By now, most of us know that we're supposed to stock up on essentials such as a three-day supply of water (at least one gallon per person), prescription medications, batteries, flashlights, and fuel.
But the recommendation to stockpile three days worth of food is a little less cut and dried when you're trying to plan for meals in a world without refrigeration or a means to cook.
Obviously, you need nonperishable items such as canned goods and local supermarkets such as Stop & Shop in East Lyme and Big Y in Old Lyme have been doing a brisk trade in canned foods such as tuna, salmon, sardines, corned beef, beets, beans, and fruit. (Don't worry if the shelves were empty yesterday, by the way. The stores have restocked with all the essentials today.)
Here's a shopping list of other items that will help keep you going that require neither cold nor heat to keep and prepare:
- Peanut butter or similar nut spreads and preserves (jellies, jams)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (they're actually better for you raw!)
- Dried fruits and nuts
- Juices (particularly those that are not commonly found in the refrigerator section of the supermarket).
- Breads, muffins, bagels, tortillas
- Dry cereal or granola
- Powdered or canned milk
- Protein bars and protein shakes, such as Ensure.
Other items you might want to pick up while you're at the store:
- A non-electric can opener
- Charcoal or propane for the grill
- Pet food
- Paper towels, paper plates, plastic utensils, and toilet paper.
Foods That Don't Need To Be Refrigerated
Many of us tend to keep everything in the fridge but there are a number of items that don't require refrigeration, or that can safely be left out of the fridge for a number of hours if not days. These include:
- Sauces such as salsa, ketchup, or mustard.
- Pickles or foods perserved in vinegar
- Salted butter and margarine
- Hard cheeses, such as cheddar, Swiss, provolone, and parmesan, processed cheeses, and Edam (which is encased in wax and traditionally is never refrigerated). Just make sure the cheese is well wrapped and sealed.
- The FDA doesn't recommend leaving softer cheeses, such as Brie, out of the refrigerator. Cheese aficionados, however, often do this to give the cheese time to ripen at room temperature to bring out the flavor, (although even they'd say you're pushing your luck if you leave it out for more than four days).
- Food experts also say that yogurt probably won't do you any harm if it's been out of the fridge for up to eight hours. The bacteria will continue to grow but the bacteria in yogurt is healthy. (The FDA errs on the side of caution here and recommends that you throw out yogurt if the fridge temperature drops below 40 degrees.)
Here are some tips from FEMA on how to manage food without power:
- Have a refrigerator thermometer.
- Know where you can get dry ice.
- Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods on hand that do not require cooking or cooling.
When the Power Goes Out:
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.
- Refrigerators should be kept at 40° F or below for proper food storage.
Once the Power is Restored:
- Check the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer. A full freezer should hold its temperature for 48 hours, or for 24 hours if it's half full.
- If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can't rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
- Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible.
- Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40° F for two hours or more.
Using Dry Ice:
- Under normal circumstances you should not keep dry ice in your freezer. If your freezer is functioning properly it will cause the unit to become too cold and your freezer may shut off. However, if you lose power for an extended period of time, dry ice is the best ways to keep things cold.
- Twenty-five pounds of dry ice will keep a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing for 3-4 days.
- If you use dry ice to keep your food cold, make sure it does not come in direct contact with the food.
- Use care when handling dry ice, wear dry, heavy gloves to avoid injury.
If you lose power and aren't sure which refrigerated items are safe to eat and which need to be thrown away, the Food and Drug Administration has a fairly comprehensive list and food safety guidelines here.
You'll also find guidelines for how to handle food that ends up underwater if your home is flooded. The basic rule in that case seems to be to throw out everything that isn't in a watertight container. (Please note, twist tops aren't considered water tight.)
For more information on preparing for a storm, visit www.ready.gov.