Consequences from power outages can range from mild inconvenience to a true emergency. Sometimes the difference is decided by the elements. Other times advance planning can be the difference between a few days inconvenience or an even larger crisis.
Weather emergencies like “Sandy” remind us of the importance of a plan that protects not only the health and safety of our family and home, but also the safety of the food and water people might need to survive an incident.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends a manual can opener and one gallon of water per adults and per pet each day for emergencies, with a three-day minimum supply. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services also offers lots of online guides and resources regarding food safety.
Foods that require no refrigeration, no preparation or cooking and no added water are best. Foods tlike salt-free crackers or canned foods with high liquid content will be easiest to store and prepare. Other helpful things to have include canned meats, fruits and vegetables, canned juices, and high energy foods like peanut butter and trail mix. Your food plan should also include foods for family members with special dietary needs - like infant formula or sugar-free snacks.
Once the power goes out, keep the refrigerator closed as long as possible. According to the USDA, a refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours assuming that the door remains closed.
While simple foods are easiest, there are safe ways to prepare cooked food. Once you’ve established that your food is safe, there are a variety of dishes that can be prepared on a simple open flame. A “buddy burner,” made from a #10 can with holes punched in the side and a good candle, will provide enough energy to heat up soup, boil water, grill sandwiches and even fry eggs.
There are also a lot of flame-free favorites, like no-bake cookies, that are tasty and nutritious.
A little planning could make a big difference for your health and safety in any emergency. At the very least it can provide some comfort in the midst of a chaotic situation. Just remember the cardinal rule of food preparation--"If in doubt, throw it out."