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How to Keep Food Safe During an Emergency Caused by Nature

How to Keep Food Safe During an Emergency Caused by Nature

REPORT SUMMARY: Survival Without Food And Water, Likely Disaster In Your Area, Hurricane Strikes Since 1950, Measures Against Hurricanes, Assembling An Emergency Food Supply, The Aftermath Of The Disaster, Prepare Food Without Power & More.

An emergency caused by nature may be defined as a set of circumstances created by nature that poses a serious and immediate threat to your life, well being, possessions or environment. Almost all such emergencies call for urgent intervention and assistance to prevent the situation getting out of hand. Regrettably, there will be situations when mitigation is not possible; all that can be offered in such a situation will be palliative care to forestall the ill effects that ensue as the aftermath.

In the USA, common emergencies caused by nature are violent hurricanes that leave a trail of death and destruction behind them, tornados which have similar consequences but are much smaller in scale when compared to hurricanes, and the unpredictable earthquakes in California caused by the San Andreas Fault.

A flood, fire, national disaster, prolonged heat wave, tsunami, volcano or the loss of power from high winds, snow, or ice can put the safety of your food in jeopardy. Knowing how to establish if the food available is safe to eat and how to keep that food safe for the longest possible period will help reduce the potential loss of food while reducing the risk of disease carried by the food you’re likely to eat.

This article will help you make the right decisions for keeping your family safe during an emergency.

How Long Can You Survive Without Food and Water

The length of time a human can survive without food and water is totally dependent on the conditions obtaining and therefore, is a function of one or a combination of more than one factor. The most important is your will to survive. Going without water or food are two different stories, so they can be examined separately.

Caloric Intake Facts

The average man is 1.75 m (5’9”) tall, weighs 65 kg (156 lbs) and eats 2, 400-2600 Kcal (calories) per day. You require about 1, 600 residual calories distributed around your body as carbohydrates, fats and proteins when asleep before you wake up next morning to retain your figure. So, when you eat, you are adding to your residual calories, which is fine because your body needs 1, 600 base calories for your internal systems to function. You need to shed those 2, 400-2, 600 calories you ate to stay trim. If you’ve gained 4-500 calories extra after a sumptuous meal, these are very easily shed so you can become trim again. One friendly jog for five minutes will knock off 50 cal. Or, walk up stairs for 10 minutes a day for five days. One full day without food will take 1, 500 calories off you. It is a good habit to fast for one day a fortnight and give your digestive system a rest.

A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from fat or carbohydrate. Any calories eaten in excess can lead to weight gain. You can lose weight by eating fewer calories and by increasing your physical activity. Your brain will adapt to the changed system and reduce your base calorie count to, say, 1, 400. An impoverished man has a base value programmed from his early days at, say, 750 calories. His working, eating and drinking revolves around this figure of 750 calories.

Reducing the amount of total fat and saturated fat that you eat is one way to limit your overall calorie intake. In fact, 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories, whereas 1 gram of protein or carbohydrate equals less than half the number of calories (4 calories each). By reducing total fat intake, you help reduce your calorie intake.

Survival Without Food (with water)

Humans have far more stamina than they know and can manage a long period of hunger, provided they are well hydrated. The self-evident factors are your physical fitness, total body weight and type of body mass and the prevailing weather. The answer to this question cannot be derived easily since no two persons are alike. For that matter, prevailing conditions may not be the same either. The factors at play are many in number.

  • Among the factors that determine how long you can go without food, will power, mental health and determination play a definite part. A number of people have gone on hunger strikes for political and religious reasons for a month! There are many cases of people getting lost in the wilderness and given up for dead by rescue teams suddenly reappearing, having survived for a long time without food. Perhaps the best documented example is that of the crash of the Uruguayan Air Force aircraft in the Andes on 13 Oct. 1972 when a passenger aircraft with 45 souls on board crashed and 16 survivors were rescued on 23 Dec. 1972, seventy two days after the accident. The 16 were pushed so hard to survive that they ultimately ate the flesh of their dead co-passengers, friends and colleagues.
  • There is a consensus of opinion that healthy human beings can manage without food for 50-60 days so long as water is available. Exceptions exist and people have survived longer, whereas people have died of starvation in much less time. A healthy body and good physical condition generally helps you to survive longer, as does that extra adipose tissue or body fat. We all know that food eaten is converted into energy required to live. This energy is stored as fat, proteins and carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are used up first when more food is not coming in. The fat goes next, which explains why people with more of it can survive longer. Next go the proteins. This is when the threat factor sets in. If your body is consuming proteins, it is becoming a ‘cannibal’ in that it is eating your core structure, the nucleus of your body.
  • Your metabolism is also involved. Metabolism is the process of converting food ingested into energy. If you can slow down your metabolism, you’ll consume the food you ate at a matching slow rate and be able to go longer without replacing the food energy. If you do not eat food, your metabolism (brain) senses that intake was low and outgo must be adjusted, unless there is a requirement to produce a high performance, much like amateur boxers who need to shed half a kilo just before weigh-in time. The brain is supracomplex and will adjust your metabolism to slow it down – pitching in for survival.
  • Climate is yet another major factor. Both cold and hot weather are detrimental if you lack food to eat, in their own unique ways. Hot weather dehydrates you, cold weather requires more energy to be burned so that your body temperature stays normal at 37° C (98.6° F). In fact, you won’t have the time to starve to death before the solitary reaper claims you as victim. If you’re stranded in mild temperatures, you’ll survive a couple of hours extra without food.

The basic symptoms you will see if you start a starvation diet for an extended period of time are:

  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Irritability and poor decision making
  • Deficiency in immunity

Advanced starvation has serious repercussions. It will force your organs to shut down one after another. People experiencing severe starvation fall prey to the following:

  • Hallucinations
  • Convulsions and muscle spasms
  • Irregular heartbeat

Survival Without Water

You can survive 2-5 days without water, depending on your build, your location and how much you sweat, urinate, or shed as tears. At any given time, a human is 70 percent water. Your blood is mainly water; your brain is 75 percent water, your muscles are also almost 75 percent water and all joints use water as lubricants. Every single system in your body functions on water. If the body were to lose water and you had the option, just lie down and stop any exertion of any kind, till some person finds you and gives you water to rehydrate.

As a spectator at highly physical matches like hockey, football and tennis, you must have players rehydrating regularly. Even in what is considered a slow game, cricket players start to cramp on a warm day. The standard solution is a 250 cc bottle of water with a spoonful of glucose and salt added.

Survival With Food, but no Water

Returning to the situation when you have food but no water− that food is dangerous. The moment you take a bite, the brain will release fluids (water) to digest it, starting with saliva, gastric fluids (even though they are acids) as well as fluids in the intestines, kidneys, liver, you name it. There have been miracles, no doubt, but that’s what they were, miracles. A 97 year old woman survived 8 days without drinking or eating anything under the rubble of her home after an earthquake occurred in Iran in January 2004. Nearly all newborn babies, later became known as Miracle Babies, were found and rescued after being 7 days under the wreckage of Hospital Juarez in Mexico City earthquake in 1985.

Foods with High Water Content

In addition to the water we drink, approximately a fifth of our fluid intake is acquired through food and vegetables. Many fruits and vegetables contain as much as 90 percent or more water, making them the ideal choice for a meal or even a snack to keep your water intake high. Fruits like coconuts are over 97 percent water; fruits like watermelons, grapefruit, cantaloupes, peaches, other melons, grapes, strawberries, cranberries, orange and raspberries all have 90 percent water or more, though their energy content, except for coconuts, is somewhat low.

The list of vegetables with high water content has cucumber and lettuce, consisting of 96 percent water. Zucchini, radish and celery are comprised of 95 percent water. Ninety-four percent of a tomato’s weight is water, and green cabbage is 93 percent water. Vegetables that contain 92 percent water include cauliflower, eggplant, red cabbage and spinach. Broccoli is 91 percent water by weight.

In a study carried out by the University of Aberdeen Medical School in 2009, it was reported that after completing an intense workout, eating a watermelon or cucumber rehydrated your body twice as effectually as a glass of water. This is because such types of high water content fruits and vegetables replace the natural sugars, vitamins, amino acids and mineral salts lost in the workout and is far more effective than plain water or a sports drinks. Sports drinks combine the hydrating and energy replacing components of most of the fruits and vegetables listed above as high in water content and also have artificial colors and flavors which are, by and large, harmless. The difference lies in the fact that their combination is arbitrary, or generic, designed for the average person. But then, you are you-a discrete human with specific requirements as dictated by the constitution of your body and brain. The consumption of high water content foods is highly advantageous in that they provide a feeling of fullness while transferring minimal calories to your physique.

Preparing for the Likely Disaster in Your Area

You now know how long you can survive:

  • Without food but with water
  • With food but without water
  • Without anything

You are now in a situation where you have a solution. So what is the question? That one question is: Can you and your family survive in an emergency? There are follow up queries too. We know what an emergency means, but are you living in an area prone to emergencies? What is the average American’s chance of facing an emergency? Are reactions to all emergencies the same?

Napa Valley gets struck by the largest earthquake in 25 years. Hurricanes churn through the Atlantic. Floods claim four lives as they sweep through parts of the Northeast. Every region in America faces its own dangers, but when you account for all kinds of natural disasters–from earthquakes to winter storms to tornados–what place is safest of them all? The honor goes to Sweet Grass County, Montana, according to an analysis of more than a half century of weather patterns and destructive natural events across the USA. Sweet Grass is home to 3, 000 people who are fortunate enough to live far from wildfires to the west and twister country to the east, not to mention 900 miles from any trouble caused by the sea. Ocean County, New Jersey, is the country’s most dangerous county, when it comes to frequency of natural disasters. Jersey Shore communities in Ocean County are vulnerable to tidal surges and storms like Sandy. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration USA

Figure 2: Safe/Unsafe Counties in the USA

Use the map above to see where your county ranks.  This link will take you to a page on Time Magazine, and you can check out how safe you are on their interactive map.

The Disaster Index

Researchers at Time Magazine have calculated what they call the disaster index. All records were taken from the database maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on earthquakes and tornados from 1950 and 42 other disaster since 1996. Based on their findings, they have listed the Counties listed in Chart 2 as the 15 Most Dangerous Counties in the USA.

RANK

COUNTY

STATE

DISASTER INDEX

POPULATION IN 2010

1

Ocean County

NJ

223.7

576, 567

2

Orange County

CA

180.8

3, 010, 232

3

Cape May County

NJ

174.3

97, 265

4

Monmouth County

NJ

173.8

630, 380

5

Los Angeles County

CA

171.0

9, 818, 605

6

Clinton County

NY

156.8

82, 128

7

Burlington County

NJ

156.5

448, 734

8

San Diego County

CA

155.8

3, 095, 313

9

Franklin County

NY

152.6

51, 599

10

Riverside County

CA

145.7

2, 189, 641

11

San Bernardino County

CA

145.4

2, 035, 210

12

Atlantic County

NJ

143.5

274, 549

13

Chittenden County

VT

143.3

156, 545

14

Grand Isle County

VT

142.3

6, 970

15

Camden County

NJ

139.3

513, 657

Chart 2: The 15 Most Dangerous Counties in the USA
Source: Time Magazine

Using the same criteria, the following Counties are the safest in the USA

RANK

COUNTY

STATE

DISASTER INDEX

POPULATION IN 2010

1

Sweet Grass County

MT

1.7

3, 651

2

Washington County

ID

1.7

10, 198

3

Wheatland County

MT

1.8

2, 168

4

Sherman County

OR

2.0

1, 765

5

Emporia city

VA

2.0

5, 927

6

Fergus County

MT

2.3

11, 586

7

Luna County

NM

2.4

25, 095

8

Liberty County

MT

2.4

2, 339

9

Grant County

NM

2.5

29, 514

10

Malheur County

OR

2.7

31, 313

11

Potter County

SD

2.7

2, 329

12

Hill County

MT

2.8

16, 096

13

Silver Bow County

MT

2.8

34, 200

14

Canyon County

ID

2.8

188, 923

15

Golden Valley County

MT

2.9

884

Chart 3: The 15 Safest Counties in the USA
Source: Time Magazine

What is striking is that the safest counties have virtually no population to speak of. Evidently, there is some unwelcome factor prevalent in these counties that people are avoiding living in them en masse.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Events measured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA, research include earthquake, hurricane (typhoon), cold wind chill, astronomical low tide, coastal flood, avalanche, dense fog, drought, dust devil, dust storm, excessive heat, extreme cold/wind chill, flash flood, flood, freezing fog, funnel cloud, hail, heat, heavy rain, heavy snow, high surf, high wind, ice storm, lakeshore flood, landslide, lightning, rip current, sleet, storm surge/tide, strong wind, thunderstorm wind, tornado, tropical depression, tropical storm, tsunami, waterspout, wildfire, winter storm and winter weather (ibid).

Figure 3: Hurricane Strikes since 1950
Source: NOAA

Hurricane Strikes Since 1950

Since 1851, 290 North Atlantic hurricanes have produced hurricane-strength winds in 19 states on the Atlantic coast. Some may have remained offshore, yet producing hurricane- strength winds on land; some may have weakened to a tropical storm before landfall yet produced hurricane conditions on land while still a hurricane and some of them made landfall in an adjacent state but produced hurricane conditions over multiple states.

All categories of disasters listed are not equally dangerous. The most disastrous have been hurricanes, as three to four of different scales may strike in one year; some years have been hurricane free in that they have died out just before encountering land or reduced to a large storm. Hurricanes have claimed over three thousand five hundred lives in the U.S. since 1996 while wildfires have taken 130 lives during the same period. Many counties have seen hundreds of incidents over the years, specifically hurricane prone New Jersey and quake-prone California.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina has been the most destructive Atlantic tropical cyclone this millennium. It is also the most damage causing natural disaster in the history of the United States. Katrina has the dubious distinction of being the 7th deadliest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, and 2005 has seen three of the six most intense Atlantic hurricanes recorded (along with #1 Wilma and #4 Rita). 1, 833 people are known to have died in the hurricane and the inevitable other disasters that follow, like floods, power outage, disconnection from the world at large and non-availability of fresh food or water other than what was supplied by rescue officials. The damage to property was projected at $108 billion (2005 USD).

If a hurricane is going to hit your house, there is nothing you can do. Prudence demands that you take safety measures in advance and pray that the intensity of the hurricane is low. As a resident of New Jersey (Chart 2), you should have an action plan ready and your entire family aware of what can happen and how they can help you in weathering the storm. Historically, the maximum property damage occurs in coastal areas, like beachfront towns. Nine out of ten can expect severe floods.

Measures Against Hurricanes

If you intend to safeguard yourself and your family from a hurricane, plan for four stages. These are the precautionary stage, the prelude, the storm and the after effects.

1. Precautionary Stage

  • There will be more than adequate warning before a hurricane strikes. That said, there is no guarantee that a hurricane will stick to its predicted path after hitting land. This can work both ways, for and against you. If you are in the path, the hurricane may pass you by, but considering its size, you may still be hit by its peripheral clouds, which will have very strong winds but less than expected rain. Buy emergency supplies now, well before it happens. The power outage may last days. Avoid the crowd by getting in early at the mart. Let’s also assume your house is 40 miles from the coastline (two hours travel time for the hurricane).
  • Consider moving to a relative’s house in say, Chicago or further west. Make sure you leave in time. Hurricanes move fairly slowly, about 25-30 mph or 40-48 kmh at that latitude, but the wind speed under its swirling cloud mass can touch 120+ mph, or 190 kph+. It is these winds and lashing rain that cause physical damage, but floods are caused by both the rain and poor drainage systems, as proved in New Orleans after a post-mortem of Katrina.
  • If you decide to stay, as generally happens, then shore up your basement. You will have to endure the strong winds when safely ensconced in your basement. After the worst is over, you will have to face the ordeal of waiting till life recovers to normal. If floods are to follow, they will convert your basement into a swimming pool. If you do not have a second floor, things could be touch and go in your house. Be prepared to evacuate in the worst case scenario. If you live in an apartment, there is no need to move anything; all you have to do is ‘batten down those hatches’ and stock up whatever is relevant from the list below.
  • You will require these items in your basement:
    • Hurricane lamps.
    • A set of torches and spare batteries.
    • Attach iridescent stickers on flashlights for easy location in little or no light.
    • Candles, four to five dozen and candle stick holders. Be careful not to start a fire.
    • Matches and disposable lighters.
    • A charging system.
    • An inverter with two high power batteries, 48 V each. You will also need an adapter to plug the inverter into any electrical power socket. Charge the batteries fully and ensurethey have enough distilled water.
    • Electrical cables, preferably two rolls of 50 ft each, colored red and green.
    • Battery-powered space heater.
    • Extension cords, long enough to reach your neighbor’s house.
    • Rubber gloves and gum boots for all.
    • Hand tools such as hammer, screwdriver, nails and wood saw.
    • Firewood and charcoal.
    • A gas camping stove or hibachi grill.
    • Extra blankets.
    • Paper plates, cups and plastic utensils.
    • First-aid kit and manual.
    • Fire Extinguisher.
    • Whistle.
    • Spare toiletry bag, with enough soap, shampoo, toothbrushes for all, toothpaste, basic medicines like aspirin and vitamins.
    • Sanitation and hygiene items (moist towelettes and toilet paper).
    • Prescription medicines for any affected person/persons, eye glasses, contact lens solutions, and hearing aid batteries.
    • Kitchen accessories and cooking utensils, including a can opener.
    • Photocopies of credit and identification cards.
    • Cash and coins with everybody.
    • Items for infants, such as formula, diapers, bottles, and pacifiers.
    • Clothing to keep your family warm, underwear and socks. Wear double layers in cold climates, and keep your head covered to retain loss of heat.
    • Space heaters that automatically shut off if they are moved or fall over.
    • Extra blankets, sleeping bags or newspapers to put on your bed/makeshift bed at night.
    • Knowledge that refrigerators and freezers are at their coldest settings in the house.
    • Extension to your phone line.
    • Mini-gas cylinder with attached lamp.
    • List of emergency phone nos. in huge print.
    • Mosquito repellent.
    • Fuel for your hurricane lamps.
    • Battery operated radios and clocks.
    • Knowledge that food is stored on shelves safely out of the way of flood waters.
    • Confirmation that an order for dry ice and ice blocks has been placed.
    • An 18 cubic foot standalone freezer. There should be 50 lbs (23 kg) of dry ice in this gadget when power goes. Use only this freezer. It will be the first device to be rendered ineffective, within 44-52 hours, but it would have done its job.
    • Coolers available and easily accessible. Styrofoam coolers work great.
    • Freezer bags filled with ice to make ice packs/ freezer-pack inserts.
    • Stocked ready-to-eat foods.
    • Shelf-stable items that are not canned. Look for juice boxes, stock and broth in boxes, dried fruits and snack items, and others that can be stored without refrigeration.
    • Some engaging, non-electronic games like cards and Scrabble, etc.
    • Bags to carry the equipment in, with inventory cards.

