Recovering from a house fire can be an overwhelming task. You’re left to assess your losses and salvage what you can. What about the food in your pantry and refrigerator? Is it safe to eat? To avoid exposing you and your family to contaminated food, follow these tips when cleaning up your kitchen after a fire. 

Why Does Fire Make Food Unsafe? 

Even if food isn’t burned in a fire, it may not be safe to consume after the flames have been put out. Here are three reasons why: 

  • Smoke and fumes: Fires give off toxic smoke and fumes. In fact, these are the most dangerous aspects of a house fire and can contaminate food and beverages.
  • Heat: The elevated temperatures during a house fire can spoil food in sealed jars or cans, even if the heat isn’t intense enough to split or rupture the container.
  • Firefighting chemicals: Fire extinguishers contain chemicals that are effective at dousing flames but are toxic to humans. The chemicals can’t simply be washed off, contaminating any food they come in contact with.

Knowing What Food to Discard 

Food that has spoiled or been contaminated by fumes or chemicals may not look or smell any different. To help protect your family from illness, follow these tips:

  • Discard any food that looks charred or burned.
  • Throw away raw food stored outside the refrigerator.
  • Toss out food stored at room temperature, including flour, sugar, and spices.
  • Discard food stored in cardboard, plastic, bottles, and screw-topped jars.
  • Dispose of food kept in the refrigerator or freezer if the power was out for longer than two hours.
  • Then, if any refrigerated or frozen food tastes “off” once prepared, throw it away.
  • Discard food that has been exposed to smoke, fumes, heat, or chemicals, even if stored in sealed jars or cans.
  • Throw out one-time-use plastic ware.

The bottom line is when in doubt, throw it out! 

Cleaning Up After a Fire 

In most cases, food in commercially sealed, unopened, uncontaminated metal cans is all that can be salvaged after a house fire. It’s also usually possible to restore non-permeable kitchen tools, such as silverware, utensils, cookware, and dishware. Make canned food and cutlery safe again by cleaning and sanitizing them:

  • Remove any canned food labels.
  • Wash everything thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Rinse clean.
  • Sanitize by immersing canned food and cutlery in a solution of one cup bleach per five gallons of water for at least two minutes.
  • Air dry.
  • Re-label each can with a permanent marker.
  • Consume the salvaged canned food as soon as possible.

Knowing what food is safe to eat is just a small part of fire damage restoration. For help cleaning up the rest of your home after a fire, please call DKI Services. We are North America’s largest disaster restoration contracting organization with nearly 50 years of experience.