By Beth Klos, R.D., L.D.N.
On a late summer evening, fine bands of grey clouds begin to spiral out of the northwest sky. According to weather reports, a hurricane is coming. Its outer edge is already overhead. Bands of rain will start in a couple of hours. And soon, the wind and rain will rail full force.
Maybe, rather than rain, the first light flakes of snow will descend in a couple of hours. A nor'easter is on the way. You start to wonder if there's enough food in the pantry to eat healthy during the storm. If not, there's just enough time to run out to the grocery store.
Do you know what to have on hand and how to keep your food safe if you lose power in any season? Here's what you need to know.
The body can dehydrate quickly, especially if the temperature rises. So water — for drinking, cooking and cleaning kitchen utensils — needs to be your first priority in an emergency.
When a storm is expected:
You'll find more information about safe water supplies on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emergency Preparedness website.
Before the storm, stock up on healthy, shelf-stable foods. Many of the foods listed below, including canned foods and nuts, come in "no added salt" or "low sodium" versions. Store brands often have their own low-sodium products. These often cost less than name brands.
Dairy and dairy substitutes
Whole grains and other healthy, slowly digested starches
The best way to preserve food when the power is out is to keep the freezer and refrigerator doors closed.
While preparing for the storm, fill the freezer with containers of water or perishable food and beverages from the refrigerator. A full freezer will keep food safe for two days, as long as you don't open the door while the power is out. Do not plan to use this food or water for the first two days. If you cannot fill your freezer, group all the items in it together in the middle to help them retain their temperature as long as possible. (If the foods still have ice crystals in them when the power comes back on, they can be re-frozen.)
With the door closed, a refrigerator will typically keep food at the safe temperature (40° F or less) for only four hours without block or dry ice. Harmful bacteria thrive when food hits 41° to 140°. Food is unsafe to eat once it's been in this "danger zone" for two hours.
When the power returns, you'll have to decide which food is safe to eat. Remember the expression, "When in doubt throw it out." The risk and expense of foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning) will be more costly than buying more food. It can be fatal for someone with a weakened immune system, and very unpleasant for anyone. Keep thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer so you can check the temperature. The look and smell of food may not change, so use time and temperature as your guide to food safety. (See the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service's website for more information.)
Beth Klos, RD, LDN, is a Senior Nutritionist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She completed her undergraduate degree at University of Rhode Island and her dietetic internship at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She enjoys providing nutrition counseling to her patients and teaching counseling to Brigham and Women Hospital's Dietetic Interns.