Recently some close family members of mine were left without power in their home for several days. This prompted the question, “what will we be able to eat?” With power out all through the county most restaurants were not open either, and many of the gas stations were unable to provide fuel–so people were hesitant to waste gasoline driving around looking for fuel and food!
There are several items to stock at home in case of a power outage that will allow you to eat nutritiously for several days without the ability to cook. The number one item on the list is a hand-held can opener that does not need to be plugged in! Most of the items you will be living off of come in cans, and not all of them have handy pop tops.
Once the power goes out, your refrigerator and freezer are still going to be keeping food at a safe cold range (below 40 degrees F for refrigerated foods and below 0 degrees F for frozen foods) for several hours. It’s after more than a day that these foods may reach the “danger zone” (above 40 degrees) that allows bacteria to quickly multiply and causes food poisoning. At this point they will have to be thrown away for safety reasons. Up until then, feel free to eat leftovers and food that is cooked: this includes meats and chicken, dairy products like cheeses and milk, perishable fruits and vegetables, and juices.
After the refrigerated foods have raised to unsafe temperatures because of lack of power, you may still be able to consume some of the frozen foods, as long as they are already cooked. Raw meats will have to be thrown away once they thaw. But if you have cooked prepared foods or leftovers (the package will tell you whether it needs to be cooked or not) you can eat these cold (as long as they remain below 40 degrees all the way to the center). Partially thawed frozen foods can be laden with bacteria on the parts that thaw earliest. So the second important appliance on your list will be a good kitchen thermometer. This will let you know what is safe to eat.
If you happen to have an outdoor gas or charcoal grill, you’ll be able to cook the foods you already have. Be sure they are cooked to proper safe temperatures (above 155 for most meats and fish; 165 degrees for poultry and pork).
After the raw food is cooked or tossed, you’re going to be resorting to pantry staples that are canned or otherwise safely packaged.
Here are some nutritious items to meet your needs for protein: peanut butter, canned beans, canned chili, canned stews and soups, tuna or chicken (which now also comes in pouches), sardines, canned meats and fish. You do not have to heat these foods up when they are already cooked. Cold soup might not taste as great as when you heat it up, but it’s a nourishing meal that will provide the energy you need to keep you going.
For many vitamins and minerals when fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t available, canned ones work just as well: canned peaches, pears, pineapples, applesauce; green beans, asparagus, peas and corn will give you some vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. Dried fruits are handy to have around as well, and will give you a more dense form of calories as well as fiber. Juice boxes will last without power. Any vegetables or fruits that are not consumed once the can is opened must be disposed of within a few hours if there is no refrigeration available.
Energy and B vitamins from carbohydrates can be obtained from canned white or sweet potatoes, breads, rolls, and crackers. Granola snack bars, and even pretzels and cookies are good snacks to keep around to give you a treat while you’re living through life without power. They are good sources of carbohydrates and will give you the energy to help you get through another day.
If you have evaporated or condensed milk you can use these straight from the can in the case that your water supply is not safe to drink. Some stores carry ultra-pasteurized milk which is safe on the shelf for long periods of time, until the container is opened.
You can put together a surprisingly good meal with canned meat (chicken, or chili, or stew); canned potatoes or some bread or crackers; canned peaches and green beans on the side, and some cookies for dessert!
Print this out for future reference so you know what’s safe to eat when the power goes out and you won’t be able to look up safe temperatures for food on the computer.
Image credit: John Mason, SXC
Laurie Beebe is a registered dietitian with over 25 years of experience. She assists people from all walks of life in changing their diet for better health. Certified in Adult Weight Management, Laurie has transitioned into life coaching to better implement changes in people’s environments. No matter how much people know about what they ‘should’ be doing differently, they don’t alter their habits without making adjustments in their surroundings and their awareness. Coaching helps lead people to permanent changes by helping them set their own goals and design their own action plans. Please visit Laurie’s website for more free nutrition tips, a free monthly newsletter, or more information on coaching, at www.mycoachlaurie.com.