Skip to content

Food Safety Guidance for Operators During an Emergency


Food products may become contaminated or distressed from a variety of events including transportation accidents, chemical spills, fires, floods, power outages, or ammonia leaks. These guidelines provide the basic information to food establishments and procedures the operator can follow when these conditions are encountered. They serve to assist in the prevention and reduction of foodborne illness by providing direction on food related issues arising from floods, fires, power outages or other situations that may affect food safety.

Personal Safety

Disasters can produce dangerous situations so it is critical to use care and observe extra safety precautions. Food establishment operators should call appropriate professionals to examine the facility prior to employees or customers entering the building. For example, in situations where electrical power has been out for an extended time and where operators attempt to salvage frozen or refrigerated products using dry ice, do not enter these areas without first providing for proper ventilation and/or obtaining oxygen breathing apparatus if you are trained to use the equipment.

Imminent Health Hazards

Keep in mind if an imminent health hazard exists, the department may, without prior warning, notice, or hearing, suspend a permit and require that the food establishment immediately stop operating if no immediate correction or containment that is acceptable to the department is available.

Imminent Health Hazards Include:
  • The extended loss of potable water supply.
  • An extended power outage.
  • A sewage backup into a food establishment or onto the grounds of a food establishment.
  • A natural disaster.
  • A major insect or rodent problem.
  • One or more employees sick with a foodborne illness
  • A foodborne outbreak.

Power Outage

Operators – Do This First!

  • Close the facility.
    • It is not safe to operate without lights, refrigeration, ventilation, or hot water.
  • Write down the time when the power outage occured.
    • Your food safety "time clock" starts ticking when the power goes out.
  • Begin taking regular food temperature readings.
    • Have a food thermometer at the ready at all times.
    • Check hot foods every hour and cold foods every two hours.
    • Keep a time/temperature record for every item checked in every unit.

Food Safety Factors

The key factors to consider when a facility encounters power outage are time and temperature. How long was the power out, and what were the resultant temperatures? Food products in walk-in refrigerators must be capable of consistently maintaining cold-holding temperatures at 41°F or below or for food in freezers in a frozen state. Be sure to keep a log and take times and temperatures of foods that are affected.

Watch these four food conditions carefully:

  1. Foods being cooked when power went off.
    • Do not serve any partially cooked food.
    • If power outage is brief (under 1 hour), rapidly reheat without interruption to 165°F within two hours or less before serving.
    • If power is out for more than 1 hour, discard all partially cooked food.
  2. Food being held hot (e.g., 135°F or above in a warmer).
    • Once food is below 135°F for more than four hours, discard it.
    • If food is below 135°F for less than four hours, rapidly reheat without interruption to 165°F within two hours or less before serving.
  3. Foods being held cold (e.g., 41°F or below in a refrigerator).
    • Write down time when food rises above 41°F.
    • If food cannot be re-chilled to 41°F or less within four hours, discard it.
  4. Frozen foods that thaw out.
    • If thawed or frozen food exceeds 41°F for more than four hours, discard it.
    • Partial thawing and refreezing may reduce the quality of some food.

Facility's Road to Recovery

Keeping cold foods cold longer.

  • Keep refrigerator doors closed, except while checking temperatures every two hours.
  • Cover open coolers with tarps or blankets.
  • Avoid adding hot foods to refrigerators.
  • Group chilled foods together to reduce warming.
  • Decide which foods to discard and which to salvage using time/temperature records and food safety factors described here.
  • Verify electrical breakers, equipment, and all utilities are in working order.
  • Make sure hot water is adequately heated for hand and ware washing.
  • Clean and sanitize equipment and utensils as needed.
  • Contact the Food Safety and Sanitation Program before reopening.

Reduce the impact of a power outage by:

  • Canceling incoming food supply shipments.
  • Transferring food to off-site cold storage facilities.
  • Placing dry ice blocks in refrigerators/freezers. A 25-pound block of dry ice can keep a 10 cubic-foot freezer cold for up to four days. Note: Dry ice produces carbon dioxide gas that should be ventilated.

Ready to Reopen?

