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Start putting together your hurricane food kit

If the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy didn't scare you into putting together a hurricane food kit, maybe nothing will.

Just before Halloween last year, Sandy slammed into the Northeast with catastrophic results. Nearly 300 people were killed and the damage totaled $50 billion over several states. Even in inland areas, people were left without power for days. In New York, 10,000 trees were lost and in New Jersey, another 110,000 damaged or destroyed. Beach businesses in both states are struggling to open for the summer season.

Many people were unprepared for the storm but that's true even in Florida, where hurricanes and tropical storms are regular threats. Perhaps Sandy will change our ways. Hurricane season begins Saturday so it's time to starting collecting food and other supplies for a rainy day, or worse.

Stocking supplies can be expensive. The cost won't change but the sting might be less if you pick up a few things each time you shop. Traditionally, the height of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, is mid August to mid September so it's a good bet that you have some time. Don't put it off too long. These storms sneak up on us.

Store food in something portable, so you can take it if you evacuate. Big-box stores have many types of totes in a variety of prices. Make sure not to overload the tote so much that you can't lift it. A couple of smaller ones might be better than a huge box that fits everything.

If you are able to stay home, you may be dealing with long-term power outages rather than structural damage. This is frustrating when everything seems fine but you have no electricity. But it's even more frustrating to be standing in a long line in blistering humidity waiting for water in the hours after the storm has passed. Don't talk yourself out of a hurricane kit just because you have an evacuation plan. An impending storm may not be severe enough to require evacuation.

For me, a battery-operated fan and lots of batteries are priorities.

Some other things to consider as you collect provisions:

• As a storm approaches, conduct an inventory of your pantry. You may already have foods appropriate for an emergency such as bread, crackers and peanut butter. Eat what you've got in the fridge before it goes bad, then dip into the shelf-stable stuff.

• Fill your coolers and pack the freezer with ice as close as you can before the storm makes landfall. Put drinks in the fridge and move to the cooler when they are cold rather than room temperature to preserve the ice. If the power goes out, you'll have cold drinks, at least for a while.

• Keep in mind whom you will be feeding when making a list of storm-ready food. Do you have young children, or perhaps a newborn? Is someone a vegetarian? Are there dietary concerns that are about more than losing weight? For instance, diabetics and people allergic to wheat will need special considerations since so many shelf-stable foods are carb- and grain-laden. When it comes to emergency food, one size does not fit all.

• When the storm season is over and you've hopefully escaped unscathed, cycle the food into your regular meals or donate it to a food shelter. And finally, don't buy what your family won't touch when the weather is perfect. Spam doesn't taste any better when the wind is blowing 75 miles per hour.

What to stock

Use this checklist to determine what you've got in the pantry. Then take it to the supermarket to finish stocking your hurricane grocery kit.

Canned soups, chili, vegetables, stews: They can be eaten cold but can also be heated in a pot on the grill.

Cereal: Vitamin-fortified cereal can be eaten dry or with boxed or powdered milk.

Beverages: Juice, power drinks and enhanced water offer an alternative to plain water. Shelf-stable milk can be used for cereals or to drink. Buy in small boxes; once opened they must be consumed.

Crackers: For snacking or eating with cheese and cold cuts from the fridge just after the power goes out.

Condiments: Mayonnaise is generally a no-no because of refrigeration issues, but buy the smallest jar you can and make tuna or chicken salad. Look for condiments in individual packets.

Water: One gallon a day per person for drinking, more if using it to reconstitute powdered milk, enough for seven days.

Fresh fruit: When a storm is a couple days away, buy apples and oranges. It is wonderful to have something fresh to eat.

Healthier snacks: Granola bars, Fruit Roll-Ups, dried fruit, nuts and trail mix offer nutrition and have a long shelf life.

Comfort food: For some of us, that means junk food. You know your family's weaknesses. Keep in mind, though, that salty snacks such as chips and pretzels will make you thirsty. Go easy on them.

