Oct 31, 2012
FDA safety recommendations after Sandy

Safety of food affected by hurricanes, flooding, and power outages: A notice from the FDA to growers, food manufacturers, food warehouse managers, and transporters of food products

As we put our homes and lives back together in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, and power outages it is important to remember that these events also have a lingering and potentially hazardous public health impact. Grain and vegetable crops, food manufacturing facilities, food warehouses, and food transporters may have been flooded or lost power. In some areas, crops along with other processed food and food products may be submerged in flood water and may have been exposed to sewage, chemicals, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms or other contaminants. Even if the crop is not completely submerged, there may still be microbial contamination of the edible portion of the crop. There is also the potential for plants to take up chemical contaminants. In addition to the direct presence of contaminants, mold and toxins may develop in the crops and food products as a result of exposure to the water. In addition, if power has been lost, perishable or frozen foods are at risk of spoiling.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that certain foods exposed to flood waters, and perishable foods that are not adequately refrigerated, are adulterated and should not enter the human food supply. In addition, crops and other food commodities exposed to flood waters would not be acceptable for use in animal feed. FDA is also providing guidance in determining when food products can be reconditioned for future use. The information follows.

Foods that should be destroyed:


If the edible portion of a crop is exposed to flood waters, it is considered adulterated and should not enter human food channels. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety. Therefore, the FDA recommends that these crops be disposed of in a manner that ensures they are kept separate from crops that have not been flood damaged to avoid adulterating “clean”crops.

Disposition of crops in proximity to, or exposed to a lesser degree of flooding, where the edible portion of the crop has NOT come in contact with flood waters, may need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Factors to consider in the evaluation include:

What is the source of flood waters and are there potential upstream contributors of human pathogens and/or chemical contaminants?

Type of crop and stage of growth, e.g., is the edible portion of the crop developing? How far above the ground does the lowest edible portion grow?

Were conditions such that the crop may have been exposed to prolonged periods of moisture and stress which could foster fungal growth, and possibly, development of mycotoxins?

Grains and similar products stored in bulk can also be damaged by flood waters. These flood damaged products should not be used for human and animal food.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables that have been inundated by flood waters cannot be adequately cleaned and should be destroyed. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have begun to spoil due to the lack of refrigeration should also be destroyed. These food items may be considered for diversion to animal feed under certain circumstances.

The complete text is available here.

More at: Guidance for Industry: Evaluating the Safety of Flood-affected Food Crops for Human Consumption

By Luke LaBorde, Penn State University

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P.O. Box 128
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