Hurricanes, floods, and power outages may have lingering and potentially hazardous public health impacts on grain and vegetable crops, as well as food manufacturing facilities, food warehouses, and food transporters.
Specifically, crops may be affected in a variety of ways. They may be submerged in flood water, exposed to contaminants, or susceptible to mold. Some of the major concerns for crop safety are heavy metals, chemical, bacterial, and mold contamination. In many cases, it is challenging to determine what contaminants are in crops that were submerged by floodwaters. Both human and animal food must meet well-established safety requirements. FDA has experts that are working closely with state regulators and directly with producers to address questions and concerns.
Our priority is to ensure the safety of the food supply – both human and animal food – that may have been affected by flooded water or storms. At the same time, we provide guidance and, as applicable, support to regulated industries.
The FDA is providing this general information as a resource to those responsible for the handling of crops for human or animal food that have been exposed to flood waters or affected by power outages. It is important to stress that each situation must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Individual states may also have their own requirements regarding any attempt to clean, process, test, and sell or use these crops in food.
For additional information, see Resources for Human and Animal Food Producers Affected by Flooding.
Human Food Crops
The FDA’s Guidance for Industry: Evaluating the Safety of Flood-affected Food Crops for Human Consumption provides the information that producers can use as they assess potential damage to their food crops. Assuring the safety of flood-affected food crops for human consumption is the responsibility of the growers who produce and market these crops. The recommendations in that guidance do not change the applicability of other federal or state regulations.
Flooding, as defined in that guidance, is “the flowing or overflowing of a field with water outside a grower’s control. Pooled water (e.g., after rainfall) that is not reasonably likely to cause contamination of the edible portions of fresh produce is not considered flooding.”
Flooding events can present a potentially hazardous public health risk. In some areas, crops may be submerged in flood water that may have been exposed to sewage, chemicals, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms or other contaminants. Even if the crop is not completely submerged, there may still be microbial contamination of the edible portion of the crop. There is also the potential for plants to take up chemical contaminants. In addition to the direct presence of contaminants noted above, mold and toxins may develop in the crops as a result of exposure to the water.
This document also provides guidance on:
- safety of food crops when flood waters contacted the edible portions of the crops;
- safety of food crops when flood waters did NOT contact the edible portions of the crops;
- assessment of flood-affected fields before replanting; and
- additional controls to avoid cross-contamination after flooding.
Generally, if the edible portion of a crop is exposed to contaminated flood waters it is considered “adulterated” under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and should not enter the human food supply. This is because there are no practical methods of reconditioning, or processing, these edible portions. Reconditioning is only acceptable when it can provide a reasonable assurance of food safety.
For crops that were in or near flooded areas but where flood waters did NOT contact the edible portions of the crops, the growers should evaluate the safety of the crops for human consumption on a case-by-case basis for possible food safety concerns.
We encourage growers to work with state regulators and local FDA offices to assess their unique situations and to take into consideration all possible types and routes of contamination from flood waters in determining whether a particular crop is adulterated.
Animal Food Crops
Each situation will vary, depending on a variety of factors such as the extent of flooding and the type of crop. In certain circumstances, crops harvested from fields that have been impacted by flood waters can be used for animal food. However, usually these crops are unacceptable because of contamination. Flood waters from storms often contain sewage, pathogenic organisms, pesticides, chemical wastes, or other toxic substances. Mold growth is another serious concern for flood impacted crops intended for use in animal food. Some molds produce mycotoxins, which are toxic to certain animals and people. People who eat food products from animals that ate the mold may also suffer health effects.
Before being used in animal food, crops exposed to the flooding should, at a minimum, be tested for mold, bacteria and heavy metal contamination. Depending on the test results, the crop may be acceptable for animal food use or it may be possible to salvage the crop by reconditioning it. Reconditioning is a broad term that covers certain types of processing. FDA will work with producers to evaluate reconditioning requests on a case by case basis.
For more information, see Crops Harvested from Flooded Fields Intended for Animal Food