2023 Atlantic hurricane season: 6 tips to know if you haven't checked your emergency food supply

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Thursday, June 15, 2023
2023 Atlantic hurricane season: 6 tips to know if you haven't checked your emergency food supply in a while
Joyce Cavanaugh, retired disaster assessment and recovery specialist at Texas A&M, shares these tips with ABC13 on food safety for disasters.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- If you haven't checked your hurricane kit or emergency food supply in six months or longer, now's the time to do it.

ABC13 checked in with Joyce Cavanaugh, retired disaster assessment and recovery specialist at Texas A&M University, to learn more about how to check food and water so that you know what you're eating and drinking is safe before, during, and after a storm.

Here are six tips to note.

Tip 1: Rotate and replace

Rotate items out of your kit first that might be getting close to or over the "best if used by" date. It doesn't necessarily mean the food is unsafe to eat because you're going to have non-perishable foods in your kit, but the quality may not be as great.

"Put those in your pantry, use them up as part of your regular food preparation, and then replace those with fresher versions into your kit," Cavanaugh said.

Tip 2: Shop your pantry

See what you already have and make a list of what you need to get.

"What are the things that in terms of the priority of the food that your family likes that you want to have to be able to add to the kit and purchase a few every week," Cavanaugh said. "'What are the high protein foods that my family likes in that category?' Whether it's canned fish, canned meat, canned beans."

Canned goods are best for an emergency food supply because they can be kept almost indefinitely if they're not damaged or leaking. Though for quality, replace canned goods within 12 to 18 months.

Tip 3: Monitor your fridges and freezers

As a rule of thumb, after a power outage, your refrigerator will maintain a 40 degree or below temperature for about four hours. A full freezer will stay frozen for about 48 hours and a half-full freezer for 24 hours. You may also want to have a food thermometer handy.

"And the keys to both of those are not to open the refrigerator and the freezer frequently. If you're going to use coolers, think about having two: one that you keep all of the things you might need within a day, and the other of the things that you might not need for a couple of days," Cavanaugh explained. "So drinks, the next day's food, you move into that first cooler, so that when you're opening, that's the one you're opening more frequently, the other one is staying closed and staying cold."

Tip 4: Consider these factors about your food supply

Does anyone have any special needs, like infants or the elderly? How many people and pets do you need to feed? And make sure you have food that your family already likes to eat because their preferences aren't going to change just because there's a hurricane.

"You want to make sure that whatever you cook and prepare, whether you're cooking, or, you know, preparing without cooking, you want it to be food that people are going to eat," Cavanaugh said.

And since storms typically happen during the hottest part of the year here in southeast Texas, think about buying low-sodium versions of food that won't increase thirst.

"Maintaining hydration is just as important during that hurricane or recovery period as it is in a non-storm period. So if you are limited or you're fearing that you might run out of potable water, then use non-sodium versions that won't increase people's thirst," Cavanaugh said.

Tip 5: Check your bottled water supply

"Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and they have determined there is no shelf life for bottled water," Cavanaugh said, adding that you do want to be mindful of where you've stored your bottled water.

Go for a cool, dry place. So garages in our climate are out, but the bottom of a closet is OK. You might also try storing your water in places you don't normally use regularly where there's space.

In addition, the FDA says water stored in food-grade water storage containers, like those found at camping supply stores, should be swapped out every six months.

One more note - don't leave your bottled water in your hot car for long periods of time. Experts say as the temperature increases, the heat can break down the plastic and release tiny amounts of chemicals into the drink.

Tip 6: Know how much water to store

Remember this: one gallon of water, per person per day.

While the recommendation is to store enough for three days, you should probably plan for five to seven days given the severity of storms we've seen recently.

If you need to purify your water after an emergency or disaster, and you can't boil it because heat is not readily available, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service-Disaster Assessment Recovery has a simple method you can use to purify water using a household bleach or a tincture of iodine for small quantities of water.

Water Purification Method

Water can be purified using a household bleach containing sodium hypochlorite, a chlorine compound, as its only active ingredient. Don't use bleach that contains soap or is scented. Also, keep in mind that while this method will purify water, it won't preserve it for long-term storage.

  • Add the bleach to filtered water in any clean container in which the water can be thoroughly mixed by stirring or shaking.
  • Use an eye dropper to add the bleach according to the proportions shown in the table below. The table gives the ratio of chlorine bleach to be added to clear and cloudy water to provide 3 and 6 ppm (parts per million) chlorine concentration, respectively. The proportions are based on bleach containing 5.25 % sodium hypochlorite
  • Let the mixture stand for 20 minutes

The water should have the slight taste or smell of chlorine, the agency says. But if it doesn't, another dose of bleach should be added to the water, mixed thoroughly, and allowed to stand for another 15 minutes.

The taste or smell of chlorine in the water is a sign of safety, so if after the second try, it's still not detectable, don't use the water.

Ordinary household 2% tincture of iodine can be used to purify small quantities of water.

  • Add five drops to each quart of cloudy water.
  • As with chlorine, the iodine and water should be mixed thoroughly.
  • Water purification tablets, available at most sporting goods stores and drugstores, can be used safely to purify water. Follow the package directions.

You can download the instructions via this PDF.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service-Disaster Assessment Recovery website also has several natural disaster guides that are either free or just a few dollars.

For example, an emergency preparedness cookbook has three days' worth of recipes that require minimal prep and ingredients. The guides are offered in both English and Spanish.

Download the guides to your phone or flash drive, print and throw them in your kit, and you'll have access to them whether you have power or not.

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