You're ready to reopen only after making sure the food you are serving is safe.

Hints for the Facility

Potentially Hazardous Foods (PHF)

Foods to be most concerned about during a power outage include various egg, milk and meat products, cut melons and other perishables. Harmful microorganisms can grow in these foods and cause illnesses when between 41°F and 135°F. Examples:

  • Meat and meat dishes
  • Mixed dishes (soups, stews, casseroles, pasta/rice)
  • Dairy and egg products (milk, eggs, cream sauces, soft cheeses)
  • Cut melons, cooked vegetables (cut watermelon, honeydew, cooked peas)
  • Some desserts (pumpkin pie, custard-filled pastry, cheesecake, meringue, chiffon)
Non-Potentially Hazardous Foods (non-PHF)

These foods may be kept at room temperature. Harmful microorganisms usually do not grow on these foods. Discard these foods if quality deteriorates or mold grows on them. Examples:

  • Breads, dry flour, dry pasta, dry rice, sugar
  • Vinegar-based dressings, ketchup, relish, mustard, condiments
  • High-sugar foods (jellies, fruit pies, dried fruit, juices)
  • Hard cheeses, solid butter, whole fresh fruits/vegetables

Flood or Sewage Back-Up

All water, regardless of its source, must be considered a pollutant because of the possibility of overflowing sewers, pit privies, and street run-off water.

Operators – Do This First!

  • Decide: Stay Open or Close?
    • Stay open if flooding or sewage back-up is contained and can be quickly corrected.
    • Close if any food storage, prep, or service area is at risk of contamination. Note: Flood waters and sewage can contain rotting food, feces, chemicals, and disease-causing organisms which will contaminate the operation and easily cause foodborne illnesses. If flooding or sewage back-up cannot be immediately contained and cleaned up, the facility should be closed until it can.
  • Get Help
    • Contact the Food Safety and Sanitation Program for response and clean-up advice.
    • Call the city building inspector to determine the safety of structure.
    • Call utility companies to assure the safety of gas, electricity, and telephone.
    • Call a sewage-pumping contractor if the septic tank is flooded or overfilled.
    • Call a well contractor for the disinfection of contaminated well water.
    • Call your property insurance company to file a possible claim.
    • Call a licensed plumber to remove blockages in drain lines.

Food Safety Factors

  • Discard all food and packaging materials that have been submerged in floodwaters, unless the food is sealed in a hermetically sealed can that has not been damaged.
  • Destroy refrigerated and frozen foods, such as meat, poultry, shell eggs, egg products, and milk, which have been immersed in floodwaters. Good advice is: If in doubt, throw it out.
  • 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.
  • Do not recondition products in containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped-caps (soda pop bottles), twist-caps, flip-top, snap-open, and similar type closures that have been submerged in floodwaters.
  • Do not salvage food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth, and similar containers that have been water damaged.
    • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans or retort pouches can be saved if you remove labels that can come off, thoroughly wash the cans, rinse them, and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water.
    • Finally, re-label containers that had the labels removed, including the expiration date, with a marker.
  • Complete proper and safe disposal of condemned food items in a manner consistent with federal, state, and local solid waste storage, transportation, and disposal regulations to ensure these products do not reappear as damaged or salvaged merchandise for human consumption.

Chlorine Bleach Sanitizing Solution Formula for Equipment and Structural Surfaces

A 100-200ppm chlorine bleach sanitizing solution can be prepared by combining 1 tablespoon of bleach with 1 gallon of potable water.


Equipment and utensils affected by floodwater should be cleaned and sanitized prior to use. Refrigerators and freezers should be left open to air dry after cleaning.

  • Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and hot water. Rinse, then sanitize them by boiling in potable water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of potable water or other approved sanitizer. Follow instructions on the sanitizer label for appropriate concentration and usage.
  • Thoroughly wash countertops, equipment and non-food contact surfaces with soap and hot water. Rinse, then sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water or other approved sanitizer.
  • A dishwasher or 3-compartment sink should be used to wash, rinse, and sanitize equipment and utensils using potable water, and:
    • Chlorine bleach at a concentration of 50-100 ppm or other approved sanitizers should be provided for sanitizing food contact surfaces and equipment.
    • Mechanical dishwashing machines should provide a final, sanitizing rinse of either 50 ppm chlorine (for chemical sanitizing machines) or 180°F final sanitizing rinse (for hot water sanitizing machines).
    • An approved test kit should be available to ensure appropriate sanitizer strength for chemical sanitizing and a maximum registering thermometer or temperature-sensitive tape should be available to check that the hot water reaches 180°F or the utensil surface reaches a temperature of 165°F.
    • Run the empty dishwasher through the wash-rinse-sanitize cycle three times to flush the water lines and assure that the dishwasher is cleaned and sanitized internally before washing equipment and utensils in it.
  • Refrigerated display and storage cases and other refrigerator equipment used to store food should be cleared of all contaminated products prior to cleaning and sanitizing. Special attention should be given to lighting, drainage areas, ventilation vents, corners, cracks and crevices, door handles and door gaskets.
  • If the insulation, door gaskets, hoses, etc. are damaged by flood or liquefied food items, then replace or discard these items and other refrigerator equipment.
  • All filters on equipment should be removed and replaced if not designed to be cleaned in place. Replace all ice machine filters and beverage dispenser filters, and flush all water lines, including steam water lines and ice machine water lines, for 10 to 15 minutes. Discard all ice in ice machines; clean and sanitize the interior surfaces (ice making compartment and storage bin); run the ice through 3 cycles, and discard ice with each cycle.
  • All sinks should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before resuming use. Equipment should be inspected to ensure it is operational and that all aspects of its integrity are maintained.
  • Stove units should be thoroughly cleaned and checked by the fire department, local utility company, or authorized service representative prior to use.
Physical Facility

Foundations, walls, doors, and windows may be damaged and need repair. Repairing any damage immediately will help prevent further damage and wear in the future.

  • Replace or repair damaged surfaces (floors, walls, and ceilings).
  • Scrub and sanitize all floors, walls, and ceilings with a 100 to 200ppm chlorine solution or designated sanitizer.
  • Water damaged ventilation systems that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized should be removed and replaced. In all cases, replace all ventilation air filters.
  • Electrical components, motor condensers, and other mechanical components should be checked by a qualified electrician or service technician for safety and efficiency.
  • The interior and all direct or indirect food contact surfaces or parts must be effectively cleaned, rinsed, and sanitized; particular attention should be paid to all exposed condensers, refrigeration coils, fans, shields, shelving, and other parts attached to the interior of refrigeration equipment to preclude the possibility of airborne contaminants.
  • The exterior and all non-food contact parts of food equipment must be thoroughly cleaned, and sanitized where practical; where insulation is contained within walls, check to determine whether it is wet; in the case of refrigeration equipment, if the insulation is foam and is not wet, proper cleaning procedures may be used; if it is wet, repairs may be needed to restore effective insulating qualities prior to use.
  • Any open seams or crevices created by flood damage should be sealed with a smooth bead of silicone caulking.

Hints for the Facility

Re-entering the Facility

  • Wear eye protection, rubber boots and gloves and outer protective clothing (coveralls or long-sleeve shirts and long pants) when handling items contaminated with flood or sewer water.
  • If mold problems are identified, wear a properly fitted filtration mask that carries the N- 95 designation from National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  • Do not walk between contaminated areas and other areas of the establishment without removing protective gloves, footwear, and clothing.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly while working in a contaminated area.


Operators – Do This First!

  • Uncontrolled fire - Evacuate the facility! Call 911!
  • Confined fire - Extinguish with on-site extinguisher.
  • Close the facility, if even temporarily, until food safety can be assured.
  • Reopen only after taking necessary recovery steps.

Determining the extent of damage from smoke contamination is difficult. Smoke can be carried inside refrigeration units by the circulating fans on the units even though the doors may not have been opened during the fire. Food display cases that are loosely covered or poorly sealed can easily be infiltrated by smoke.

