October 28,

Protect Yourself during Flood Conditions

April 26, 2013 – Public Health Advises Heath Precautions to Keep Water, Food and Sewage Systems Safe

The Peterborough Public Health is advising residents who are experiencing flooding to take precautions to protect their health.  Floodwaters can have negative impacts on private drinking water supplies, private sewage disposal systems and food safety.

Drinking Water Precautions for Private Well Owners

Floodwaters contain bacteria that can be harmful to human health.  Dug and drilled wells that are surrounded by flood water are at risk of becoming contaminated with these harmful bacteria; if drinking water is supplied from private wells, it should be considered unsafe for human consumption.  As a precaution, residents relying on water from private wells that have been flooded may wish to use an alternate source of potable water (i.e. bottled water) for drinking, making infant formula, cooking, washing produce, brushing teeth, etc.  Water from flooded wells can be treated and made safe for consumption by rapidly boiling the water for at least one minute or by adding two drops of household bleach per one liter of water, stirring and allowing the water to sit for 30 minutes before use.  Once flood conditions have ceased and floodwaters recede, homeowners should sample their well and submit their samples to public health for testing to ensure that the water is free of harmful bacteria before use of the drinking water resumes.

Sewage Systems

If a septic system becomes flooded, there is the risk of sewage backup into your home.  To protect your sewage system and prevent sewage backup during flood conditions, take the following precautions: 

  • DO NOT pump your septic tank as this may result in the tank shifting due to high water conditions.
  • Limit the use of water in your home in order to relieve pressure on the septic system.
  • Ensure that eaves trough runoff is directed away from the area of your septic system.
  • Keep children and pets away from ponding sewage in a flooded septic area.

Food Safety 

Residents should also be aware that food which has come in contact with floodwater is likely contaminated and must be thrown out.  Canned food can be saved if the cans are washed with soap and water then sanitized by immersing the can in a mild bleach and water solution for two minutes (1 tsp household bleach per 3 cups of water).  If there is a power outage associated with the flood, dispose of foods that have been above 4°C (40°F) for more than two hours, including fish, poultry, meats, eggs, dairy products and prepared foods like soups, stews and casseroles.  Depending on the length of time power has been off, some foods may be safe to keep:

  • A full upright or chest freezer will keep food frozen for about two days; a half-full freezer will keep food frozen for about one day.  Keep the door closed as much as possible.
  • A refrigerator will keep food cold for four to six hours; adding ice to the refrigerator may help food stay cool longer.  Keep the door closed as much as possible.

For more information on dealing with various issues related to flooding conditions or for guidance on cleaning up after a flood, visit Public Health’s website at www.peterboroughpublichealth.ca or call Inspection Services at 705-743-1000 to speak with a Public Health Inspector.  Fact sheets on flood precautions can also be downloaded directly from Public Health’s website in the “My Home & Environment” section under “My Home – Emergency Preparedness”.


For further information please contact:
Julie Ingram
Public Health Inspector
705-743-1000, ext. 351

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