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USDA Recommends Food Safety Tips, Additional Resources Before Potential Flooding in California

Press Release
Release No.
USDA 0056.23
Contact: FNS Press Team

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2023 – With severe storms forecast for northern and central California, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reminding communities in the region to prepare and to be aware of USDA programs to assist following flooding and other disasters.

Food safety guidance:

Severe weather forecasts often present the possibility of power outages or flooding that could compromise the safety of stored food. USDA encourages those in the potential flood area to take the following precautions to prepare:

If you expect or experience a power outage

  • The refrigerator will keep food at a safe temperature (below 40°F) for up to 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold a safe temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full and the doors remain closed). Keeping refrigerator and freezer doors closed prevents cold air from escaping.
  • Keep an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and freezer in the event you do need to check the refrigerator or freezer temperatures.
  • Freeze water in small plastic storage bags or containers prior to a storm. These containers should be small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold.
  • Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately—this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Consider getting 50 pounds of dry or block ice if a lengthy power outage is possible. This amount of ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
  • Store food items close together in the freezer—this ‘igloo’ effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or refrigeration.

If you expect or experience flooding:

  • If possible, raise refrigerators and freezers off the floor, putting cement blocks under their corners.
  • Move canned goods and other foods in basements or low cabinets to a higher area to protect them from flood waters.
  • Drink only bottled water that has not come in contact with flood water. Discard any bottled water that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance it may have come in contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps.
  • Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water. Sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches such flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches, can be saved by following the steps at the FSIS Consumer's Guide to Food Safety website.

For questions about food safety, call the Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854, Monday - Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET (English or Spanish), email MPHotline@usda.gov or live chat at Ask USDA.

Owners of meat and poultry producing businesses who have questions or concerns may contact the FSIS Small Plant Help Desk by phone at 1-877-FSIS-HELP (1-877-374-7435), by email at infosource@fsis.usda.gov, or 24/7 online at www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/svsp/sphelpdesk.

Protecting pets and livestock:

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is urging everyone in the potential flood area to prepare now – not just for yourselves, but also for your pets and your livestock:

  • Plan for evacuation – know how you will evacuate and where you will go. If it is not feasible to evacuate your livestock, be sure to provide a strong shelter, and adequate food and water that will last them until you can return.
  • If you are planning to move livestock out of state, make sure to contact the State Veterinarian’s Office in the receiving state before you move any animals. You also may contact APHIS Veterinary Services state offices for information and assistance about protecting and moving livestock.
  • Listen to emergency officials and evacuate if asked to do so.

Risk management and disaster assistance for agricultural operations:

USDA offers several risk management and disaster assistance options to help producers recover after disasters.

Producers who suffer losses and whose crops are covered for the 2023 crop year by the Federal Crop Insurance Program or the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) are asked to report crop damage to their crop insurance agent or local FSA office, respectively, within 72 hours of discovering damage and follow up in writing within 15 days. A recent policy change simplifies the NAP application process for underserved producers, allowing form CCC-860 Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource, Beginning and Veteran Farmer or Rancher Certification to serve as an application for basic NAP coverage for all eligible crops. These producers will have all NAP-related service fees for basic coverage waived, in addition to a 50 percent premium reduction if higher levels of coverage are elected. Contact your local USDA Service Center for more information.

Livestock and perennial crop producers often have more limited risk management options available, so there are several disaster programs for them. Key programs offered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency include:

It is also critical that producers keep accurate records to document damage or loss and to report losses to their local USDA Service Center as soon as possible.

Additionally, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service can provide financial resources through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help with immediate needs and long-term support to help recover from natural disasters and conserve water resources. USDA can also assist local government sponsors with the cost of recovery efforts like debris removal and streambank stabilization to address natural resource concerns and hazards through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.

On farmers.gov, the Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool, Disaster Assistance-at-a-Glance fact sheet (PDF, 4.6 MB) and Loan Assistance Tool can help producers and landowners determine program or loan options. For assistance with a crop insurance claim, producers and landowners should contact their crop insurance agent. For FSA and NRCS programs, they should contact their local USDA Service Center.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is also ready to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and standing by for requests for assistance from states and local authorities, to provide emergency nutrition assistance to people in need.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.

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Page updated: November 22, 2023