Preparing 'storm-ready' food

Posted at 10/02/2009 7:15 PM | Updated as of 10/21/2009 7:11 PM

MANILA - Food is one of the most important things to have ready during natural disasters like typhoons or floods.

However, managing food and ensuring food safety during and after a storm can be tricky. Here are some things to keep in mind when handling food before, during, and after a typhoon or flood.

BEFORE A TYPHOON

YOUR TYPHOON FOOD KIT may include the following:

Can be eaten cold:

- Canned soup, canned chili, canned vegetables, canned stew
- Condiments in packets (ketchup, hot sauce, mustard, or relish)
- Peanut butter
- Stable proteins like canned tuna, chicken, sardines, SPAM, or other canned meats

Can be eaten dry:

- Cereal
- Powdered milk
- Crackers
- Granola bars, dried fruit, trail mixes, or packed nuts
- Instant noodles
- Beef jerky (high protein, and good for diabetics)
 

Supplies:

- Garbage bags with string, plastic wrap, and storage containers
- Paper towels and hand sanitizer
- Fuel (charcoal, lighter fluid, matches)
- Plastic utensils or paper plates at the least
 

Source: Janet K. Keeler, www.sptimes.com

1. Prepare a food kit. Set aside a few hours to plan and shop, especially when there is an impending storm. Do this over the course of a few days or weeks, so as not put a dent in your grocery budget.

Put your food somewhere portable in case you have to evacuate. Also, keep in mind on how many and whom you will be feeding when preparing your food kit.

Consider special dietary concerns for those with medical conditions, children, newborn babies, or pets. Have at least a week's supply of food and water for each family member. Don't forget a can opener, utensils, and plastic plates or glasses.

2. Pick food well. Don't stock up too much on salty food like pretzels and chips, since these make you thirsty. Look for food that can be eaten with minimal preparation or without having to cook them.

Check out camping stores, which could carry dehydrated foods, or military surplus stores that may sell rations used by soldiers in the field.

3. Pack small. Pack smaller items, packaged in individual portions, so they are easier to fit into a storage space or ice chest.

Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding. Keep track of expiration dates, and pick ones that will keep for a long while.

4. Prep your fridge. Place bagged ice, gel packs, or containers of water in your freezer since these can keep the contents of your fridge cold should there be power outages.

Group food together in the freezer since this helps food to stay cold longer. They can also be used in ice coolers for emergency evacuations.

Know where dry ice or block ice can be purchased ahead of time. About 50 pounds of dry ice can keep an 18 cubic-foot freezer cold for 2 days. Do not handle dry ice with your bare hands!

Freeze items like leftovers, milk, fresh meat, and poultry that you may not need immediately. Make sure the freezer is at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and that the refrigerator is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. It would help to keep an appliance thermometer to keep track of the temperatures.

5. Transfer items to higher ground. Consider storing food in upper floors or higher areas. If possible, you may even transfer refrigerators or mini-refrigerators upstairs, when possible.

DURING A TYPHOON

1. Don't touch the fridge unless you need to. Regrigerators and freezers are your best bets for keeping food safe, especially in power outages or floods. Do not open freezers or refrigerators until you plan to use or discard the contents.

An unopened refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours without power. Most freezers will keep food safe for 36 to 48 hours if left closed.

Check the fridge temperature, if you can. If food was kept under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the food is safe. Food that still has ice crystals on the surface is safe to eat.

Throw out perishable food like meat, poultry, fish, soft cheese, milk, eggs, leftovers, or deli food after 4 hours without power.

2. Drink only bottled water. At the least, make sure water is clean or has been boiled for at least 5 minutes.

3. If in doubt, throw it out. Cans of food that have been exposed to flood water should be thrown away immediately since bacteria could fester or seep in at times. Cans of food that have been exposed to rain water may be washed and sanitized using a teaspoon of household bleach per one gallon of water.

Any food that was kept in plastic but was submerged in flood waters should be thrown away. Inspect canned food and discard those that show swelling, leakage, punctures, fractures, rusting, crushing, or denting.

4. Save metal or retort pouches even if they have come in contact with flood waters. Remove labels that can trap dirt or bacteria. Wash with clean water, brush, or wipe away dirt or silt.

You can soak them for 15 minutes in a solution (1 tablespoon of chlorine per gallon of water) to sanitize. Air-dry them before opening or storing. Any concentrated baby formula in a reconditioned, all-metal container must be diluted with clean drinking water.

5. Set up a ration system. If possible, gather together all the food that is safe to eat in your household and ration these. If possible, link up with your neighbors so you can pool together resources for rationing.

AFTER A TYPHOON

1. Throw food safely. When discarding food, try to bury them at least 48 inches deep into the soil. If this is not possible, seal them in plastic bags or a container for disposal at your local landfill.

2. Fridge tips. If you open the fridge, throw away food that have been above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 4 hours or ones that have unusual color, smell, or texture. Do not re-freeze thawed out food. Food with ice crystals can be refrozen.

If your refrigerator has been partly affected by the floods, remove the components and rinse with hot water and detergent, plus a bleach solution.

Wash the interiors with hot water and baking soda then rinse with bleach solution. Leave the door open for 15 minutes to allow free air circulation.

Stuff the refrigerator and freezer with rolled newspapers, then close the door and leave for several days. Remove the paper and clean with vinegar and water or swab with vanilla diluted in water.

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when saving your fridge.

3. Drink water that is safe. Boil water for at least 5 minutes before drinking or using. Babies under 6 months and pregnant women should not drink boiled water from the tap or local well since these may contain harmful nitrites. They should drink bottled water instead, if possible.

Contact your water utility provider for more information on water quality and whether it is safe to use or drink.

4. Wash all food equipment. Wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, utensils, and equipment with soap and hot water, if it is available. Rinse them then sanitize by boiling them in clean water or soaking them in a solution of water and bleach for 15 minutes.

Wash countertops with soap and water as well. Rinse them with the bleach solution and air-dry. If odor remains on any of your appliances or utensils, try wiping the inside with a vinegar solution (equal parts vinegar and water) that destroys mildew.

Sources: St. Petersburg Times Online, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Food Reference.com, and the United Nations World Food Programme.