Disaster dining: stay safe, fed, caffeinated and entertained
August 27th, 2012
02:00 PM ET
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Severe weather striking your area of the country? Stock up on staples now and learn how to stay safe after the storm has passed.

First off, here's what FEMA - the Federal Emergency Management Management Agency  - says people should have on hand, in addition to a manual can opener and one gallon of water per adult and per pet each day, with a three-day minimum supply:

Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water. If you must heat food, pack a can of sterno. Select food items that are compact and lightweight. Avoid foods that will make you thirsty. Choose salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with high liquid content.

– Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables
– Canned juices, milk, soup (if powdered, store extra water)
– Staples–sugar, salt, pepper
– High energy foods–peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars, trail mix
– Vitamins
– Foods for infants, elderly persons or persons with special dietary needs
– Comfort/stress foods–cookies, hard candy, sweetened cereals, lollipops, instant coffee, tea bags

Read Hurricanes and Floods and Key Tips for Consumers About Food and Water Safety

Should your home happen to lose power for any length of time, as often happens in a hurricane, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) offers the following recommendations to determine if your food is safe and how to keep it as such:

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.

The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.

Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.

Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below when checked with a food thermometer.

Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.

If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.

If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.

Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.

Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.

Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved.

Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.

The FSIS also emphasizes "When in doubt, throw it out." A taste-test is counterintuitive.

Keep your medicine safe

Got that? Now let's zest it up.

If you're at home and the power goes out, it's an excellent opportunity to race to the fridge and gobble up whatever pre-cooked meats and cheeses are at the ready. Transfer whatever you can't eat to the freezer to buy yourself a little more time, and make sure to have a cooler or two stocked with cold packs - whether you're at home or on the road.

Now is not the time to take chances, so make sure you've got a food thermometer on hand - as well as a way to disinfect it between uses. Visualize what you want from the fridge or freezer before you open the door. Things can get warmer, but you can't get that cold back.

Once the storm has safely passed and winds and rain have died down, now might be an excellent time to grill that meat that's just thawed out from your freezer. Visualize your usual process, from marinating and rubbing, to basting, flipping, carrying and prepping back in the kitchen - as well as all your hand and equipment washing - and make sure you've got enough soap and water for each of those instances, in addition to any you'd usually have on hand to quench flare-ups and fires.

Just batten down the hatches for the arrival of all the neighbors who may catch a whiff and come over with rumbling stomachs. If they ask what they can bring, tell them, "Your own plate, silverware, glass and napkin - and a promise you'll take them when you go."

Mayonnaise may adorn your sandwiches and tuna or chicken salads at the outset, and pre-sealed packets aren't a bad way to go, but after a few hours, mustard is a better safety bet. Avoid flavor fatigue by assembling a sampler pack of yellow, Dijon, deli, whole grain, flavored and honey mustards. Per the good folks at French's Mustard, "There are no ingredients in mustard that spoil. "Refrigerate After Opening" is not required for food safety–we only recommended you do so to maintain optimal product flavor."

Peanut butter is another excellent bet, but it too can get monotonous. Put a portion into a small bowl or plastic container and play around with spice mix-ins like cumin, cinnamon, hot sauce, paprika, Chinese five-spice or curry spices. It's dandy on bread, crackers (you did remember to stock up on crackers, right?) or raw vegetables; just don't make your blend too hot or salty if water and other beverages are still in short supply. If peanuts aren't your bag, pop a can of chickpeas, mash them up and gussy 'em up.

About those raw vegetables - you're not locked in to the ho-hum trinity of carrots, celery and cauliflower. Corn that's been cut off the cob is sweet, crisp and delicious raw. So is okra, zucchini and plenty other vegetables you might never think to chomp into without cooking. Plan ahead and wash them off now, so they're at the ready when you want to get your disaster snack on.

And booze. You probably shouldn't be drinking right now, but that might not stop you (or, uh, us).

Red wine is an obvious choice, but if only white will do, stash your bottles in the fridge now before the power goes out. Should you anticipate things getting dire or dull, slip the inner plastic bag from your favorite boxed wine (Shhhh! It's okay! Food & Wine's Ray Isle says so and has some excellent suggested brands.) and pop it in the freezer. Under normal circumstances, we would not suggest treating your wine in such a fashion, but this ain't the Loire Valley in stomping season. You haven't had running water in two days and a nice, cool glass of something that isn't bottled tap water might go down nicely.

Prepare lidded pitchers of cocktails now and put them in the fridge. Freeze small plastic, freezer-friendly lidded storage containers of water or ice cubes made of your favorite juice, mixed with fruit like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. When it's time to serve, drop the container into the pitcher for dilution-free cooling, or let the juice cubes and fruit melt into the drink.

