June 9, 2008

After the Hurricane: Are We Prepared to Feed Our Family?

By Janice Wade-Miller, Education Instructor, Families & Consumers Science

hurricaneWith the memory of the devastation left across the Gulf Coast by the hurricanes of 2004 and Katrina in 2005 still fresh in our minds, we can only reflect and ask ourselves, "Are we prepared to feed our family?” While most people are not prepared for hurricane season, there is still time to pull together a plan and a no-cook food kit.

Aside from physical safety, safe food for our family is all-important in making the days following a hurricane as comfortable as possible for our loved ones. All of us need to prepare a no-cook food kit which should contain non-perishable food and pet food for at least 4 days. You should also be ready to be self-sufficient for at least three days and have on hand at least one gallon of water per person per day. This kit can be used if you were asked to stay in your home for sheltering without electric power.

Here is a list of foods to consider assembling when you are readying your home for the upcoming hurricane season. Remember to keep in mind that canned foods, once opened, can be heated in their can over a fire with the can serving as a cooking pot. Pick and choose the food to buy based on your family’s food preferences and needs. All items listed here will keep indefinitely without refrigeration. Some items require hot water for reconstitution.

Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Food Group
Granola bars
Breakfast bars
Pop tarts
Pastry Cold cereals
Instant hot cereals
Ramen noodles
Canned noodle soups
Instant noodle soups

Vegetable Food Group
Vegetable soups
Tomato soups
Small cans tomato, carrot, or V-8 juice

Fruit Food Group
Small cans of fruit
Boxed fruit juices
Small cans of fruit juice

Meat, Poultry, Dry Beans and Nuts Food Group
Canned tuna, salmon, clams, shrimp, sardines, pork and beans, chili, stew, ravioli, spaghetti, meat spreads, or chicken (Pack single servings as these products require refrigeration after opening.)
Peanut butter
Shelled nuts
Dried meat sticks (as long as they do not require refrigeration after opening)

Milk and Dairy Food Group
Powdered milk
Cocoa mix
Canned evaporated mild
Shelf-stable boxes of milk
Snack puddings
Parmesan cheese
Snack packages of cheese and crackers

Other foods (little nutritional value)
Instant coffee
Tea bags
Candy or Chips
Snack Jello
hurricane diagram
Here are some general food safety tips:

When in doubt, throw it out.
Don't eat food that may have been exposed to flood water.

Use bottled water if it is available. Don't drink water that may have been exposed to flood water. If you don't have bottled water, boil it for 1 minute before using, let it cool and put it into clean containers to make it safe for drinking and adding to canned foods. If you can't boil water, you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for disinfection. Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.

Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. If the power goes out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Your refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it's unopened. A full freezer will keep an adequate temperature for about 48 hours if the door remains closed.

Use appliance thermometers. Thermometers should be in your refrigerator and freezer. When power is restored, check your freezer thermometer. If it reads 40°Fahrenheit, the food is safe and may be refrozen. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out no more than 4 hours.

Keep coolers on hand. Coolers can help keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store them in a clean cooler. This ice can be used for drinking. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers. Clean and sanitize your bathtub and then fill it with clean water beforehand for use in adding to soups, hand washing and personal hygiene.

Throw out spoiled food. Discard any perishable foods—such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers—that have been above 40°Fahrenheit for 2 hours or more.

food lineCooking and eating habits must change to fit the situation during a power failure. You may have no stove to heat food, no refrigeration, and limited water. In addition, health risks from contaminated or spoiled foods may increase. Use these ideas to prepare hot food during a power outage.

Fireplace -- You can cook on skewers; wrap food in foil and place in the hot coals, cook on a wire grill over the flames; or you can cook over the flames in heavy cookware such as cast iron or heavy aluminum. A Dutch oven is probably the best piece of cookware, because it can be used for baking, boiling, stewing, or pan frying.

Outdoor grills -- Foods can be cooked on outdoor grills, but use the grills outside. Do not use them in closed areas, not even in a garage.

Fuel-burning camp stoves or charcoal burners -- Use these cookers outdoors only. Fumes from these can be deadly.

Candle food warmers, chafing dishes, and fondue pots -- If using candle warmers (similar to canned candles) or chafing dishes to keep food hot and protect yourself from food borne illness, be sure to use a food thermometer and check frequently to make sure the food stays at 140 °F or above and out of the “temperature danger zone.”

Wood-burning stoves -- Most wood-burning stoves have a flat metal crown which can hold a metal cooking pot. Use this to warm or cook canned food when you need it.

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Web site

Pinellas County Extension Web site

Hurricane Season Will Be “Well Above Average.”

Guidelines for Assembling No Cook Food Bags

Prepare for Hurricane Season: Advice From FDA

Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water

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