Food safety advice for emergency situations

When in doubt, throw it out

Interruption of services to our homes, such as water and power, can cause huge inconvenience to householders, as well as damage to property. After spells of severe weather in recent weeks, conditions have seen many householders contending with problems such as flooded homes, frozen pipes and lack of power. As well as the disruption to daily life and financial implications of these events, it is also important to consider the possible risks to health if proper hygiene practices are not followed.


Flood water may be contaminated with sewage, animal waste or overflow from drains and so can contain harmful bacteria. If your home has been flooded there are some simple hygiene rules which will help to prevent you and your family from becoming ill:

  • Immediately discard any food that has come into contact with flood water.
  • Clean and disinfect work surfaces, crockery, utensils and cooking equipment before preparing food.
  • Clean and disinfect the inside of your fridge and food cupboards, if they have been in contact with floodwater.
  • Don't use work surfaces, plates etc. if they are badly chipped or damaged and have been in contact with flood water, as any bacteria present may be very difficult to remove.

Water supply

If your drinking water supply has been interrupted or if it may be contaminated, boil and cool it before drinking or using it in food preparation. Cooled boiled water or bottled water may be used for brushing teeth, washing food, cooking and making ice. Ensure that hands are washed frequently. When no tap water is available for hand washing, use water from water tankers if provided, or alternatively, use bottled water, hand wipes or sanitisers.

When preparing formula feeds for babies, it is advisable to use water from water tankers if supplied by the local authority, or bottled water brought to a 'rolling' boil and left covered to cool for no more than half an hour. Use cooled boiled water or bottled water for cooling the feed once it has been made up. Be aware that some natural mineral water may have high sodium content. Check the label and avoid using water where the sodium or 'Na' level is higher than 200mg per litre. If no other water is available, then use this water for as short a time as possible, until your water supply is restored. It may be more convenient to use ready-to-feed liquid formula instead.

If there is no electricity or gas to allow boiling and you don’t have ready-to-feed liquid formula available, bottled water (table, spring or mineral water) can be used without boiling to prepare baby feeds, but the prepared feed should then be used immediately.

Power cuts

Normally your fridge should always be kept below 5° Celsius and your freezer should be at –18° Celsius.

If the power is out for less than two hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer.

If the power is off for more than two hours throw away the food from your refrigerator.

  • If your freezer starts again within 24 hours it’s best to leave the food there. Don’t open the door to check the food as this will raise the temperature. If it takes longer than 24 hours to restart, then other safety precautions come into play.
  • Some foods resist thawing better than others, so check them all individually.
  • Cooked foods and shellfish can’t be refrozen so if they are showing signs of thawing or have been in a temperature over 5°C for more than three hours, throw them out.
  • Raw meat and poultry containing ice crystals may be refrozen.
  • Fruit survive thawing with little impact so it’s safe to eat them, use them in cooking or re-freeze them.
  • Vegetables should be refrozen only if there are ice crystals present.
  • Baked items with cream frosting or filling, puddings and ice cream should be thrown out.

Remember the golden rule is when in doubt, throw it out.

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