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Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Surveillance and Salvage Following Disasters

Food Surveillance and Salvage Following Disasters


Seek answers for the following questions:

  • Was electricity off? If yes, for how long?
  • In case of fire, what was used to extinguish the fire?
  • If water was used, was it from a potable supply?
  • What arrangements have been made to remove "safe" products from the damaged location?


Destroy items that cannot be salvaged, detain questionable items and recondition salvageable items with close supervision.

 A. Destruction

Arrangement for the proper disposal of condemned goods is one of the first items to be completed in a disaster plan. Proper disposal could include the use of approved types of incinerators, when available, or the use of sanitary landfills or both. In many cases, it may be necessary to establish temporary sanitary landfills. Trucking arrangements should also be considered in a disaster plan. Workmen and security guards should be at the landfill site for proper disposal and to prevent scavenging/looting. Records should be kept of disposal of merchandise at the place of business and at the disposal site. Do not forget the number of truckloads, date and point of origin information for future insurance claims and reimbursement. Reputable dealers and manufacturers want assurance that their products are absolutely destroyed and will not reappear as damaged merchandise in retail outlets leaving a door open for damage suits by the general public.

Products that should be destroyed and cannot be reconditioned or salvaged:

      1. Produce such as lettuce, celery, cabbage that has been under flood water or otherwise contaminated. Most produce is self destructive because of spoilage.
      2. All packaged foods such as: coffee and tea in bags, flour, meal, cereals, beans, wheat and whole unprocessed grains and confectionery sugars. The food containers (bags/packages) that are not waterproof.
      3. Salted / shelled / shell nuts exposed to the flood waters.
      4. Screw-top, crimped-cap and similar containers when water affected such as: canned soft drinks, beer, wine and other liquor products.
      5. Frozen foods partially or completely thawed. Some of the frozen foods that are thawed because of power shortage can be sold as "freshly thawed" items.
      6. Potentially hazardous foods under refrigeration where temperatures have reached 41F or higher, for a period of four hours or longer.
      7. Heat damaged food items that were noticeably charred or that were in the immediate proximity of the fire. Look for charred labels or other packaging damage. Extreme heat can re-cook the contents of canned foods and adversely affect the product.
      8. Foods subjected to direct contact with non-potable water. Paper or cellophane-wrapped goods can collect filth or split at the seams making it virtually impossible to remove dirt or sanitize properly and therefore are not salvageable. This includes items such as: candies, cereals, bread, cakes, chewing gum, etc.
      9. Eggs whether frozen or in-shell must be destroyed. Eggs in slip-cover type tops in flood waters cannot be salvaged or reconditioned.
      10. Kraut and pickles in process of manufacturing or in bulk (in open barrels) must be destroyed.
      11. Foods in glass containers. Experience has shown that any bottled foods with a cork stopper or glass and cork stoppers were found to be contaminated on the interior when submerged in flood water. Mainly used for catsup, vinegar and condiments, no type of closure used on these containers has been found safe after submersion in water. In some cases, large quantity of food products packed in glass containers with the anchor type vacuum pack cover have been salvaged at the processing plant by completely cleaning and sanitizing of the containers and re-cooking of the product in the container. This treatment is only of value for jams, catsup and other products, which are not injured or damaged by re-cooking. Home canned foods, except in a hermetically sealed metal can, are not salvageable.
      12. Smoke damage to food is probably the most difficult to assess. Insoluble tars and plastics and their byproducts may be suspended in the smoke and is a major concern. All meats exposed to smoke shall be disposed of unless salvaged under the guidance of USDA for use as animal feed. Oil products such as butter readily absorbs smoke with a resulting "off" odor and taste. Not all friction-type closure and cellophane-wrapped products affected by smoke are salvageable. Produce is a perishable product and usually makes an unwise salvage product.
      13. Chemical damage of foods can occur with chemicals used in fire prevention, breakage of chemical bottles, aerosols and insecticides, etc. Any slight indication of food being contaminated whether it is chemical or microbiological will make the product unsalvageable.
      14. Syrup, molasses, honey, etc. is packed in containers that makes it difficult to salvage or recondition.
      15. Meats, whether smoked, fresh, salted except for canned meats, cannot be salvaged for human consumption. Meat in process of pickling or curing after submersion in flood water cannot be salvaged. Such meat or meat products of any type may have some value for rendering purposes. Hog feeding of raw, fresh meats should not be permitted unless cooking facilities are available.
      16. Ice creams and other dairy products must be destroyed and have no salvage value.
      17. Fish and seafood products once thawed must be destroyed. They can possibly be sold as a "freshly thawed" product if the temperature is maintained below 41F. If these products are submerged in flood waters, they must be destroyed.
      18. Spices that are shipped in containers such as paper or cardboard type therefore definitely to be destroyed.
      19. Salt, sugar, dried milk, powdered eggs, etc. If the flood waters have come over the barrels or sacks, the sugar or salt has been dissolved and the dried products damaged, allowing no other solution but destruction. If, however, the bags are only wet, it is possible to salvage the product by returning it to the manufacturer for re crystallization. This can be of value only in large quantities. Dried milk or powdered eggs may be used for stock feeding after mixing with other products such as grains, etc.