When trying to determine the extent of damage, it is important to consider the type of packaging in which the food is stored. Smoke smell and the taste lingers on packages and may have been absorbed by foods that may otherwise appear satisfactory. To examine distressed foods organoleptically, remove them to an area where the smoke odor of the fire is not present.

You should also visually inspect for smoke damage. Smoke appears more clearly on flexible plastic surfaces (e.g., bread bags) than on other surfaces. Using a clean paper towel or tissue, you can wipe a package to detect traces of smoke/soot. Individually-wrapped candies, packaged nuts in the shell, etc. may be less susceptible to contamination, but items such as pasta, baked goods, unwrapped candies, and nuts must be closely scrutinized.

Charred goods or food products, especially when found in water-soaked containers, are rarely salvageable. Single-use items that are smoke affected must be discarded. Some food products may not show exterior signs of damage but may have been exposed to excessive heat.

Food Safety Factors

Discard affected:

  • Food in opened containers.
  • Food in paper or cardboard containers.
  • Disposables in opened sleeves or liners.
  • Any food or disposable that shows water or heat damage.
  • Food in screw-type lids.
  • Refrigerated or frozen foods that have been above 41°F for more than 4 hours.
  • Ice in ice bins.
  • Cans that are dented or rusty.

Hints for the Facility

  • Use a camera or camcorder to document discarded goods for insurance purposes.

Water Service Disruption or Contamination

Operators – Do This First!

Close the facility and contact an Environmental Health Officer with the Food Safety and Sanitation Program!

Without adequate and potable hot and cold water, you should not continue to operate.

Document the time when a water service disruption occurs or contamination is suspected, then immediately notify the local water utility and environmental health department. Be prepared to provide information, if known, on the cause of the problem.

Water Service Interruption

A broken main water line, malfunctioning well or worn-out water heater can each create unsafe conditions for food establishments. Without adequate clean water, employees cannot wash their hands, cook and prepare foods, and clean equipment appropriately. Restrooms and kitchens quickly become health hazards without running water.

Water Service Contamination

Contaminated water supply may contain chemicals, toxins, bacteria, viruses, parasites and other harmful microorganisms that cause human illnesses and can result in death. Safe water is essential to operate a safe food business.

Facility's Road to Recovery

A food establishment closed because of interrupted water supply must not reopen until safe water service is restored and FSS approves reopening.

Ready to Reopen?

After safe water service has been restored:

  • Make sure equipment with water line connections (filters, post-mix beverage machines, spray misters, coffee/tea urns, ice machines, glass washers, dishwashers, etc.) is flushed, cleaned and sanitized according to manufacturers' instructions.
  • Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle.
  • Flush drinking fountains by running water continuously for at least five minutes.

Biological Tampering or Terrorism

Biological tampering or terrorism involves the deliberate use of a biological agent to spread disease-producing microorganisms or toxins in food, water or the atmosphere. These agents can be powders, liquids or in other forms. A biological agent will almost never cause immediate symptoms, as it takes time for the biological agent to grow or cause its toxic effects. Botulinum and ricin are two examples of toxins that bioterrorists might choose to use.

Because deliberate contamination of the nation's food supply can happen anywhere along the food supply stream, food managers and workers play key roles in minimizing these potential threats.

Operators – Do This First!

  • Call 911 to report any activity that seems suspicious!
  • Contact the Food Safety and Sanitation Program or Section of Epidemiology if unusual illnesses occur.
    • Epidemiology Office Number: 907-269-8000
    • Emergency 24-Hour Number: 800-478-0084

Food Safety Factors

Preparedness paves the way to prevention. Develop a good food security system!

  • Eliminate unauthorized access where food is open, vulnerable, and easily targeted.
  • Control storage and handling of ingredients.
  • Control storage/access to toxic chemicals/cleaning supplies and ensure proper labeling.
  • Report all unusual activity to the authorities (unauthorized vehicles, people, theft, sabotage, or vandalism).
  • Make staff aware of the potential for intentional contamination of food and the importance of their role in keeping it safe.
  • Use only known and appropriately licensed sources. Inspect delivery vehicles and supervise offloading.

