Stocking up in case of emergency

I keep hearing that people should have an emergency supply of foods on hand in case of emergency, but I have no clue what to get. What food supplies should I stock up on in case of emergency?

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Good question. Some consumers in certain areas of Washington State have found grocery stores with empty shelves, as many people responded to coronavirus fears and went out in what some have described as a panic, to stock up on supplies.

But that’s not a good idea, because panic-buying could lead to shortages of supplies for others if people overbuy items they otherwise really don’t need. To avoid scenarios like that, it’s a good idea to always have on hand at least a three-day supply of nonperishable essentials such as canned foods, dry mixes, and other staples that do not require refrigeration, cooking, water, or special preparation, according to Ready.gov.

Additionally, you should have at least three days’ worth of water on hand, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The average person needs 1 gallon of water per day, depending on their age, physical activity and health, FEMA says. And don’t forget your pets. It’s recommended that you should also have on hand dry or wet food in cans or sealed containers or bags, in addition to enough water for each pet.

Ready.gov, which is run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, advises consumers to choose foods your family will eat and items that won’t make you thirsty, when planning your three-day emergency food supply. The site also offers an emergency supply list that you can download and take with you when shopping so that you’ll know what they recommend you purchase.

Some of the foods Ready.gov and FEMA suggest include:

  • milk in either shelf-stable or powdered form in case you lose power.
  • cans of soups, stews, vegetables, beans, and other items that can be eaten hot or cold.
  • dried meats such as beef jerky and canned or vacuum-sealed pouches of tuna, chicken, potted meat, or sausages.
  • snack foods such as whole-grain crackers and cereal, granola bars, dried fruit, applesauce, fruit cups, trail mix, nuts, and peanut or other nut butters.
  • fresh fruit that has a longer shelf life, such as apples, oranges, and pears.
  • protein or fruit bars.
  • dried fruit.
  • canned juices.
  • food for infants.

Also, it’s important that you have a manual can opener as part of your emergency supply list, officials say, in case of a power outage.

If the emergency you are experiencing involves a power outage, remember to keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service advises. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours, or at least 24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed.

You should throw out refrigerated, perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, and leftovers if they’ve been without power for more than four hours. That’s because perishable foods left out longer than two hours can rapidly grow bacteria that will leave the food unsafe to eat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

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