After The Flood – Staying Safe and Healthy

​April 26, 2013

Food, water, safety and cleaning guidance

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck is urging residents in and around flooded areas to take precautions to help prevent disease and stay safe.

“Flood waters can contaminate food, water, house appliances and just about anything it touches,” said Dr. Hasbrouck.  “To avoid illness it is important for people whose homes have been impacted by flooding to make sure their water is safe to drink, to know if food needs to be thrown out and  to properly clean all items touched by flood waters.”

Flood water and sewer overflows can contain bacteria, fecal material, viruses and other organisms that may cause disease.  The following information can help protect communities from illness and injury:

  • Avoid skin contact with flood and sewer water, especially cuts and sores.  Keep them clean and covered.
  • Do not allow children to play in areas contaminated by flood water and sewage backup.
  • Do not eat or drink anything exposed to flood and sewer water.
  • Keep contaminated objects, water and hands away from mucous membranes (mouth, eyes and nose).
  • Wash hands frequently, especially after bathroom use, before eating and immediately following contact with flood and sewer water or contaminated objects or surfaces.

Food and Water Safety
Use only bottled or disinfected water for drinking, cooking, dish washing, tooth brushing and bathing until you are sure the water supply is safe.  Some communities may be under boil orders because the water quality in the system is potentially compromised by flooding or equipment damage.  People with private water wells who think their well may be impacted by flooding should contact their local health department for instructions on disinfecting and testing their wells.  People in counties without a local health department can contact the nearest Illinois Department of Public Health regional office.  Instructions for disinfecting a well can also be found in the Department’s After the Flood pamphlet.  The Department recommends bringing water to a rolling boil for five minute.

Discard food exposed to contaminated waters.  If refrigerators or freezers have been contaminated with water, discard its contents.  If no water entered these appliances, but power was lost long enough for foods to thaw, discard all partially thawed foods unless prepared immediately.

Throw out milk, cheeses and other foods prone to spoilage.  Completely thawed meats and vegetables should be discarded without question.  Discard all bulging or leaking canned food and any food stored in jars.  Intact cans without dents can be cleaned with a bleach solution before use.

Removal and cleanup of sewer or flood water is essential.  It is important to take the following precautions to prevent injury:

  • Turn off main power switches, if necessary.  Air out and wipe dry all appliances and electrical outlets exposed to water, before use.
  • If you have fuel oil or gas systems, be sure tanks are secure and all lines are free from breaks.
  • Wear rubber boots, gloves and a dust mask during removal and cleanup.
  • Open windows if possible to ventilate and dry the area.  Fans can be used to help with drying.
  • Keep children from playing in water.
  • A Tetanus booster is recommended if cut or scratched during clean-up efforts.

The following cleaning guidelines may help prevent the transmission of disease and reduce property loss:

  • Discard any contaminated objects that cannot be thoroughly washed or laundered.
  • Thoroughly dry carpet, wood, dry wall, insulation, mattresses and anything else touched by flood water to prevent mold.
  • Wash contaminated surfaces and objects with warm, soapy water and then disinfect them with a bleach and water solution made of no more than one cup of 5.25 percent chlorine bleach, per one gallon of water.  For objects that would be damaged by bleach, use a home or laundry disinfectant.
  • Make sure to read and follow label instructions.  Do not use ammonia.  Ammonia vapors mixed with bleach vapors create a toxic gas that could be deadly.

More information can be found at, including the IDPH After the Flood pamphlet at, or call your local health department.