As hurricane Irene bears down upon the east coast, many people are anticipating how to get by without power for some days. Yesterday I wrote about preparations regarding water: Emergency Water: Store it Now! This will focus on dealing with the perishable foods you already have on hand when you are anticipating an event that will cause you to lose power. This information can help mitigate the economic loss your family experiences in an emergency.
First, stock up on ice in advance to extend the life of your perishable food. That doesn’t mean you have to dash out and buy bags of ice, although that might be right for your situation. Start freezing everything you can freeze now – bottles of water, juices, etc. And make ice in ice cube trays and plastic containers. As your freezer fills, remove ice to other containers, such as coolers and keep freezing. Makeshift coolers can be made by putting one size plastic storage container inside of another and filling the space between on all sides with a blanket, towels, layers of corrugated cardboard, or some other insulating material. Wooden boxes can be used the same way. If you have a cheap Styrofoam cooler consider using it to line a larger container and surround with more insulation.
Next, inventory your perishable foods. Once you lose power, you will need to eat your perishables first. So plan to use them up by figuring out meals in advance and post the schedule to the door of your fridge and freezer. Also include a note about where every item is located. You don’t want to be standing in front of an open fridge or freezer trying to figure out what you have and where it is once power goes out. That is the quickest way to lose your cool!
You might want to freeze some packaged perishables that you don’t usually freeze, like breads, if you anticipate that you might not be able to easily get supplied for some days.
(It is interesting that FEMA and the Red Cross, which have warned Americans for years to have emergency supplies in place for three days, have recently started advising two weeks.)
As soon as you have storm conditions that make it likely you will lose power, remove the first day’s items from your fridge and store in one of your coolers, surrounded with ice. You can always put it back in the fridge if your power stays on or comes back. The important point is to minimize opening the fridge and freezer when power is out. Replace the food items with frozen things or containers of ice. As your fridge empties and its temperature rises, you can remove a rack and put a cooler of ice inside of it, using the fridge itself as additional insulation and consolidating items in the cooler that you are still preserving.
You will follow the same plan for your freezer. But if you have a lot of meat stored, you will need to make plans to cook it as it thaws. The cooked meat can then be kept cool in a cooler as long as you have ice. If you have a lot more meat than your family can use up, you might be able to share with others or trade for something else you need. Various cuts of beef and even ground beef can be saved by jerking (drying) so you will want to have instructions on hand for that if you think you might need to do it.
Plan to use your meats first, as eggs and cheese will keep longer. Remember that cheese is a way to preserve milk, so even if it stays at room temperature for some time, it is still usable. If milk sours, it can be used to make pancakes, just use a buttermilk pancake recipe. If you have a large supply of butter, you can clarify it, so you don’t lose it all. Look online for instructions for anything you think you might need later and PRINT THEM OUT while you still have power.