Alcohol: A glass of wine may calm your nerves, but a bottle does something else altogether. Cloudy judgment might be one of your worst enemies in a storm. Because of this, alcohol sales can be shut down as a storm approaches.

Other foods to consider: Peanut butter, individual applesauce and fruit cups, rice cakes, dehydrated food (from camping stores) and Meals Ready to Eat (from military surplus stores). You'll be able to find vegetarian options, too.

Preserved meats: Beef jerky is high-protein, low-carb and good for diabetics. Canned tuna, chicken, even Spam also provide protein.

Supplies: Garbage bags and ties, paper towels, wipes, fuel (charcoal, lighter fluid, matches) or a full propane tank for the grill, hand sanitizer. Don't forget the manual can opener. And plastic wrap or storage containers.

Tableware: Paper plates, napkins and paper or plastic cups; plastic cutlery; a couple of serving spoons, forks and knives for food preparation and serving.

Food for pets: Food and drink for your pets, and their familiar dishes. Vitamins and medications.

On the Web

For more about hurricane preparedness, go to tampabay.com/hurricane-guide.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

Q&A on food safety

Here are some common safety questions about how to handle food and water before and after a storm.

How long must water be boiled to kill bacteria?

The water should be at a rolling boil for 1 to 3 minutes.

What if I don't have a heat source to boil water?

One gallon of water can be purified with eight drops, or 1/8 teaspoon, of new, unscented household bleach. (A good thing to have in your hurricane kit.) Pharmacies and sporting goods stores sell water purification tablets.

Can I still eat the food in my pantry or refrigerator after floodwater has receded?

Do not eat any food in nonwaterproof containers that have touched floodwater because it carries bacteria. This includes boxes of cereal or pasta. For canned foods, discard paper labels and note the contents with a marker directly on the can. Disinfect cans with a solution of 1/4 cup household bleach and 1 gallon water.

Is my kitchen equipment okay to use after the floodwater has receded?

Wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottles and nipples should be discarded. Metal and ceramic utensils and cookware should be washed with soap and hot water, then sanitized in a dishwasher or in a bleach and water solution.

How can I make food last in my refrigerator and freezer after a power outage?

Keep doors closed to trap cold air. Bacteria begin to grow when temperatures rise above 40 degrees. Place appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to monitor the temperature.

How long will perishable food be safe to eat after a power outage?

A full freezer should keep food safe for about two days; a half-full freezer, about a day. Refrigerated foods should be safe if the power is out no more than four to six hours. If it appears the power will be off more than six hours, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to a cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.

Which foods spoil quickly?

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes (raw or cooked), milk, cream, yogurt and soft cheese; casseroles, stews or soups, lunch meats and hot dogs; creamy salad dressings; custard, chiffon or cheese pies; refrigerated cookie dough; and open mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish will be spoiled after eight hours without refrigeration.

I normally keep butter in the refrigerator. Will it spoil without power?

The following foods keep at room temperature for a few days: butter or margarine; hard and processed cheese; fresh fruits and vegetables; fruit juices and dried fruit; opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings; jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives; fresh herbs and spices; fruit pies, breads and cakes, except cream cheese-frosted or cream-filled. Discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor.

My power is back on. Can I refreeze thawed food?

You can refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals but have been kept at 40 degrees or below for no more than one to two days may be cooked, then refrozen or canned.

Should I empty my refrigerator before I evacuate?

You'll face a refrigerator full of rotten food if you evacuate, the power goes out and you can't return home for days or weeks. If you're gone only a day or two and the power stays on, your food should be fine. Here's a middle ground: Throw out the leftovers, stuff that probably won't get eaten. From your freezer, throw out items such as meat and poultry, which will go bad quickly if the power goes out.

Compiled by Times food and travel editor Janet K. Keeler with information from Times files, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and Clemson University Cooperative Extension.

Start putting together your hurricane food kit 05/28/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 4:51pm]
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