Facility's Road to Recovery

Clean-up after biological tampering will depend on the biological agent, its form (powder or liquid) and how it was spread (food, air, or water) and is determined on a case-by-case basis.

  • Keep foods in their original places and seek further guidance from law enforcement and health authorities.
  • Follow authorities' instructions on how to safely dispose of items contaminated by biologic agents.

Ready to Reopen?

Contact the Food Safety and Sanitation Program to approve reopening.

Hints for the Facility

Early warning signs may help you recognize a threat:

  • Are large numbers of employees or customers becoming ill?
  • Do foods not look, feel, or smell right?
  • Have unauthorized people been caught doing suspicious things in food preparation areas?
  • Have you seen unusual powders or liquids in shipments of food or delivery vehicles?

Pest Control in a Disaster

Pests often become a problem during other emergency events. Floods, storms, and other disasters can dislocate snakes, rodents, insects and other pests from their normal habitats. Standing water becomes a breeding site for insects and vermin (e.g., mosquitoes). Dead animals become food for other pests (e.g., rodents, flies). Sewage and flood contamination can lead to flies and rodents carrying diseases. Lack of garbage pickup can also provide food for insects, rodents, and vermin. They can damage food, supplies, and buildings, repel customers and cause food-borne illnesses.

How to Avoid Attracting Pests

Remove sources of food and habitat. Clean and maintain the facility.

  • Eliminate food sources inside the building (clean often, clean right away).
  • Eliminate food sources outside the building (especially around dumpster).
  • Eliminate habitat inside the building (keep floors cleaned, items off ground).
  • Eliminate habitat outside the building (mow grass often, remove leaves, nests, weeds, and debris, especially that which is very close to the building).
  • Eliminate water sources around the building (ditches, pails, pools, cracks).
  • Keep trash cans and dumpsters closed and keep the dumpster area clean.
  • Remove old, rotting fruit and vegetables inside the building to eliminate breeding sites.

How to Exclude Pests

It's all about closing off every access point.

  • Keep doors closed. Install door self-closers and bottom door sweeps.
  • Keep dock doors closed and seal gaps around them.
  • Keep windows closed and put screens on windows when possible.
  • Seal all holes, cracks, and crevices in the building walls, foundation, and roof.
  • Seal around pipes and install screens over ventilation pipes and ducts on the roof.
  • Train employees to be alert about these access points and to spot pests.
  • Inspect all incoming shipments of goods and delivery vehicles for pests.
  • If you find pests in food, reject the shipment or discard the food.
  • If you find pests in your building, contact a licensed pest control company to eliminate them immediately; then clean the area.

Facility's Road to Recovery

After a disaster is over, you will want to keep close watch over pest activity.

  • Immediately after a disaster, pest activity often peaks, and then gradually diminishes.
  • Even in non-disaster times, you will encounter some pest activity. It is good business to always monitor pest activity in your operation to prevent problems.
  • Do not rely solely on pesticides to solve your pest problems. Practice Integrated Pest Management and remember only licensed Pest Control Operators can apply pesticides.
  • Prevention and early warnings are the keys to solving pest problems.

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

Hints for the Facility

Implement a cleaning program.
  • Create a master cleaning schedule.
  • What - Clean all surfaces, equipment, and tools.
  • Who - Assign each task.
  • When - Daily during shift; at night at end of shift.
  • How - Use specific cleaning instructions.
  • Monitor cleaning - Is it getting done? Correctly?
Deny pests access

Pests come in through two main routes:

  1. Brought in with contaminated deliveries or delivery vehicles.
  2. Through openings in building, windows, or doors.
  • Mice, rats, and insects use drain pipes like highways going through a facility.
  • Rodents burrow through degrading masonry.
  • Rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter; mice through one the size of a dime.
When you seal holes & cracks
  • Make sure the seals are tight.
  • Use durable materials to seal holes, such as concrete or sheet metal, as rodents will chew through soft materials. Steel wool can serve as a temporary seal.
Why pests should concern you
  • Rodents chewing electrical wires set many fires.
  • Flies spread dysentery, typhoid, and cholera.
  • Rodents spread salmonellosis and rat-bite fever.
  • Mosquitoes spread malaria, encephalitis, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and more.
Use pesticides in accordance with manufacturer instructions
  • Only licensed individuals should apply pesticides.
  • Store and use only pesticides and chemicals that are absolutely necessary.

