Food safety after a disaster

Following a disaster event (such as a flood, fire, storm or cyclone), there may be some food in your house that is not safe to eat, especially if power has been cut or if food has been in contact with contaminated floodwater.

After a disaster

It is recommended that you dispose of:

  • food (packaged and unpackaged) that has been in contact with contaminated water (e.g. floodwater)
  • food that has an unusual odour, colour or texture
  • refrigerated food that has been left unrefrigerated or otherwise above 5°C for more than four hours
  • frozen food after 48 hours if the freezer is full, or after 24 hours if the freezer is half full. If frozen food has partially thawed, do not re-freeze. The food should be eaten as soon as possible or disposed of.

Power failure

If you lose power:

  • make a note of the time the power failed
  • keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible while the power is off. A closed refrigerator should keep food cold for four hours
  • keep the freezer door closed. Freezers will usually not defrost and spoil food for at least 24 hours if half full or 48 hours if full. If frozen foods have thawed, they should not be refrozen but should be kept cold and be eaten as soon as possible.
  • If you have access to ice or ice bricks, pack your refrigerator and freezer to help maintain a cool temperature
  • throw out food that was being cooked when the power failed, if the cooking cannot be completed within 2 hours. If food is already properly cooked, eat it within 2 hours or throw it out.

Cleaning and sanitising

If benchtops, food utensils or kitchen equipment have been in contact with contaminated floodwater:

  • throw away damaged or cracked items, and items made from porous material such as wood, porous plastic or rubber (including wooden chopping boards) as these items cannot be adequately sanitised
  • wash utensils and surfaces in hot, soapy, drinking quality water
  • take apart and clean the non-electrical pieces of kitchen equipment and rinse in drinking quality water sanitise silverware, metal utensils, pots, pans and kitchen equipment in pieces, by placing them in boiling water for at least three minutes
  • dishes and utensils that cannot be safely placed in boiling water (certain glassware, porcelain, china and enamelware) should be sanitised by immersing them in a disinfecting solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per two litres of warm water. Rinse thoroughly with drinking quality water
  • clean cupboards and counters with hot soapy water, then rinse with a chlorine bleach solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per two litres of warm water. Rinse thoroughly with drinking quality water
  • don’t use tea towels that might have been in contact with contaminated water. Wash them with bleach solution (you can use non-colour stripping) or antibacterial washing detergent.

Remember to wash your hands thoroughly before handling food for consumption or touching clean surfaces.

Canned food

Dispose of canned food where the can is open, swollen, damaged, or has a missing or damaged label.

Canned or air-tight food containers that are sealed, intact and not bulging or dented, may be safe. It is recommended that you:

  1. Remove the label since it could harbour dirt and bacteria.
  2. Thoroughly wash the outside of the can, then sanitise it by immersing it in a solution of 1.5 cups of unscented household chlorine bleach per 10 litres of clean, warm water for two minutes.
  3. Rinse the can with drinking quality water.
  4. Re-label the can with a waterproof permanent marker with the expiry date. Use the product as soon as possible.

Vegetable gardens

If your vegetable garden has been in contact with floodwater, the food may be contaminated and unsafe to eat. Additionally, contaminants can persist in the soil after flooding. Depending on the contamination type, it may take at least one month before your home garden is suitable for replanting and/or harvesting of any produce.

Formula feeding during an emergency

Additional information has been developed for formula feeding during an emergency. Access more information on formula feeding during an emergency.

Further information

Call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) at any time.

Contact 13 QGOV (13 74 68) for your nearest Public Health Unit.

If you or anyone in your household is experiencing any health effects from unsafe food after a disaster, seek medical advice from your doctor.

Download the be food safe in a disaster factsheet (PDF 562 kB).

Last updated: 4 January 2024