How To Stock Your Pantry For A Big Emergency, From Hurricanes To Power Outages

My Welcome to Miami party was a hurricane party. In 1992, newly married, I moved to South Beach in time to be hit by Hurricane Andrew. We didn’t have much warning back then either. On Saturday we spent the day at the beach and on Sunday we were shipped out under mandatory evacuation orders. The Category 5 hurricane hit early Monday morning, August 24.

Since then, my family and I have traversed many tropical systems, from Katrina to Irma.

Floridians like to joke that we’re not afraid of hurricanes; We are afraid of living without air conditioning. But joking aside, what all of these real and potential natural disasters have taught me is how to really prepare nutritionally for a climate emergency. The truth is, as we saw with Ian, these storms are not only life threatening, but also so destructive that it can take weeks to months – even years – to restore infrastructure.

How much food should you stock in your pantry for emergencies?

When a climate emergency threatens Red Cross advises that you put together a survival kit containing “non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items,” enough for each family member for three days. That’s when you plan to evacuate. If you seek shelter on the spot, you should have two weeks. However, the Florida Department of Emergency Management makes no distinction between stay or go and recommends a “minimum” seven day supply of nonperishable canned or packaged food.

For liquids, the general rule is one gallon of water per person per day, using the same guidelines as above. This is not only used for drinking, but also for brushing teeth and washing. Toilets also need to be flushed. Most Floridians (and residents of other storm states) are familiar with the concept of filling all of the bathtubs in the home before a storm hits to have extra water for the toilet tank. But eventually you will dry up as the plumbing lines are destroyed.

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Stock up on equipment that can function during the storm

When we got back we convinced everyone on our block to invest in a gas line together so we could cook in future storms and follow the water boiling instructions. I caused a lot of eye rolls when we moved in 2019, but I only looked at kitchens with gas ranges (or the possibility of installing one). Tell me anything you want, but given the option, there’s no way I would knowingly rely on South Florida electricity.

The classic Coleman two burner propane stove with over 16,000 five star reviews

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However, if you can’t get hold of a gas stove in a hurricane zone, have a propane-powered grill on hand. While other types of grills are wonderful for smoking and grilling, trust me, you won’t want to light up charcoal, pellets, or wood chips every time you want to cook up macaroni and cheese for your kids’ lunch. (Remember that your microwave will likely be out of order.)

We also keep at least two large, heavy-duty cool boxes to store perishable goods. The best wildlife proven yeti, RTIC, igloos and the like can withstand temperatures of up to 40 degrees for up to a week. Even better, some of these are designed to hold dry ice, which keeps food cooler for longer. As soon as the power goes out, transfer the contents of your freezer and refrigerator to these coolers. These latches prevent easy opening and closing, allowing you to control your family’s standing and grazing habits.

Of course, fighting for ice before a storm is always a challenge worthy of a pro wrestler. But you can use your frozen goods instead of ice. It’s also excellent practice to freeze ice packs, which are actually colder than ice, during hurricane season to avoid that last-minute rush.

Fill up on proteins and pasta

When we set up our pantry for the start of the season, we go to Costco and invest in packs of easy-open cans, large format bags of rice and pasta, assorted natural nut butters and flavors of jams and jellies, and boxes of crackers. These items are among the first things to sell out at Publix given just a hurricane hit. The last lonely jar of sugary, preservative-filled peanut butter in a long line of empty shelves is always a viral image.

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But we’re not sacrificing our dietary or quality preferences here. For example, Costco carries an eight-pack of canned Kirkland organic diced tomatoes, a 12-pack of canned Kirkland organic tomato paste, an eight-pack of canned S&W black beans, 12-packs of Annie’s organic macaroni in boxes and cheese and a six-piece selection of organic Garofalo pasta.

The same goes for tuna, another hurricane staple, and other canned proteins. Here, too, we are able to maintain our sustainability ideals and health goals wild planet and SafeCatch Albacore and Yellowfin Tuna. These brands use line or trolling to catch smaller migratory fish that are low in mercury and high in omega-3. Both sound like they’re expensive, but on the whole they’re reasonable, either from Costco or direct from their websites, which offer more variety.

With such a long shelf life, you really can't stock up on too much tuna.

Only Photo via Getty Images

With such a long shelf life, you really can’t stock up on too much tuna.

Concerned about waste if you buy too much tuna, salmon or sardines? Do not be. “Most Wild Planet products have a three-year best-before date printed on the packaging. However, the FDA has allowed canned fish to be good for up to five years after production,” a Wild Planet representative said.

Additionally, these and similar brands are now offering single serve pouches which are less bulky to store and a boon when you don’t have refrigeration.

Buy portion packs of groceries

In fact, single-serve everything is key (and waste from use is hardly your primary concern when faced with a disaster like Ian’s). You just don’t want to open a jar with something that needs refrigeration. Throughout the year, I collect condiments from to-go bags—another long-suffering look from my kids—and buy individual coffee creamer pods. Costco is also great for vending machine-sized bags of nuts, dried fruit, jerky, and other snack foods. Products in larger bags will go rancid or mushy if opened and not processed in this type of heat and humidity.

Now you’re probably thinking Where does she keep all this stuff? And you are right. At some point you will run out of space. For drinks, it’s more compact to have powders that you can mix with water, which we get delivered in five-gallon jugs once a month. These pitchers stay in the garage or even outside on the backyard porch. We also do not return all empties. This way we can fill them up with a hose during a thunderstorm and keep them for flushing the toilet.

Get organized early

Of course, you need to be lo-fi — or plan — when it comes to storing, prepping, and cooking hurricane foods. But before that is another story.

“Use a notebook application to record and list groceries you need to feed your whole family for a certain amount of time and save them on your phone,” advised Walter Contreras, a marketing technology and computer science IT expert . “Ideally it should be an application that allows you to access the information when there is no internet connection. Spreadsheets, Microsoft OneNote and Google Keep can be used offline. Google Keep Notes is also a great app that we individuals and families can use to store recipes, shopping lists and food supply information ahead of the hurricane.”

If you want to get Yes, really If you’re serious about planning, Contreras recommends using a chart to determine your family members’ calorie needs.

“Make a list of all family members with their weight, height and BMI,” he suggested. “Enter the details in your spreadsheet to calculate the amount of food and drink you would need for a given period of time to feed the whole family. Once the chart is complete, print out the chart and keep it in a place where all family members can easily access it.”

If planning your own shopping is a task that confuses you at the same time as you prepare for the evacuation, visit the Homeland Security website. There you will find a ready-made list of emergency supplies that you can download and save to your mobile device.

Finally, most cans now have pop tops. But some don’t. So, as you prepare, don’t forget the most important thing: a can opener, which usually also includes that other essential tool – a bottle opener. Pro Tip #335: Drink your beer while it’s still cold.

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