B. Detention

All items that are questionable (those you are not so sure about) should be separated with instructions to hold. It is not the responsibility of the City of Houston inspector to recondition or segregate the contaminated merchandise from the uncontaminated, but it is their responsibility to supervise such activity. Detention is an early activity that is completed during the preliminary survey of all food establishments. Schedules for supervising segregation and salvage can be made after the preliminary survey.

Dishes, kitchen utensils - whether in stock in a store or in a restaurant should be thoroughly washed of all filth and mud and disinfected or sanitized in a chlorine solution of 200 ppm for china or glass material. If they are made from a metal, use the boiling water disinfecting method. Do not allow a dealer to sell food utensils without cleaning and disinfecting.

C. Inspection:

Before food establishments are re-opened for business, a complete inspection should be made to ensure that the following list is satisfactorily completed.

Restaurants and the cleaning of food handling facilities:

No food-handling establishment should be open until the entire establishment has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized or disinfected. Except in an emergency, when it is necessary to open such establishment earlier, no such establishment should be open without the entire building being dried out. The cleaning should proceed as follows:

All mud should be removed from the building. Any water in the basement or cellar should be pumped out or bailed out immediately. All plumbing fixtures in the establishment should be tested to see if they are free of obstruction; if they are not free, they should be cleaned out. Commodes and drain traps can be cleaned with water and a swab or by routing with a wire.


    1. All parts should be cleaned without forcing any dirt into the bearings. Wipe the metal surfaces of such equipment clean with a rag wet with appropriate chemicals to prevent rusting. Before using, oil the bearings and wipe the surfaces exposed to hands or clothing dry with a sift cloth.
    2. Walls, woodwork, etc. in the food establishment should be scrubbed with a stiff fiber brush and plenty of water before the establishment is dried out. Plaster may be cleaned with good wallpaper cleaner as soon as it is dry. All walls should be brushed down before any food handling. There is no use in attempting to rebuild any woodwork until it is completely dry. All woodwork including floors should be thoroughly scrubbed.
    3. Linoleum / vinyl should be removed because the silt will be underneath the vinyl material.
    4. Equipment and all furniture should be taken outdoors and thoroughly scrubbed using a steam cleaner hose if necessary to remove all mud and dirt. Any stuffed furniture must be allowed to dry completely before use after cleaning. Metal furniture should be cleaned as soon as possible since it is likely to rust. All stoves should be thoroughly cleaned and polished if necessary with a good stove polish. All pots and pans should be thoroughly scrubbed, cleaned and sanitized, using a chlorine solution or hot boiling water.

Note: If a food service establishment wants to open soon after the flood, it is recommended that single service be utilized, i.e., paper plates, paper cups, plastic spoons / forks / knives, paper napkins until the Houston Department of Health and Human Services can be assured that satisfactory dishwashing methods are available.


  1. Keep good records of all food products detained, destroyed, or salvaged.
  2. All dead animal carcasses should be cremated or buried. If in a reasonable condition, rendering plants may pick them up if so notified.

For this or any other food-safety related information, please call the Consumer Health Services of the Houston Health and Human Services Department at 713-794-9200.

Contact the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services