Vehicle Accident

Most product damage occurs as a result of physical impact. However, a product can also be compromised if a vehicle’s refrigeration unit is damaged. The Power Outage principles apply in this case. Exposure to the weather may also adversely affect the product. Illegal, toxic items traveling with the product may rupture and increase the possibility of contamination. Fuel spillage is also a concern. People on-scene should be extremely cautious as traffic may be an extreme hazard in some situations and vehicles that have been involved in crashes and equipment on the scene may also be extremely dangerous.

Food Safety Factors

  • Check meats and other perishable products first. Fast action is imperative if readily perishable food is to be salvaged.
  • The temperature of the ambient air in the receiving trailer must be 41°F less. Every effort should be made to maintain this temperature during loading operations.
  • Any cans having critical or major defects shall be detained and destroyed.
  • Containers of food in flexible plastic packages must be evaluated. Any containers having critical or major defects shall be detained and destroyed.
  • Packaged cardboard containers damaged by moisture are not salvageable. Also, if the outer container is torn or cut the container should not be salvaged.

Tips for Taking Temperatures

Record time and temperature upon arrival on the scene and every two hours thereafter until the food is declared unfit for human consumption or released to commerce.

  • Temperatures should be taken and recorded:
  • when the truck is opened at a point nearest the entrance.
  • directly from the product/package. If the product/package is thick or large enough to allow for a variation in temperature, the temperature should be taken from an area one-inch below the outside edge of the product/package.
  • from the outer edge of the load then progressively toward the center of the load.
  • around any hole or break in the truck.
  • from each different product in a mixed load.

Chemical Contamination

Any release of a hazardous chemical that threatens public health, contaminates food, water or the environment is a chemical incident. Examples include a truck rollover and spill, a spill in a facility, or an intentional release.

Operators – Do This First!

  • If a chemical release occurs inside your building:
    • Stop operations immediately.
    • Limit exposure to people. Evacuate the chemical exposure area.
    • Call 911 to report the release.
  • Contact the Food Safety and Sanitation Program for guidance and approval to reopen.

Food Safety Factors

The following barrier characteristics should be considered when deciding whether a food product or packaging should be salvaged or destroyed. Some of these products are more permeable than others.

  • Water glaze or ice on food will absorb ammonia, but the rinsing action of melting ice may eliminate the ammonia.
  • Loose packed, individually quick-frozen foods are more susceptible to contamination than block frozen foods.
  • Wrapping, waxed paper waxed cardboard, and other types of paper products are extremely permeable.
  • Plastic films (polyethylene, saran, cryovac, etc.) are less permeable.
  • Brass, metal, and heavy aluminum foil or foil-lined packaging is often the best barrier.

Hints for the Facility

  • Store and use only chemicals that are absolutely necessary.
  • Use chemicals in accordance with manufacturers' instructions.
  • Do not store chemicals where they can contaminate food equipment, utensils, linens, and single-service/single-use articles.
  • Only licensed individuals should apply pesticides.

General Salvage Considerations

Begin salvage operations as soon as possible. Delays in segregating good products from bad products often increase the amount of loss. Whenever possible, all salvageable food should be separated at the site from food that is detained or condemned. Salvage operations must be monitored by FSS staff until all salvageable products have been secured and segregated for shipment to a salvage processing establishment.

Do not allow condemned goods to be taken for personal use by the salvager, employees, or anyone else.

When on-site cleanup is complete, the EHO will record the amount of salvageable product and the amount of product contaminated or destroyed. Off-loading of salvageable product to another vehicle must be supervised, sealed, and retained under detention. The replacement vehicle must remain sealed until the product arrives at the salvage processing facility.