2. The Prelude

  • This is the phase when you get to know that the hurricane is close to the coast. In fact, high cirrus clouds (crow’s nest or mare’s tail) would have started appearing at least 60-90 hours earlier, with menacing clouds appearing about 2-2½ days later. A drizzle will set in, gradually becoming light, then heavy rain with very strong winds. Recheck the outside of your house to see that there is nothing that can fly off and hurt others just before the drizzle sets in.
    • Satellite dishes should be dismantled and brought in.
    • Recheck windows that might flap open in strong winds are nailed down.
    • Bring all flower pots into your garage.
    • Triple check your garage for safety, as they are weak structures, particularly their roofs. Cover glass surfaces of your car with Styrofoam. Cover the car securely with canvas.
    • Collect your order for dry ice and ice blocks as the drizzle starts. The exact timing is a function of how far your home is from the coastline and the market.
    • Freeze refrigerated items such as milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
    • Group food together in the freezer – this helps the food stay cold longer. A fully packed freezer keeps food safe longer than a lightly loaded one. Think ‘safety in numbers’!
    • Check that water repellent tarps, life jackets, inflatable raft if you have one, and kid’s swimming pools are inside the house.
    • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer on the first floor. An appliance thermometer indicates the temperature in the container. In case of a power outage, it helps determine the safety of the food. The freezer should be as close to -18°C (0°F) as possible, while the fridge should be at or below 4°C (39°F).
    • Keep another appliance thermometer in your standalone freezer in the basement. Put all your perishable eatables and leftovers in this freezer. The temperature should be as close to -18°C (0°F) as possible.
    • Fill Ziplock bags, empty soda bottles, and other plastic containers with water and freeze. Use these to keep items in the freezer, refrigerator, and coolers cold.
    • Fill freezer bags with ice to make ice packs/buy freezer-pack inserts. This is mainly for the standalone freezer you’re going to eat from in the first two days and then for the refrigerator and its freezer compartment.

Note: Bacteria cannot survive temperatures below 4.°4 C (40° F). When the temperature rises above 40° F, it will take about two hours for all ice flakes to drop off. This is an indicator that conditions have changed in favor of bacteria, which thrive in such conditions and multiply very rapidly. There is only one thing you may do now: Throw away all food items that have crossed the two hour limit.

3. The Storm

  • Watch the storm from within the safety of your home. Look up to see if loose objects are flying around. Watch the windspeed pick up and batter your walls, windows and doors. Learn from the experience. As the intensity increases, head for your basement. It is only a matter of time before you have a power outage, if it hasn’t already gone.
    • There is nothing you can do but wait. Monitor progress on a smartphone.
    • Listen to a broadcast to find out if tidal waves have surged inland. Heed all warnings.
    • The rain will not let up for at least two days, while wind strength will keep varying.
    • Several agencies would have initiated precautionary action about five days before the storm intensified into a hurricane, like The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Police Department, the United States Coast Guard, National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service.
    • In due course, the hurricane will either move away or die out.
    • Pray that the accumulated water outside drains quickly.
    • NEVER taste food to check if it is safe-never!

These three phases are the most manageable phases. All your supplies will hold, nothing will run out of stock in these couple of days, unless you have mismanaged the situation. The problems start now, in the recovery phase, particularly if there is flooding. The after effects of what was a controlled situation are what cause great mental trauma. We will look at the aftermath later.

Assembling an Emergency Food Supply

Your emergency supplies should consist of food, water and other supplies for at least five days. Your entire family should know where it is, what it contains, how it is to be utilized and who will look after it. All food will be in the fridge or freezer. Surplus cans must be stored on the highest shelves, keeping them safe from flood water. In case of a power outage, nobody should open any cooling equipment, except for the person in charge.

Water: Store at least one gallon of water per person per day for five days. An average person drinks one-half gallon of water every day, though this will reduce if there is a temperature drop. Remember:

  • Individual needs vary, depending on age, physical condition, activity, diet, and climate.
  • Children, nursing mothers, and ill people need more water.
  • Temperatures above 95°F (35°C), though unlikely, will increase the amount of water by 50%.
  • A medical emergency might require additional water.
  • It is recommended you purchase commercially bottled water in the precautionary stage.
  • If you are using council supplied tap water, stock it in large bottles. Use two-liter plastic soft drink bottles. Clean the bottles thoroughly with dishwashing soap and water, and rinse completely so there is no residual soap. Sanitize the bottles by adding a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart of water and swishing vigorously. After sanitizing the bottle, rinse out the sanitizing solution thoroughly with clean water.
  • Filling water containers: Fill the bottle to the top with regular tap water. If the tap water has been commercially treated from a water utility with chlorine, you need not add anything else to the water. If the water you are using comes from a well or water source that is not treated with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to the water. Tightly close the container using the original cap (ibid).
  • Many fruits and vegetables will hold their quality at room temperature, so buy them. Apples, tomatoes, grapes, heads of lettuce, squash, onions, potatoes, celery, peppers, and other produce will store well as long as they are stored in a cool and dark place.
  • Canned foods: canned beans, olive oil, tuna, chicken, small bottles of mayonnaise and salad dressing, canned meats and seafood, evaporated milk, soups, oil, canned juices, fruit, mustard and ketchup, brown bread, vegetables, dried foods, dried soup mixes, pastas, vegetables, meat, powdered milk, bouillon cubes and granules, spices, dried sauce mixes, pesto mixes, fruit, mushrooms and instant pudding mixes.

