Winter Emergency Food Safety

It’s a wise idea to make food preparedness and safety a part of your winter home emergency plans.

Whether it’s an ice storm, a power outage, or a big nor’easter, losing basic services like gas, water, and electricity for several days is no fun. Being prepared for winter emergencies can make them less difficult and more of an “adventure.”

Planning for short-term (about a three-day supply) emergency food needs may be as simple as increasing quantities of some staple foods and non-perishable foods that you normally would use. (Non-perishable foods are those that can be stored safely at room temperatures.) Keeping a well-stocked pantry also makes meal planning easier and quicker as an everyday strategy, but that’s for another article.

Use this checklist to stock your winter pantry

  • Food: Non-perishable packaged and/or canned food. Foods that require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking are best. Include items such as:

1. Boxed or bagged cereals
2. Canned or aseptically packaged (“juice box” style) juices, milk, soup, fruits, and vegetables
3. Staples: sugar, salt, pepper
4. Ready-to-eat canned meats
5. High-energy foods: nut butters, nuts, jelly, crackers, granola bars, trail mix
6. Special foods needed for infants, elderly persons, or people on a special diet
7. Comfort foods: cookies, candies, sweetened cereals, instant coffee, tea bags, hot cocoa

  • Water: Figure on one gallon per person per day (two quarts for drinking, two quarts for food preparation/personal hygiene) stored in sealed, unbreakable containers. Replace every six months. Keep at least a three-day supply for each person in your household.
  • Disposable plates, cups, paper towels, napkins, and utensils
  • Hand-powered non-electric can opener

If the Electricity Goes Off

First, use up perishable food and foods from the refrigerator. Without power, the refrigerator will keep food cool for four to six hours, depending on the kitchen temperature.

Next, use foods from the freezer. A full, freestanding freezer will stay at freezing temperatures about two days; a half-full freezer about one day. Consume the foods only if they have ice crystals remaining or if the temperature of the freezer has remained at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Foods still containing ice crystals or that feel “refrigerator-cold” can be refrozen when the electricity is back on.

To minimize the number of times you open the freezer door, post a list of freezer contents on it. Covering the freezer with blankets will help to hold in cold. Be sure to pin blankets back so that the air vent is not covered.

Finally, begin to use non-perishable foods and staples.

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Mary Saucier Choate

Mary Saucier Choate

Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., is a dietitian and long-time Co-op member. She is the manager for Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement at the Partnership for Food Safety Education.
Mary Saucier Choate

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