Some general salvage considerations:

  • If items are to be transported, salvageable frozen foods and other perishable items must be transported and stored in approved refrigerated units. It is the responsibility of the salvager to provide or arrange for these facilities before starting the salvage of perishable foods.
  • Salvageable fresh meats and poultry products should be referred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for reworking or reprocessing at an approved facility.

Product Reconditioning

Decisions to salvage or destroy shall be based on food protection policies and procedures without regard to economic concerns. It is the responsibility of FSS staff assessing the condition of food involved in events to make decisions based on public health food protection policies and procedures. If possible, the EHO would supervise the entire reconditioning operation. If this is not possible, the reconditioner must contact the FSS program upon completion of the reconditioning operation in order to be granted an approval for the release of any good product and/or the destruction of the unacceptable product.

Safeguards must be assured to account for the quality of the products prior to, during, and after the reconditioning operation. Control procedures must ensure that all unwholesome product is properly segregated and destroyed, and the reconditioned product meets acceptable safety and quality standards.

Food products intended for alternative uses must be denatured to render them unfit for food or animal feed. Continued control must be exercised until final disposition to prevent their reintroduction to the marketplace as food or feed. Firms are required to account for the amounts and types of product denature, to whom the product was sold, and final use.

Acceptable reconditioning is dependent upon:

  • Product condition;
  • Container type;
  • The product's intended use; and
  • The kind and extent of contamination

Perishable Products

Generally, the following types of products are not recommended for reconditioning:

  • Milk products, because they are extremely perishable and highly susceptible to bacterial growth; any attempts at salvaging and reconditioning such products are very risky; careful laboratory testing must be conducted to determine the level of contamination.
  • Fresh fruit and produce that has been contaminated by non-potable water, smoke, ammonia, or chemicals.

Under limited circumstances, use the following guidelines to determine whether a product is suitable for reconditioning:

  • Products that have not been directly contaminated;
  • Frozen products that have partially thawed and can be refrozen without posing a public health hazard; and
  • Products that have been maintained at temperatures appropriate to their individual product requirements.

Foods in Plastic, Paper, Cardboard, Cloth, or Similar Containers

Products intended for use by infants, the elderly, or infirm, while possible safe, should not be considered for reconditioning.

General guidelines for products packaged in these types of containers that are unsuitable for reconditioning include:

  • The product that has been contaminated;
  • Package integrity that has been compromised and exposed to contamination; and
  • Packaging that has been contaminated by solid, liquid, or gaseous elements.

Screw-Top, Crimped Cap, and Similar Closures

Examine cans or jars for physical damage (rust, burst seams, holes, rips, etc.), and for visible adulteration from filth under cap crimps and cap lugs, oil or chemicals, and defaced labels. When a lid is removed, sediment or micro-contamination may be drawn into the container by internal vacuum. Discard any jars you open for examination. Visible contamination under lids may be photographed.

Food products in containers with screw caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soda pop bottles), twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and similar-type closures should not be reconditioned if submerged in water or subjected to smoke contamination. Debris and contaminants in the water may be lodged under the cap lips, threads, lugs, crimps, and snap-rings, making them virtually impossible to detect and remove.

Hermetically Sealed Cans

Products in hermetically-sealed cans that have been exposed to fire and smoke, but not excessive heat, may be cleaned and relabeled after being considered for reconditioning. Hermetically-sealed cans exposed to non-potable water may be reconditioned and relabeled under strict, controlled procedures. These procedures include:

  • Removing all labels;
  • Inspecting the cans for pinholes;
  • Washing the containers using soap or detergent solution in potable water, brushing as necessary;
  • Rinsing in potable water;
  • Buffing the cans to remove rust (excluding heavily rusted cans);
  • Disinfecting the can by immersion in a solution of sodium hypochlorite containing not less than 100 ppm available chlorine or other sanitizing agents;
  • Thorough drying; and
  • Relabeling.

Porous Non-Food Items

Any porous items that are used with food or that come in contact with the mouth should be discarded. This includes:

  • Baby bottle nipples
  • Wooden bowls
  • Disposable flatware and plastic utensils
  • Paper, foam, or plastic dishware


For more information, please contact the Food Safety and Sanitation Program.

external link indicator Indicates an external site.