Looking back to the spring of 2020 we witnessed how fast our grocery stores can quickly run out of food and supplies during an emergency. Most grocery stores only have enough food on hand to meet the needs of their community for three days, sometimes even less. If something happens to disrupt the food-supply chain, this means that your local market could run out of food very quickly. Here in Wyoming that could be a winter storm that closes our roads. We all need food to survive, so will your family be prepared during an emergency, whether short term or long term?
Food storage can be expensive if purchased all at once, instead pick up a few extra items each time you go to the store. Stock up on your favorite foods. Only buy shelf stable foods that you and your family regularly eat, this ensures that you will know how to cook it, so your family enjoys the food. It also ensures you can rotate the food first-in-first-out on a regular basis to prevent waste. First-in-first-out ensures that the product you stocked first, will be used up first to help prevent foods from sitting on the shelf going past their expiration date.
Things to Consider Stocking
- Dried beans, peas, and lentils
- Protein bars, granola bars, or fruit bars
- Canned soups, fruit, and vegetables
- Peanut butter and jelly
- Nuts and dried fruits
- Instant soup mixes
- Dried milk
- Active Dry Yeast
- Canned meats
- Non-food items (toothpaste, toiletries)
- Infant formula (if needed)
- Baking soda and powder
- Dried Cereal
You may also plan on preserving your own food, such as the case when you have a fruitful garden, or the local farmers market has a great sale on fresh produce. There are a couple ways to preserve your own food which include pressure canning low-acid foods, water bath canning high acid foods, freezing, freeze drying, and dehydrating. If you need more information on food preservation, contact your local extension office.
So, you have started building your food storage but where will you store it to ensure the best possible longevity of the food? The cooler the location the better for your long-term food storage. If you have a basement, and there is an open wall available that would be the best option, otherwise find a cool, dark corner or closet. Utilize shelving to improve organization if possible. Always label and date your food when packaged in different containers to ensure you know what’s in the container and how long it’s been in there. If you are using containers to store dry goods in, look for PETE (also abbreviated PET) containers which is short for polyethylene terephthalate. PETE plastic containers provide an acceptable oxygen and moisture barrier for dry goods such as wheat, dry beans, white rice, pasta, sugar, and rolled oats.
Have some go-to recipes for bread, rolls, rice, etc. that you know work well at your altitude and that your family enjoys eating. During the stressful time of an emergency, we do not want food failures to add to all the stress that is already present. Do not forget about stocking water, as you may not have access to potable water.
Keeping Food Safe During a Power Outage
It is more common to have power outages for short time frames but what happens when the power will be out for days or weeks? Refrigerated and frozen foods may not be safe to eat after the loss of power, but there are steps we can take to ensure we are eating safe food to prevent a food borne illness.
Before an Outage Prepare
Keep thermometers in your freezer and fridge to ensure you are holding foods at the right temperature. Your fridge should be 40°F or below and your freezer should be at or below 0°F. Have frozen containers of water and/or gel packs to help keep your food at or below 40°F. Have a cooler handy in case you must remove your food from the refrigerator. If you think the power will be out for a longer duration of time, buy dry ice or block ice to keep your food cold in fridge.
During the Outage
Keep doors closed on freezers, coolers, or fridges as much as possible. Every time you open the fridge or freezer the temperature will go up 10–15°F. Your refrigerator will keep food safe for up to four hours during a power outage. If power will be out for more than four hours, and a cooler and ice are available, put perishable foods in cooler, and surround with ice. A full freezer will hold a safe temperature for approximately
48 hours (24 hours if half full) if door remains closed. Run a generator occasionally throughout the day to keep your freezer cold. You do not need to run the generator 24/7 to keep a freezer cold. Keeping your freezer full of food will prolong the duration the contents stay cold. Have a reserve of food on hand that requires little to no prep work.
After the Outage
Never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat. Throw out any food with an unusual odor, color, or texture. When in doubt, throw it out! Discard refrigerated perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers after four hours without power or a cold source. Check temperatures of food, throw out anything that reads above 40°F. Check to see if your appliance thermometer in your freezer to see if it is 40°F or below. Food can be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at or below 40°F.
Cooking Without Power
Using an emergency generator to power an electric stove or microwave requires a lot of power in a short amount of time. Instead try cooking your food with either propane gas, wood, or charcoal. Utilize a propane oven if you have one, or your gas grill outside. You could also make a fire pit outside to cook food over if you do not have one or any other way to cook food. If you do not own one already, you may consider purchasing a Dutch oven which is a cast iron cooking tool that can be used to cook foods multiple ways (over fire coals, briquets, over gas grill, in the oven, etc.).
Hopefully, you will never need to use these tips, but it is always better to be prepared in the case that an emergency does happen.
Written by University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator Shelley Balls, MDA, RD, LD
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC