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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Food Preparation and Safety in an Emergency

(modified from posting on
We have talked a lot about what food to store, and how to store it to maximize the life of that food.  What we haven't talked about is how you are going to cook that food in an emergency.
In emergency situations, the power usually goes out, and your refrigerator, freezer, and oven become useless. 
How do you use that food you've stored, and how do you do it safely?

Tips for using Stored Food in an Emergency

  1. Canned and dried foods are easy to reheat.  The less cooking time needed, the better.
  2. Collect recipes that are simple and use stored food items.  Keep the recipes right by the foods.  See the link to a great food storage cookbook on this site.
  3. Store basic cooking utensils like a can opener, mixing bowls and cooking spoons nearby.
  4. Store some shelf-stable items that are not canned:  juice boxes, stock and broth in boxes, dried fruits and snack items can be stored with a fridge.
  5. Water is important, not only for drinking but also rehydrating dried foods.  Store some near the dehydrated foods.
  • Remember that if you don't have a way to keep food cool, so only cook as much as you can eat within 2 hours.  These and other tips will keep you safe while eating in an emergency.
  • Staying Safe when Emergency Cooking 

Emergency cooking will involve an open flame. Here are some keys to staying safe:

  1. You must have proper ventilation, a window or door open 1 inch will provide sufficient fresh air if the open flame cooking device is placed in front of (or close to) the opening. This keeps exhaust fumes from spreading through the room. 
  2. Do not leave a propane camp stove, or the burners on a natural gas stove burning while you sleep. 
  3. Do not use charcoal briquettes inside for cooking-doing this has killed people. 
  4. Do not use wood inside a house for cooking unless you have a fireplace or properly installed wood stove. 
  5. If you need a campfire, build it in a safe place outside.
  6. A box of baking soda is a good emergency fire extinguisher; sugar is not.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, lethargy, blurry vision, room feels "stuffy', ringing in the ears. 

If symptoms occur, get fresh air into the room immediately or move everybody out fast. Pregnant women and unborn babies are particularly at risk. Seek medical attention! 

Wood Stoves, Fireplaces, Dutch Ovens, Charcoal Briquettes & Gas Grills

  1. Use bricks to make a stand for a pot or to hold a grill in an open fireplace. 
  2. Dutch ovens can be cooked in fires outside in the yard or in the fireplace. 
  3. Charcoal briquettes can be used with cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens, and other pots and pans, but such cooking must be done outside.
Camp Stoves

  • Small 1 to 3 burner propane camp stoves can be used indoors (with adequate ventilation), 
  • Liquid Coleman/white gas fuel stoves and gas grills must be used outdoors. 
  • Most kerosene heaters get hot enough on top to cook food. 
Solar Cookers

  • Solar cookers are made with cardboard boxes, aluminum foil, duct tape, and glass. 
  • Such ovens can get to 350 degrees, hot enough to bake meats and casseroles. 
  • Crock-pot recipes will generally work in a solar cooker
Non-Electric Crock Pot

  • Use a box or bucket big enough to pack 4 inches of insulating material on all sides, top and bottom. Line the inside with aluminum foil, and put insulating material on the bottom (such as newspapers, cloth, sawdust, hay). 
  • Bring the food to a boil, cover the pot (3 to 6 quarts) and put it in the container. Pack the top and the spaces between the pot and the sides of the box or bucket with insulating material, and put the lid on. Good for up to 4 hours cooking.
  • Food cooks faster in covered pots. Be thrifty with scarce fuels, combine methods such as using a camp stove to bring beans to a boil, and then the non-electric crock pot to finish the job. 
Food Safety in a Disaster 

  • Cold foods must be kept cold (below 45 degrees Fahrenheit) to prevent spoilage. If the power goes off, open your refrigerator and freezer as little as possible. 
  • Wrap them in blankets or newspapers, or stack bags of clothes or mattresses against the walls and on the tops. 
  • Shield them from direct sunlight, and don't heat the rooms they are in. 
  • Eat the items in the refrigerator first, the same day the power goes off. 
  • If you are frugal in opening the freezer the food inside will stay below 45 degrees for 3 to 5 days. 
Be careful about storing prepared foods without refrigeration. 

  • If it is cold winter, put food in an insulated box (such as an ice chest) in an unheated room or porch. Pack it with snow or ice. Put a thermometer in the room and check it several times a day to make sure it is staying below 45 degrees. Protect the cold box from sunlight. 
  • When cooking, estimate food portions carefully, as you may not be able to refrigerate the leftovers. 
  • Spoiled foods may not have an offensive odor, so while the presence of a bad odor is a sure indicator of spoilage, its absence may not be an assurance of safety. 
  • Don't take chances with food safety! If in doubt, throw it out.
Easily Spoiled Foods

  • Creamed foods, soft cheeses (cream cheese, spreads, cottage cheese), gravy, mayonnaise, salad dressings, pork, and poultry spoil quickly. 
  • Dispose of them if the refrigerator has been without power for 12 hours.
  •  Seafood, chopped meat, and poultry sandwich fillings are not safe after 4 hours without refrigeration. 

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