Floods and inundations, some guidance to citizens on food and water

Floods often occur suddenly and can cause much damage and loss of life

In a historical phase characterised by climate change, not being normally affected by these phenomena does not imply that they will not occur.

They are often manageable, as long as you practise a few precautions, which in a first phase can safeguard your health and that of your family, and in a later phase can greatly facilitate the work of rescuers.

Consider that in maxi emergencies, rescuers must first discriminate by severity, and will act all the faster the better the conditions in which they have to operate.

So find out what to do before, during and after a flood: if you are a parent, teacher or operator in large facilities, these are simple yet impactful tips.

Reduce the impacts of flooding

Find out what the flood risk is in your area.

Your local institution will almost certainly have a Civil Defence plan in place, with resources and information on how to reduce potential flood damage, and what to do in that particular geographical area (as a flood in a mountainous country is handled very differently from one in a coastal country).

Prepare yourself before floods

Find out from your local institutions if your home or business is at risk of flooding and how they will warn you if you have to evacuate.

Remember that municipalities have often long since mapped their territories and organised civil protection plans.


  • Evacuation plans and local public warning systems
  • What to do with your pets and livestock if you have to evacuate
  • How to reduce the risk of future flooding in your home or business
  • Determine what supplies you might need and make a plan together.
  • Consider that civil defence workers do not experience these demands as a nuisance, but rather with pleasure.
  • Practice your emergency plan and evacuation route to higher ground.

Take measures to reduce the potential damage caused by floods: at the end of this article you will find insights into many aspects of these situations.

Inundations and floods: focus on drinking water and food

Apart from the advice you will find here, we would like to add that it is important to avoid drinking or preparing food with tap water until you are sure that it is not contaminated.

Follow all instructions on the warning of water that may need to be boiled by local authorities: if there is a (probable) problem of contamination, public institutions will certainly issue instructions on the potability of the water.

Keep food and water safe

During an emergency

  • fridges, freezers and ovens can break down and food may spoil more quickly. And plugs should be unplugged beforehand.
  • water supplies could be interrupted or polluted
  • sewage systems could be interrupted.

To avoid getting sick from food during emergencies

  • eat foods that will expire sooner, e.g. bread and meat, because they spoil faster than non-perishable foods
  • eat canned food last
  • open the refrigerator and freezer as little as possible to keep it cooler for longer
  • do not eat fruit or vegetables that are in flood water
  • cover all food with cling film or store it in waterproof containers
  • leave bottles, cans and containers of water in the refrigerator (if it works) to keep things cold
  • throw away bad or rotting food before it spoils other food.
  • consider that rescuers may take hours to intervene in your family, but certainly this number of hours is small: you will never risk death from starvation or dehydration. So… priority, it’s important!

Focus on hygiene during food preparation and cooking

Maintaining hygiene around food preparation and cooking requires more concentration than normal.

Always wash and dry your hands before preparing food – if water is scarce, store some in a bowl with disinfectant.

Make sure all kitchen utensils and food preparation surfaces are clean before use.

Cook food thoroughly.

Cover all food with cling film or store it in waterproof containers.

Waste containing food leftovers should be protected from flies and mice by wrapping the leftovers or putting them in a sealed container.

Floods and inundations, how to use clean water and keep it safe and clean

Boil or purify water before using it in food preparation.

This helps prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria among food.

Once boiled, cover and store the food in a clean container in a cool place.

Boil the water again if it is not used within 24 hours.

If you are unable to boil the water, you can add purifying tablets or bleach to make it safe.

Add 5 drops of household bleach per litre of water (or half a teaspoon per 10 litres) and leave for 30 minutes.

Do not use bleaches that contain added perfume or fragrance, surfactants or other additives: they can make people sick.

After an emergency, make sure the food is safe

Knowing what is safe to eat during the ‘clean-up’ phase after an emergency can become a guessing game.

Understanding what may or may not be safe to eat is important.

Consider that during floods and inundations normal sanitation systems with respect to viruses and bacteria are often altered or wiped out: keep this in mind.

Check the food: does it smell or look different? Has the colour changed and does it have a slimy consistency? If so, it is probably not safe to eat.

If the food is still visibly frozen (e.g. still has ice crystals) and the packaging is not damaged or opened, you can still safely refreeze it.

You should not refreeze food that has been thawed: it’s just food, it’s not worth risking poisoning and resorting to hospitals that are already in the throes of a maxi emergency.

You can still store or use frozen but thawed food, you just have to keep it cold (like in the refrigerator).

Do not use canned food that has been damaged (e.g. if the can has broken, is deeply dented or is very rusty).

You should always be prepared for a disaster. If you follow the above guidelines, they can help prevent you or your family from getting sick.

Food safety is only one step to staying safe during and after an emergency.

Civil Defence has more information on what to do in an emergency: following their instructions is the most important of actions.

Floods and inundations, prepare a survival kit for next time

If your area has been hit hard, it does not mean that the original downpour or tidal wave cannot happen again.

And this also applies, of course, to earthquakes: nowhere is it written that secondary tremors are less damaging and milder than the main earthquake.

There are many things you can do to minimise the impact on your health before a disaster strikes.

Put together an emergency food survival kit.

Do it now and make sure you include enough of the following items to last at least 3 days.

Canned or dried food: meat, ham, fish, fruit, vegetables, cereals, tea, coffee, soup powder, salt, sugar, sweets, biscuits, a can opener.

A primus or portable gas cooker or barbecue to cook on.

Eating equipment: utensils, knives, pots, cups, plates, bowls, matches, lighters.

Bottled water: 3 litres per person per day or 6 to 8 large plastic soft drink bottles per person per day.

Bottled water – 1 litre for washing food and cooking each meal, washing dishes and washing up.

Powdered milk or UHT milk.

Keep your survival kit

Regularly replenish and update your emergency food supplies.

Consider your family’s medical or dietary needs. If you have infants or children, make sure they have enough suitable food.

Check expiry dates and make sure cans and packaging are not damaged or rusted.

Throw away any items that are not in good condition.

If you live in a place where there is a risk of flooding, keep your survival kit above the point where water could reach.

Cleaning after a flood

Clean and dry your house and everything in it.

Floods can make the air in your house unhealthy.

When things get wet for more than two days, they usually get mouldy.

There may also be germs and insects in your house after a flood.

Mould can make some people sick with asthma, allergies or other respiratory problems.

Talk to your doctor or another medical professional if you have questions about cleaning or working in a house that has been flooded.

If there is a large amount of mould, you may want to hire professional help to clean it up.

Protect yourself by wearing

  • a certified respirator
  • goggles
  • gloves
  • protective clothing that covers arms and legs, and
  • sturdy footwear.

Throw away anything that has been soaked by flood water and cannot be cleaned.

Throw away wooden spoons, plastic utensils, teats and baby bottle dummies if they have been covered by flood water.

There is no way to clean them safely.

Disinfect metal pots and utensils by boiling them in clean water.

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