Food: Keep the following in mind when stocking your food supplies in the precautionary phase:

  • Avoid foods that will make you thirsty. Choose salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with high liquid content.
  • Stock canned foods, dry mixes, and other staples that do not require refrigeration, cooking, water, or special preparation. You may already have many of these on hand. Do include a manual can opener.
  • Keep a handy stock of plain milk chocolates.
  • Include special dietary needs (ibid).
  • Multivitamins.
  • Nuts and trail mixes, preferably in vacuum-packed containers which keep them fresh.

Canned Foods

“Canned foods maintain mineral content for entire shelf life. Vitamins A & C will decrease rapidly after fruits and vegetables are picked and cooked. Vitamins are lost during heating processes; however, once canned, vitamin A & C loss slows to 5- 20% per year. Other vitamins remain close to fresh food levels.”

Several factors limit the shelf-life of canned foods:

  • Cans or metal lids on glass jars can rust. When rust is deep enough, tiny holes open in the can or lid that may let spoilage agents in. Shipping accidents that dent or crush cans cause problems.
  • Can corrosion. Food reacts chemically with the metal container, especially high-acid food like canned tomatoes and fruit juices. Over several years, this causes taste and texture changes. It eventually lowers the nutritional value of the food.
  • Temperatures over 38° C (100° F) are harmful to canned foods. The risk of spoilage jumps sharply as storage temperatures rise. At prolonged storage temperatures above 24° C (75° F), nutrient loss in canned foods increases. Light can cause color changes and nutrient losses in foods canned in glass jars.

To store canned food wisely:

  • Store in a cool, clean, dry place where temperature is below 85 degrees (between 50-70 degrees is good) but not freezing temperatures.
  • Rotate foods so the oldest is used first. Try not to keep canned foods more than one year.
  • Use canned meats and seafood within 12 months.
  • Use low-acid canned foods within 8-12 months.
  • Use high-acid foods within 12 to 18 months. Foods stored longer will be safe to eat if the cans show no signs of spoilage or damage but may deteriorate in color, flavor and nutritive value.
  • Canned fruit juices can be stored up to 3 years.

Never use foods from containers with spoilage warning signs like loose or bulging lids on jars; bulging, leaking or badly dented cans (especially along the top, side and bottom seams); or foods with a foul odor (ibid).

The Aftermath of the Disaster

Power Outages

As soon as you lose power, unplug the freezer and refrigerator, as well as other appliances, to protect them from electricity surges when power returns. The inverter will give you 72 hours or more backup for one TV + 3 bulbs + 3 fans. Use your TV sparingly; recharge smartphones freely. Wrap the refrigerator/freezer in blankets, making sure they don’t touch the compressor, to create extra insulation. The same holds good for the standalone freezer.

If you have followed these directions to a T, there is very little chance of you running out of food. In any case, rescue teams will be making the rounds as soon as it is safe to do so. Items in the freezer can potentially stay frozen for 2 to 4 days, depending on the size of the freezer, how full it is, and how well insulated it is. These steps have been listed already. A full freezer that had been operating at 0°F will keep foods frozen for about 48 hours if the doors remain closed.

The blocks of dry ice are most useful in extended power outages. Use a twelve pound block of dry ice in the freezer and it will keep the contents frozen for one extra day, since you are not going to even touch it till the standalone freezer has done its job. Do wear gloves or use tongs when handling dry ice. The ideal method of using dry ice, apart from wearing gloves, is listed below:

  • Put heavy cardboard on top of packages of frozen food in each compartment of your freezer and put the dry ice on top of the cardboard.
  • If possible, place meat and poultry on a tray or seal them in a tough plastic bag so that their juices do not leak onto other foods if they ever begin to thaw.
  • Ensure you have a few days’ stock of foods that do not require cooking or cooling.
  • The safest way to determine a food’s safety is to use a kitchen thermometer. If a food’s temperature registers at 4.4°C (40°F) or below, it is safe. If not, destroy or discard it.
  • Feed infants and young children with care.
    • Breastfed infants should continue breastfeeding. For formula-fed infants, use ready-to-feed formula if possible. If using ready-to-feed formula is not possible, it is best to use bottled water to prepare powdered or concentrated formula. If bottled water is not available, use boiled water. Use treated water to prepare formula only if you do not have bottled or boiled water. You should have one week’s quantum of formula.
    • If you prepare formula with boiled water, let the formula cool sufficiently before giving it to an infant. Use your kitchen utensils over a regulated flame/fire to boil water.
    • Clean feeding bottles and nipples with bottled, boiled, or treated water before each use.
    • Wash your hands before preparing formula and before feeding an infant. You can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer for washing your hands if the water supply is limited.
    • Ensure you have enough wipes/diapers (and plastic bags for disposal) in the house.
    • Recheck that you can cater to every need of the toddler for one full week, including light blankets, laundry detergent and medication, if any.

