Imagine this situation: the weather report indicates a cold day with a chance of rain. About 2:00 p.m., you hear the sound of sleet on the windows. By 2:30 p.m., the roads are ice covered, the power has gone out, and police are urging people to stay where they are. Your childcare program could be isolated from fresh food, water, electricity, and communication for several days; so planning for food and water in such situations is essential.
Safe water and wholesome food are necessities, not only for physical survival, but also to keep spirits up in an emergency situation. While many early learning centers have stocked up on flashlights, batteries, radios, and first aid kits, food and water planning may be overlooked. A simple, five-point plan to prepare your programs food and water supplies in case disaster strikes can help.
Water Dubbed the universal thirst quencher, water should be your top priority when planning your emergency food supplies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross recommend stockpiling an average of one gallon of drinking water per day for each person, including both adults and children. FEMA also suggests storing a three-day supply at minimum and a two-week supply at best. That translates into having from three-14 gallons of water per person on hand
Food Adequate food nourishes the body and helps maintain energy levels during times of stress. Because power may be interrupted and water contaminated during disaster emergencies, it is best to choose foods that require no refrigeration, little preparation, no cooking, and that use little or no water when planning menus for emergencies.
That does not mean you should buy unfamiliar foods for your emergency food supply. Instead, stock up on the canned foods and staples you use every day. Familiar foods are best because they can reduce stress and create a feeling of security during a disaster. Just as in daily nutrition planning, keep the nutritious food groups in mind when preparing your emergency food plans.
Milk Shelf-stable, ultra high temperature (UHT) milk is a good choice; it is the milk found on grocery shelves in collapsible boxes. Canned evaporated milk is a winner, too. You also should keep ready-to-feed infant formula on hand, as well as any nutritional formula needed by infants or children with special feeding needs in your care. Remember that if the power is interrupted, it is important to make sure that milk has not spoiled.
Vegetables and Fruits When it comes to these food groups, canned food keeps the very best in storage. Snack-sized canned goods are handy because they are easy-to-open, with pull-top lids or twist-open keys. From cans of carrots, green beans, potatoes, and peas, to mangos, plums, pineapple, and pears, variety is the key word for ensuring sound nutrition. Shelf-stable, canned or foil-packed juices can provide a nutritious, energy-packed punch, too. For example, mandarin orange slices, orange juice, and mangoes are rich in vitamin C. Canned peaches, carrots, and tinned sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A.
Proteins The spotlight needs to be on canned beef and tuna fish, as well canned chicken, pork, and canned stews to round out your menu planning. Plastic jars of that all-time favorite peanut butter and cans of precooked beans also can enhance emergency menu planning.
Grains An assortment of cereals, crackers, and breakfast bars are the heroes. Be sure to pack them in plastic storage bags inside tightly lidded plastic or tin containers (like the kind holiday cookies often come in). Infant cereal is a needed staple if you serve those tiny tots.
Other Foods Infant food often comes only in jars, which can break easily. Decide to either mash up adult food for the infants or take the risk and store the jar food. A plastic jar of jelly would do the peanut butter proud! Peanut butter and jelly, even on crackers, are comfort foods for many children (and adults).
Other good choices included dried pasta and canned spaghetti sauce or canned spaghetti with sauce. Since water may be at a premium and salt may increase thirst, opt for the low salt versions of canned foods and crackers. If any adults or children are on special diets or have food allergies, be sure that your disaster food pantry can meet their needs. If you have a way to heat water, have instant coffee, tea, and sugar packets on hand. You and the other adults may really appreciate this!
Essential Tools You may not give them much thought in daily life, but there are certain items that these basic items can be indispensable in an emergency. These include:
- A manual can opener
- Disposable forks, spoons, and knives
- Disposable plates, cups, and bowls
- Disposable latex or vinyl gloves
- Disposable baby bottles (if you serve that age group)
- Paper towels
- Pre moistened antibacterial wipes
- Large garbage bags
- A big plastic tarp to protect you like a tent if your eating area is leaking or exposed to severe weather
- Bleach, for sanitation
Inventory and Freshness Keep an inventory of your supplies and rotate the food items. A running inventory of emergency food and water on hand will help you know what you have and what you need to replace or restock. Pay attention to expiration dates on packaged and canned foods, including infant formulas or nutrition products for children with special feeding needs. Use and/or replace your stored food before it expires.
Portability Keep food and water supplies handy and ready to transport. Think of the best ways to move them in case you have to evacuate. You may decide that duffle bags or trash cans with wheels could move your food supply best. Insulated, picnic-type ice chests, perhaps on wheels, also might help transport refrigerated and frozen foods.
Food Preparation If you are confined to your facility and the electricity goes off, use perishable or refrigerated foods first, then frozen foods. Frozen foods are usually safe if ice crystals are still present in their centers. In a well-stocked, well-insulated freezer, frozen foods are usually safe to eat for three days after the power goes off. Limit the number of times the door is opened; each time it is opened, more cold air escapes and more hot air gets in. A good trick is to keep a list of freezer contents posted on the freezer door at all times.
When it comes to preparing for emergency food and water supplies, remember to walk your way through. Be prepared and stay calm--these are the keys to success!
Paula Mydlenski, MS, RD, CDN
Nutrition Specialist Training and Technical Assistance Services (TTAS)
Western Kentucky University
The American Red Cross has available information on planning for food use in an emergency. For more information, please contact your local Red Cross chapter. Ask for a copy of the following brochures: Your Family Disaster Plan (A4466); Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit (A4463) and Food and Water in an Emergency (A5055). www.redcross.org/services/disaster/beprepared/foodwtr.html
A list of food safety and storage resources is available from the Food and Nutrition Information Center, National Agricultural Library/USDA, 10301 Baltimore Ave., Room 304, Beltsville, MD 20705-2351; 301-504-5719; www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/emerg.html
Emergency food preparation and storage, www.nilesema.com/emergencyfoodprep.htm
Oregon State Universitys emergency food supply recommendations, extension.oregonstate.edu/fcd/emergency
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, www.nationalterroralert.com/readyguide/foodstorage.htm