Last, but not at all least - make coffee NOW and chill or freeze it. Make coffee ice cubes if need be, and consider using melting ice cream or canned, condensed milk to sweeten or lighten your drink. Alternately, you can bone up on your cold brew technique. There's no reason you should have to face a storm's aftermath with a caffeine headache.

From our readers who have weathered similar weather:

As a Girl Scout leader for many years, the "buddy-burner" is an easily made, inexpensive cooking method. All you need is a #10 can with some air holes punched in the sides as well as a good candle. You can heat soup, boil water, grill sandwiches and even fry eggs. Search "buddy-burner" on a search engine and make one for future needs. - dl1976

Living in Florida and making it through 4 hurricanes in one year as well as others, one thing everyone seems to forget is that you have a hot water tank that is now filled with warm water (40gallons) maybe. This water is clean and available. - Norman Drew

Every time there is a serious power outage in the Pacific Northwest, one or more persons die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Please: DO NOT light up any kind of hibachi, grill or gas-powered stove INSIDE an apartment, home or partially enclosed garage/basement/etc. Even with a window open. Please. Tepid meals will NOT kill you. Carbon monoxide will.

A big block of ice has the smallest surface area to volume ratio – less air can invade a large, well-insulated block of ice than say, a big bag of ice cubes. Freezing 3/4 full bottles of water is a nice idea, too, but a block (e.g. a plastic bag lined cardboard box) will keep things cold the longest during a power outage.
- Jean V

Got any more severe weather food prep tips? Share them in the comments below and we just might feature them in an upcoming post. Stay safe out there!


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Finding comfort in food after a tragedy
Serving up gratitude in troubled times
Roasted chicken soup for the banged-up soul

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soundoff (121 Responses)
  1. Name*DaviddaDad

    Great fishing after

    June 6, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  2. bill

    Wow are they trying to make people paranoid. 4 hrs is a bit extreme, and there is no need to refrigerate eggs (that just adds 2 hours to meal prep when you have to get them to room temp before using)

    June 6, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  3. jimmy

    there was a link to this story from stories about the new tropical storm. 45 mph winds and a couple inches of rain do not constitute a disaster. please stop the weather hysteria and sensationalizing and report more on the govt stealing all our cell phone records.

    btw last friday was the 28th anniversary of the niles/newton falls tornado that killed 76...more than 3x as many as in moore. a shout-out to all who went thru that storm. they didn't get a special act of congress. they didn't get a telethon. they didn't get 24/7 wall-to-wall cable news coverage. they didn't get people blaming SUVs for the tornado. they didn't get people calling it the worst storm ever. just sayin'.

    June 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  4. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    I just keep my propane tanks stocked, my grill clean and ready, and live near plenty of cattle.......er.... I mean PEOPLE. Ha. Slip of the tongue there. I meant people. They can "help me out" when my supply of meat gets low.

    June 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
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  8. Isaac Weary Louisana Cajun

    Best Frezer tip EVER...really

    If you evacuate and leave a freezer with food (in it), your power may go out, then come back on. This "cool" tip lets you know if food is safe.
    1. Freeze water in a small plastic drinking cup or container.
    2. Place a coin (penny, etc) on the surface of the frozen cup of ice. Place cup in freezer before leaving.. Upon returing, if penny is on bottom of cup, and water is frozen, this tells you that the freezer went out and power was turned back on. I used this method for Gustav evacutation (a week plus).

    Food tip: Get a generator.period.. At this exact moment, I am surrounded by half-million people without power. (really) I do not understand how you can really be prepared ...and not be prepared. My 2 next door neighbors will spend more cash restocking their lost food items than the entire cost of this generator I am using at this exact moment to chat with the World. (I have sattelite internet by the way..and ice for my scotch).

    August 31, 2012 at 3:11 am |
  9. Isaac Weary Louisana Cajun

    Best Frezer tip EVER...really

    If you evacuate and leave a freezer with food (in it), your power may go out, then come back on. This "cool" tip lets you know if food is safe.
    1. Freeze water in a small plastic drinking cup or container.
    2. Place a coin (penny, etc) on the surface of the frozen cup of ice. Place cup in freezer before leaving.. Upon returing, if penny is on bottom of cup, and water is frozen, this tells you that the freezer went out and power was turned back on. I used this method for Gustav evacutation (a week plus).

    Food tip: Get a generator.period.. At this exact moment, I am surrounded by half-million people without power. (really) I do not understand how you can really be prepared ...and not be prepared. My 2 next door neighbors will spend more cash restocking their lost food items than the entire cost of this generator....that I am using at this exact moment to chat with the World. (I have sattelite internet by the way..and ice in my scotch).

    August 31, 2012 at 3:10 am |
  10. diluded000

    Besides the usual items, I keep a Katadyn Base Camp water filter around. They aren't cheap, but are supposed to pretty much filter dirty ditch water to a drinkable state.

