allowed to recharge naturally, disinfected and the water tested before drinking or being used for cooking. If you need assistance in having your well water analyzed, contact the local health department in your area for information.

idph online home
idph online home

Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
Questions or Comments