When Floodwater Enters Your House

  1. Keep Stored Water Safe: Once you realize that your house will get flooded, take all the items in the basement to the second floor and keep them under tarpaulins. If you do not have a second floor, keep all items as high as you can, covered with waterproofing material like tarpaulins, plastic or rubber sheets, etc. Thereafter:
    • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available.
    • If you don’t have bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present.
    • If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloth or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for boiling.
    • Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.
    • 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 cloth 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 per each gallon of water. Stir it well and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before you use it.
    • Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.
    • If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.
    • If flood waters reach food stored on shelves and in cabinets, many food items that came in contact with flood water are unsafe. A guide of what to keep and what to discard follows:
      • Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water – this includes raw fruits and vegetables, cartons of milk or eggs.
      • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water.
      • Food containers that are not waterproof include those packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard, or those with screw‐caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Flood waters can enter any of these containers and contaminate the food inside. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.
      • Check canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or rushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel‐type can opener. Do not taste any food to check if it is still edible.
    • Salvaging canned items: Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all‐metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf‐stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved if you do the following:
      • Remove the labels, if they are the removable kind, since they can harbor dirt and bacteria.
      • Thoroughly wash the cans or retort pouches with soap and water, using hot water if it is available.
      • Brush or wipe away any dirt or silt.
      • Rinse the cans or retort pouches with water that is safe for drinking, if available, since dirt or residual soap will reduce the effectiveness of chlorine sanitation.
      • Then, sanitize them by immersion in one of the two following ways:
        • Place in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for 2 minutes, or
        • Place in a freshly made solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available) for 15 minutes.
      • Air‐dry cans or retort pouches for a minimum of 1 hour before opening or storing.
      • If the labels were removable, then re‐label your cans or retort pouches, including the expiry date (if available), with a marker.
      • Food in reconditioned cans or retort pouches should be used as soon as possible, thereafter.
      • Any concentrated baby formula in reconditioned, all‐metal containers must be diluted with clean, drinking water (ibid).

How to Prepare Food Without Power

If some disaster causes a power outage, you could use the gas camping stove or hibachi grill, or cook over an open fire. It may or may not be practical or possible to do so every meal, or for an extended period of time. So what are your options for uncooked meals without a working freezer or refrigerator?

You’ll be making a meal from stored food. Canned fruits and vegetables are not a problem. So the issue becomes staple foods: grains, potatoes, etc. There are several food options: instant oatmeal, quick barley, instant mashed potatoes, ramen, tabouli and couscous.

Use only clean safe drinking water. Preparation of stored food without cooking can contain bacteria. This food must be eaten immediately after preparation, to preclude bacterial growth which makes the food unsafe to eat. Instant oatmeal with non-fat dry milk, prepared without heat, though not as good as when it is cooked, is one of the better options for preparing food when you don’t have power to cook. It’s a great breakfast option.

Barley is a good staple food, which is high in protein and carbs. Quick barley will store well long-term if kept cool, sealed, and dry. This is definitively a good food for storage. Instant mashed potatoes take up room temperature bottled water quickly and well. The taste seems unaffected by the lack of cooking. You probably like your mashed potatoes hot, but that is situational. Try opening a small bottle of mayonnaise sauce and finish it. Instant mashed potato, ketchup and mayonnaise is a decent meal.

Making couscous at room temperature bottled water, takes 15 minutes or more. If the couscous turns out crunchy, add more water and let it sit for another 10 minutes. Taste-wise, couscous prepared in this manner is almost indistinguishable from cooked couscous, except that it is not hot. Add oil and vinegar, with some spices and salt to taste. Couscous is made with wheat, just like regular pasta, and it is just as nutritious. Tabouli and ramen are two more options.

Prepare ‘heat only’ foods like canned soup, stew, chili or ‘just add water’ foods like instant soup or oatmeal on a canned heat stove, prepare raw foods or canned foods that do not need heating, or prepare easy to cook meals on a one burner butane stove.

The one burner butane stove has many advantages. It will accommodate larger size cookware than the canned heat stove and normal kitchen cookware can be used. The butane stove can be used indoors with good ventilation. The gas flame is easier to regulate than canned heat and is hotter. These advantages allow the preparation of recipes rather than just heating up of canned foods thus giving more variety to menus while the power is out. A list of recipes for meals that can be prepared in 20 minutes or less (to conserve fuel) is at Pantry Cooking: Unlocking Your Pantry’s Potential.

Keeping Food Safe During an Ice Storm

Even a thin coating of ice can result in a travel nightmare, while heavier amounts will severely damage trees and power lines. Strong winds can add extra force to already weighed down tree branches and power lines, increasing the likelihood of significant damage.

Ice Storm Facts

  • Ice can increase the weight of branches more than 25 times.
  • A 0.5 inch accretion on electrical lines can add 500 pounds of extra weight between successive pylons.
  • In 2009, a heavy ice storm between northern Arkansas and the Ohio Valley shut down power to 1.3 million homes.
  • An ice storm between northern New York and northern New England in 1998 damaged trees by the millions. Ice accretion was as much as 7.5 cm (3”) thick!

These ice accumulations are caused by freezing rain. Freezing rain is the consequence of snow dropping through an above-freezing level warm layer in the atmosphere, wherein snowflakes melt into rain. These raindrops transit through a thin layer of air below freezing temperature at the surface of the earth, freezing immediately when it makes contact with land, trees, cars, etc.

