When a tragedy or natural disaster strikes, many people find themselves unprepared for the effects. Invariably, when a warning is issued for something such as a massive snowstorm or flood, the stores are raided for water, batteries, milk, and anything easily prepared. If someone is late getting to the store, they may be left with nothing but cans of beets.
For that reason, the federal government recommends putting together a disaster preparedness kit—more commonly known as food storage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has come out with guidelines on what to store in case of emergency. Families should remember, though, that each family’s needs are different and what may be healthy for one family may not be healthy for another.
Assess your family’s needs before putting together your food storage
Before starting, evaluate your family’s likes as well as needs. While the idea of food storage is a good one, it will not be helpful if family members refuse to eat the food because they dislike it. Children can be especially picky, so adjust accordingly. Dietary restrictions should also be taken into account; some may not be able to eat grains or consume milk products, so make sure that all food is able to be consumed.
It should also be decided how many people the food supply needs to cover; some may be single and only have responsibility for themselves, while others may have responsibility for not only their immediate family but others as well. Make sure there is an accurate count before beginning the initial food storage purchase to ensure everyone has enough to eat, and if you have pets make sure that they are provided for as well.
A suggested list of food from FEMA includes:
- Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and a can opener
- Protein or fruit bars
- Dry cereal or granola
- Peanut butter
- Dried fruit
- Canned juices
- Non-perishable pasteurized milk
- High energy foods
- Food for infants—ready-to-feed formula if possible
- Comfort/stress foods, especially if you have children
This is only a suggested list; your family’s needs may vary.
Check and rotate your food storage on a regular basis
Many people will take the time to lay in a supply of food in case of emergency, then ignore it until a disaster strikes. Unfortunately, not everything lasts for years; what may have been fine when placed in storage may have expired. Peggy Van Laanen, an associate professor and nutrition specialist for the Texas A & M University system, noted that ready-to-eat cereals will last up to 12 months when stored in a cool, dry place, while shelf-stable meats can last up to 2 years.
When laying in food storage, make sure that the food is off the ground, preferably on high shelves. Keep track of the dates on the packages when placing them in food storage, and rotate products out periodically to be replaced with newer stock. Using the food in storage not only means that product is being rotated properly, it also helps the family to get used to what is in food storage.
Thoroughly check canned goods to make sure they are still good, and do not simply rely on the expiration date; make sure that the cans are not swollen, corroded or dented. If they are, do not eat from them as the food may look fine but may actually be spoiled. Make sure that all grains are in sealed airtight containers.
Many families do not plan ahead and are caught flat-footed when an unusual event cuts off their normal food sources. Disasters or family emergencies may seem like insurmountable obstacles, but with some careful planning and continued work, healthy food from a safe source is easily possible if appropriate precautions are taken.