Disaster Preparedness: Kitchen Essentials (cont.)

Other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, jams, butter, salad dressings and condiments, should be safe to eat without refrigeration for a few days.

At room temperature, most food will stay safe for up to two hours. That time drops to one hour if it's hotter than room temperature. "Think two hours as a guideline," says Frenchman. "After that, you need to cook the food well, get it into a cold cooler or toss it."

When your power returns, check the temperature of the freezer. If it is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the food inside can safely be refrozen. Foods with ice crystals can also be refrozen.

Still, "When in doubt, throw it out," is the mantra of food safety experts.

"Use common sense and be especially vigilant with protein foods," says Rarback. "If it smells off, looks bad or is no longer cool to the touch, toss it and keep in mind that some food can appear fine and still have harmful bacteria."

Err on the side of safety, because you certainly don't want to get food poisoning when you are already under stress says Rarback.

Keep in mind that any food that has come into contact with floodwater is not suitable to eat, even if it's in unopened containers.

When it comes to the safety of drinking water, tune into your local authorities. Never assume the water is safe to drink after a flood or hurricane without health authorities giving the green light.

No-Power Meal Ideas

You can still cook, even without electricity. Gas ranges, wood fireplaces, outdoor grills, a small campfire, or a camp stove are all ways you can cook a meal.

Use up the most perishable foods first. Ask your family if there are any favorite comfort foods that will help cheer them. Be creative; use your spices and seasonings to jazz up pantry items.

Rarback recommends planning family meals to help keep morale up.

"It is fun to eat by candlelight and have some sense of normalcy during the stressful time," Rarback says.

Here are a few ideas for putting together meals from the pantry:
  • Mandarin oranges, nuts, and canned chicken topped with chow mein noodles.
  • Vegetable stew made from chick peas, tomatoes, green beans and carrots, spiced up with raisins and Moroccan spices.
  • Beans or chickpeas with artichoke hearts and roasted bell peppers, served over prepared rice in a pouch.
  • Three-bean salad mixed with Italian salad dressing, and drained canned tuna with crackers.

If you live in an area prone to power outages, consider investing in an emergency generator. Electricity from the generator will keep your refrigerator and freezer working until the power is restored. According to Rarback, many people in Miami are investing in whole-house generators that keep their homes cool and refrigerators humming even during power outages.

Published August 26, 2006.

SOURCES: FDA. CDC. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sheah Rarback, MS, RD, director of nutrition, Mailman Center, School of Medicine, University of Miami. Ruth Frenchman, MA, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Last Editorial Review: 8/25/2006