Precautions:

  • Avoid driving on icy roads for your safety and the safety of emergency personnel.
  • Make sure you have several ways to communicate with others, like landline phones, cell phones, texting, etc.
  • Children should be stopped from playing around ice-covered trees for fear of injury.
  • Never use portable generators, camp stoves and grills inside your home or garage to forestall carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Use flashlights during power outages instead of candles to prevent the risk of fire. Attach a luminous strip of fluorescent paper to your torches.

Refrigerator Foods

When to Save and When to Throw It Out

FOOD

Held above 40 ºF for over 2 hours

MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD

Discard

Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes

Discard

Thawing meat or poultry

Discard

Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad

Discard

Gravy, stuffing, broth

Discard

Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef

Discard

Pizza – with any topping

Discard

Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated”

Discard

Canned meats and fish, opened

Discard

CHEESE

 

Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco

Discard

Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, Provolone, Romano

Safe

Processed Cheeses

Safe

Shredded Cheeses

Discard

Low-fat Cheeses

Discard

Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar)

Safe

DAIRY

 

Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk

Discard

Butter, margarine

Safe

Baby formula, opened

Discard

EGGS

 

Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products

Discard

Custards and puddings

Discard

CASSEROLES, SOUPS, STEWS

Discard

FRUITS

 

Fresh fruits, cut

Discard

Fruit juices, opened

Safe

Canned fruits, opened

Safe

Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates

Safe

SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS

 

Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish

Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.

Peanut butter

Safe

Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles

Safe

Worcestershire, soy, barbecue sauces, Hoisin sauce

Safe

Fish sauces (oyster sauce)

Discard

Opened vinegar-based dressings

Safe

Opened creamy-based dressings

Discard

Spaghetti sauce, opened jar

Discard

BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS

 

Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas

Safe

Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough

Discard

Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes

Discard

Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette

Discard

Fresh pasta

Discard

Cheesecake

Discard

Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels

Safe

PIES, PASTRY

 

Pastries

Discard

Pies – custard

Discard

Pies

Safe

VEGETABLES

 

Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices

Safe

Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged

Discard

Vegetables, raw

Safe

Vegetables, cooked; tofu

Discard

Vegetable juice, opened

Discard

Baked potatoes

Discard

Commercial garlic in oil

Discard

Potato Salad

Discard

Chart 4 Source: Keeping_Food_Safe_During_an_Emergency.pdf

Frozen Food

When to Save and When to Throw It Out

FOOD

STILL CONTAINS ICE CRYSTALS AND FEELS AS COLD AS IF REFRIGERATED

HELD ABOVE
40 °F FOR OVER 2 HOURS

MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD

 

 

Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meat

Refreeze

Discard

Poultry and ground poultry

Refreeze

Discard

Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings)

Refreeze

Discard

Casseroles, stews, soups

Refreeze.

Discard

Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products

Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavor     loss.

Discard

DAIRY

 

 

Milk

Refreeze. May lose some texture.

Discard

Eggs (out of shell) and egg products

Refreeze.

Discard

Ice cream, frozen yogurt

Discard

Discard

Cheese (soft and semi-soft)

Refreeze. May lose some texture.

Discard

Hard cheeses

Refreeze

Refreeze

Shredded cheeses

Refreeze

Discard

Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses

Refreeze

Discard

Cheesecake

Refreeze

Discard

FRUITS

 

 

Juices

Refreeze

Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.

Home or commercially packaged

Refreeze. Will change texture and flavor

Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.

VEGETABLES

 

 

Juices

Refreeze

Discard after held above 40° F for 6 hours.

Home or commercially packaged or blanched

Refreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss

Discard after held above 40° F for 6 hours.

BREADS, PASTRIES

 

 

Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings)

Refreeze

Refreeze

Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling

Refreeze

Discard

Pie crusts, commercial and
homemade bread dough

Refreeze. Some quality loss can occur

Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.

OTHER

 

 

Casseroles – pasta, rice based

Refreeze

Discard

Flour, cornmeal, nuts

Refreeze

Refreeze

Breakfast items –waffles, pancakes, bagles

Refreeze

Refreeze

Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods)

Refreeze

Discard

Keeping_Food_Safe_During_an_Emergency.pdf

How to Get Rid of Bad Smells in Your Fridge

While it is not necessary that a natural disaster will lead to your fridge and freezer picking up a noxious odor, the fact remains that a long power outage where you cannot get back to your fridge freely or floodwaters will go a long way in generating that rotten egg / decaying meat smell. Unfortunately, your fridge is made of various plastics, compounds, rubberized linings and metal. It is the plastic elements and the rubberized section that retain the odor. The metallic portion can be scrubbed clean, but you cannot touch any electrical system for fear of damaging it.

More often than not, people do manage to get rid of the odor in a couple of days. There are always some tricky ones that will trouble you. It is a lengthy DIY process and perhaps the best option is given here. If the fridge is done in, then remove the door and dump the two separate portions of the dead fridge widely apart. This is a statutory law in the state of Michigan.

REFERENCES

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