Extension News

What Food Can I Keep and What Should I Throw Out?


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University food safety specialist Sam Beattie answers questions about what food can be saved and what should be thrown away after being in contact with flood water.

Flood waters covered our food stored on shelves and in cabinets. What can I keep and what should I throw out?

Do not eat any food that may have come into direct contact with flood water.

Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.

Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.

Can I salvage all-metal cans and retort pouches?
Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved if you do the following:

  • Remove the labels, if they are the removable kind, since they can harbor dirt and bacteria.
  • Thoroughly wash the cans or retort pouches with soap and water, using hot water if it is available. 

  • Brush or wipe away any dirt or silt. 

  • Rinse the cans or retort pouches with water that is safe for drinking, if available, since dirt or residual soap will reduce the effectiveness of chlorine sanitation.

Then, sanitize them by immersion in one of the following two ways:

  • Place in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for two minutes, or 

  • Place in a freshly made solution consisting of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available) for 15 minutes.

Air-dry cans or retort pouches for a minimum of one hour before opening or storing.

If the labels were removable, then re-label your cans or retort pouches, including the expiration date (if available), with a marker.

Food in reconditioned cans or retort pouches should be used as soon as possible, thereafter.

Any concentrated baby formula in reconditioned, all-metal containers must be diluted with clean, drinking water.


Contacts :

Sam Beattie, Food Science/Human Nutrition, (515) 294-3357, beatties@iastate.edu

Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu