8 Ways to Keep Food Fresh in an Emergency
Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, global pandemics—the list of potential emergencies is, unfortunately, quite a lengthy one. Emergencies such as these can lead to extended power outages and a slew of panic-inducing scenarios that can delay your weekly trip to the grocery store.
Is your food supply ready for the worst-case scenario? If you’re like most Americans, the answer is probably no. Most people don’t think about how to keep food fresh in an emergency until calamity has already struck.
The unfortunate reality is that emergencies can happen to anyone at any time. A little preparedness can save you a lot of headaches and, potentially, your life. Here are a few ways to keep your food fresh and safe in the event of an emergency.
Stock Up on Non-Perishable Foods
The majority of your emergency food supply should consist of non-perishable food items (canned goods, rice, dry mixes, dehydrated foods, etc.) that will sustain you and your family for at least two weeks. Store your non-perishable food items in a dry, cool and dark place.
Never put your food—canned or otherwise—near kitchen ranges and other heat-producing areas, as this will cause them to spoil quicker.
While you’re out shopping, remember to buy a manual can opener. A lot of people forget that electric can openers won’t work during a power outage because they require electricity to work.
Store Dry Food in Airtight Containers
If you aren’t already, now is a good time to get in the habit of storing your food in airtight containers. Storing your dry food (like white rice and cereal) in sealed containers not only keeps your food fresher for longer, it helps protect your food from insects, rodents and other infestations.
Airtight containers can also provide a degree of protection against flooding and water contamination. For long term storage, skip the plastic and choose a glass container instead. Glass is generally considered a safer option for food storage because you don’t need to worry about chemicals (like BPA) migrating into your food.
Pack Your Fridge Tight
It’s not uncommon for the power to go out during a storm. When the power goes out, the food in your refrigerator is officially running on borrowed time until electricity returns. You can keep your food colder for longer by grouping the foods in your refrigerator close together.
Word to the wise: Avoid the temptation to load up your fridge right before a big storm. You’ll likely just end up wasting food and money. Pack your fridge tight with water bottles instead.
They’ll help your other items stay cool and you can use them as part of your emergency water supply.
Check Your Refrigerator Temperature
Before a storm hits, pick up two appliance thermometers: one for your refrigerator and one for your freezer. These are relatively inexpensive and will help you ensure that your food is being kept at a safe temperature in case of a power outage.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), your refrigerator temperature should be at or below 40°F, while your freezer temperatures should be at 0°F. Be aware that each time you open the refrigerator/freezer door, you allow cool air to escape. Try to resist the urge to check your appliance thermometers until the power is restored.
Freeze Your Refrigerated Foods in Advance
If you know a storm is coming, you can be proactive and freeze some of your refrigerated foods that you don’t plan to consume immediately. For instance, you could freeze items such as milk, meat and poultry.
If the power goes out, a fully-stocked refrigerator can last up to four hours. A fully-stocked freezer can last for up to three days. By transferring some of your refrigerated foods to the freezer in advance of a power outage, you can buy your perishable foods an extra day or two.
Invest in a High End Cooler
During an extended power outage, it’s extremely helpful to have one or more hard coolers on hand. This way, you can transfer the contents of your refrigerator to your hard cooler and keep them cold for a little while longer. Hard coolers are preferable to soft coolers because they retain cold more efficiently and can better withstand the elements.
However, you may just be delaying the inevitable if the power remains out for an extended period of time. In that case, consider eating some of the food in your fridge and storing whatever is left in your cooler.
Use Dry Ice
Dry ice is frequently used during emergencies, and for good reason. It works like a charm at keeping your food cold for long periods of time. The temperature for dry ice (which is solidified carbon dioxide) is around -109°F, which can essentially turn your hard cooler into an ice box.
Although the extremely cold temperature can be a huge asset in an emergency, it can also be dangerous if you’ve never used it before. Dry ice should never come in direct contact with your bare hands or your food. Be sure to read up on how to pack a cooler with dry ice before you attempt to use it during an emergency situation.
Consider an Emergency Generator
If you live in an area that is frequently rocked by violent storms, an emergency generator may be worth considering. When the power goes out during a storm, the emergency generator will kick on and supply backup power to your home, keeping your home appliances—like your refrigerator—up and running.
The major downside of an emergency generator is their steep cost. Depending on the model and the type of generator, you’re probably looking at spending a couple grand. But like we said, it could be well worth the cost if you’re living in a disaster-prone area.
When in Doubt, Throw it Out
Not sure if your food is spoiled or not? Don’t chance it. If you suspect that your expensive cut of meat was at room temperature for longer than two hours, cut your losses and throw it away. Same goes for your eggs, soft cheeses and dairy items. Sure, it’s a bummer, but it’s not worth risking your life for.
Author Bio: Kyle Shaw is an avid outdoorsman who has spent the last 4 years traveling and backpacking around the world. His favorite activities are fly-fishing, hiking, and snowboarding in these new places. Due to the current circumstances he has returned to his home base, Jackson Hole, and has begun blogging about his experiences.