    August 30, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  11. BM6900

    You can pick up a shower bag at Walmart for $10 that heats water via solar – in the camping section. Nice to have a hot shower in the midst of a power outage for weeks. Of course, you'll need to have water on hand for that. Those 5 Gallon jugs make handy storage. And for folks who've never been camping, it doesn't hurt to go just once to see how you'll be living without power – the tent kind, not the RVing. Try it a weekend and see how little you really need to survive.

    August 30, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  12. DMK

    We have a chest freezer that we have kept frozen during power outages up to a week by putting a few pounds of dry ice in there. It's expensive, but not a smuch as the food you might lose! Big grocery stores usually have it or get it soon after the power goes out, or you can try a local dairy.

    August 29, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  13. Harry ferguson

    Don't worry about eggs going bad when the power fails. You can keep them at room temperature for a week without any trouble, unless they were pretty old to start with. People never kept them refrigerated until halfway the 20th century. Milk will keep for a day as well, probably longer.
    I hope you all make it through the storm! We in Europe are following the news.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Jean

      Thanks for caring and thanks for the great info.

      August 30, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  14. dave

    I have a gas grill and a small generator. I understand that this probably wouldn't work for everybody, but I'll run the generator for a couple of hours throughout the day to keep the fridge/freezer cold. This periodic use can make a gallon of gas last for days if necessary. I cook everything on the grill or in the fire ring out in the yard (kids love this). No power, no problem.

    August 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • NODAT1

      when we lost power for over a week in June /July, we had a small generator to keep the freezer and ffrig going, but we busted out the camping gear and made the best of it. kids loved it and we managed to surive

      September 6, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  15. Tim Knecht

    Go to a military-type online store (e.g., US Cavalry) and buy MRE-type meals. (Meal, Ready to Eat, the current military field rations). The variety is pretty good, and the entree can be heated or eaten cold. The entree is in a retort pouch, so you can heat it by inserting it in boiling water for a few minutes. The meals include the entree, sides, dessert, and beverage crystals. MREs can be stored for years. Do not buy freeze-dried foods unless you will have an ample supply of water with which to reconstitute them. If you do want to use freeze-dried foods, be careful; there are two types: those which you reconstitute and "cook" using boiling water, and those that you reconstitute and then cook. Having a Coleman-type cookstove (with ample fuel, whether it's gas or propane) is a good idea. Depending on how many people there re in your household, a backpacker's stove would also work.

    August 29, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  16. BJ

    We are so used to fresh or frozen food that few of us keep canned food on hand. Stock up ahead of time on canned fruit juices (Kern's has guava, mango, papaya, peach–all delicious), canned veggies (already cooked, ergo safe), canned tuna, shrimp and clams. Outdoor stores have dehydrated foods, useful if you have water. Do not throw out the water or juices from any canned foods; they are safe and drinkable, or good for creating sauces. Be sure you have a hand-operated can opener!

    August 29, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  17. Jujuk

    Have gone through every SE Fla storm since Andrew, and the two items I am MOST grateful for are my gas grill with side burner (that side burner is the most important part after a storm!) and especially my camping coffee pot. Cannot tell you how many of our neighbors were jealous every morning while we had our fresh-brewed coffee!

    August 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  18. Margaret Rathfon

    Went thru Andrew, no electricity for 6 weeks. Had water. Use your bathtub to wash sheets/towels. Let your feet be the washer. Heat water out in the yard, in a clean, large container. Bail it out for showers. Saute ground meat or sausage, cool, wrap it up in small batches and freeze. Great to add pasta/sauces to later or make tacos. Pre-cook bacon or buy it that way. Make sun tea, add different flavorings to spice it up. Pesto can be frozen or bought in small jars. Boil up different types of pasta, freeze it. You can freeze cheese too. Hardest thing was trying to sleep at night before it cooled off around 4 am. Keep bowl of ice w/wash cloth & use it to fan yourself. EVERY neighbor brought back ice to share!

    August 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  19. ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™

    I lived in FL for eight years and we had some close calls, so a few tips to share are:
    1. If you have a pool (and a lot of people do in FL), you basically have 8-10k gallons of water that can be used to wash hands during food prep or to even wash dishes.
    2. We bought a propane gas grill with one of the side burners, this can be used to heat up pretty much anything including water for coffee.
    3. We found out after one storm when power was out for most of the day that the local fast food place had a back-up generator, so my husband made a run for coffee and breakfast.
    4. Don't wait until the last minute to get emergency supplies! The stores start boarding up windows and closing stores well ahead of a storm that is expected to hit that area. We waited too late, one time, and had no bottled water, extra canned foods, etc. Luckily we didn't need them that time.

    August 28, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
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