With the incoming Frankenstorm, people across the East Coast are battening down the hatches and getting ready for a wild ride. Authorities are urging people to stay inside for their own safety, as massive flooding is predicted. There are some simple tips to keep you and your family fed and well in an emergency. First is you have to be prepared. If you live in an area that is regularly hit with hurricanes, you almost certainly have a kit ready. It should include blankets, cash, medication, water, flashlights, food, and more. For those of you in areas where hurricanes don’t usually hit, such as New York, preparing might be a new experience.
When you’re buying food supplies from the store, look for plastic packaging and items that don’t need to be refrigerated. If your home looses power for an extended period of time, all the perishable items in your fridge and freezer might go bad. In the days leading up to the hurricane, try to eat the stored meats in your freezer. They’re expensive and you don’t want them to go bad. If your power has gone out, don’t open the refrigerator or freezer! The fridge should remain cold for upwards of 4 hours if unopened. Your freezer will stay cold for at least 24 hours. You can prolong this time by packing it full of dry ice. Dry ice can be purchased at many grocery stores, so call ahead and ask if it’s available.
The food supplies you should be looking at buying include boxed or canned milk, freeze dried meals (such as camping supplies), beef jerky, canned cooked beans, canned fruit and vegetables, and canned meat (such as spam). To save water, clean and bleach your bathtub or large buckets. Fill them up with water. If the power and water go out then you have a number of gallons that can be used to flush toilets, bathe, or drink if necessary.
If the worst has happened and the hurricane has hit and your food stores were flooded, there are some extra precautions to take. Don’t eat anything that might have been contaminated with the water. Flood waters can carry human waste from water purification plants. In Hurricane Katrina we even saw cemeteries contaminating the flood waters. The waterborne bacteria are very dangerous and without proper medical treatment, infection from the water could be life threatening. Discard all food products that are not waterproof and came in contact with flood water. This includes screw top bottles, snap lids, and any products in cardboard containers without interior bags.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service put together a thorough emergency preparedness document. If you are in the hit zone for Hurricane Sandy then we recommend you read their documentation, found at FSIS. Above all, stay safe!