Severe weather striking your area of the country? Stock up on staples now and learn how to stay safe after the storm has passed.
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:
The FSIS also emphasizes "When in doubt, throw it out." A taste-test is counterintuitive.
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:
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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