Hurricane Irma is days away from reaching the United States, but it's never too early to think about what hurricane supplies you should have on hand.
Even a glancing blow from a storm can knock out power for days. You may have a roof over your head, but not the electricity to cook dinner or run the refrigerator. That's when shelf-stable food comes in handy. When making up a shopping list, consider whom you are buying for. Is there a baby in the house? A diabetic? In general, don't buy food that your family won't eat regularly — it'll still be in the cupboard for hurricane season 2018.
Water: A gallon per person, per day, enough for seven days. Or if you buy the bottles, that's eight 16-ounce bottles per person or 56 bottles for seven days.
Juice: Juice and enhanced waters in boxes and plastic bottles.
Milk: Powdered or shelf-stable, in single-serving boxes. (Store more water if you are planning to use powdered milk.)
Alcohol: In general, don't. A glass of wine may calm the nerves but too much will cloud judgment.
Caffeine: Canned coffee drinks or energy drinks such as Red Bull.
Crackers: For snacking or eating with cheese and cold cuts from the fridge just after power goes out.
Fruit: Single-serving fruit cups and applesauce. When a storm is a few days away, buy apples and oranges.
Healthier snacks: Granola bars, Fruit Roll-Ups, dried fruit, rice cakes, nuts and trail mix offer nutrition and have a long shelf life.
Comfort food: You might as well buy the Twinkies (or Pop-Tarts, doughnuts, Nutter Butters or Little Debbies). You know you're going to crave them.
Canned soups, chili, vegetables, stews: They can be eaten cold but can also be heated in a pot on the grill.
Cereal: Vitamin-fortified cereal can be eaten dry or with boxed or powdered milk.
Preserved meats: Beef jerky is high-protein, low-carb and good for diabetics. Canned tuna, chicken, even Spam, also provide protein.
Condiments: Mayonnaise is generally a no-no because of refrigeration issues, but buy the smallest jar you can and make tuna or chicken salad. Look for condiments - ketchup, hot sauce, mustard, relish, salt and pepper - in individual packets.
Supplies: Garbage bags and ties, paper towels, wipes, fuel (charcoal, lighter fluid, matches) or a full propane tank for the grill, hand sanitizer. Don't forget the manual can opener. Plastic wrap or storage containers.
Tableware: Paper plates, napkins and paper or plastic cups; plastic forks, knives and spoons; a couple of serving spoons, forks and knives for food preparation and serving.
Pet food: Food and drink for your pets, and their familiar dishes. Vitamins and medications.
Some other things to consider as you collect provisions
• As a storm approaches, conduct an inventory of your pantry. You may already have foods appropriate for an emergency such as bread, crackers and peanut butter. Eat what you've got in the fridge before it goes bad, then dip into the shelf-stable stuff.
• Fill your coolers and pack the freezer with ice as close as you can before the storm makes landfall. Put drinks in the fridge and move to the cooler when they are cold rather than room temperature to preserve the ice. If the power goes out, you'll have cold drinks, at least for a while.
• Keep in mind whom you will be feeding when making a list of storm-ready food. Do you have young children, or perhaps a newborn? Is someone a vegetarian? Are there dietary concerns that are about more than losing weight? For instance, diabetics and people allergic to wheat will need special considerations since so many shelf-stable foods are carb- and grain-laden. When it comes to emergency food, one size does not fit all.
• When the storm season is over and you've hopefully escaped unscathed, cycle the food into your regular meals or donate it to a food shelter. And finally, don't buy what your family won't touch when the weather is perfect. Spam doesn't taste any better when the wind is blowing 75 miles per hour.
Q&A ON FOOD SAFETY
Here are some common safety questions about how to handle food and water before and after a storm.
How long must water be boiled to kill bacteria?
The water should be at a rolling boil for 1 to 3 minutes.
What if I don't have a heat source to boil water?
One gallon of water can be purified with eight drops, or 1/8 teaspoon, of new, unscented household bleach. (A good thing to have in your hurricane kit.) Pharmacies and sporting goods stores sell water purification tablets.
Can I still eat the food in my pantry or refrigerator after floodwater has receded?
Do not eat any food in nonwaterproof containers that have touched floodwater because it carries bacteria. This includes boxes of cereal or pasta. For canned foods, discard paper labels and note the contents with a marker directly on the can. Disinfect cans with a solution of 1/4 cup household bleach and 1 gallon water.
Is my kitchen equipment okay to use after the floodwater has receded?
Wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottles and nipples should be discarded. Metal and ceramic utensils and cookware should be washed with soap and hot water, then sanitized in a dishwasher or in a bleach and water solution.
How can I make food last in my refrigerator and freezer after a power outage?
Keep doors closed to trap cold air. Bacteria begin to grow when temperatures rise above 40 degrees. Place appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to monitor the temperature.
How long will perishable food be safe to eat after a power outage?
A full freezer should keep food safe for about two days; a half-full freezer, about a day. Refrigerated foods should be safe if the power is out no more than four to six hours. If it appears the power will be off more than six hours, transfer refrigerated perishable foods to a cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.
Which foods spoil quickly?
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes (raw or cooked), milk, cream, yogurt and soft cheese; casseroles, stews or soups, lunch meats and hot dogs; creamy salad dressings; custard, chiffon or cheese pies; refrigerated cookie dough; and open mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish will be spoiled after eight hours without refrigeration.
I normally keep butter in the refrigerator. Will it spoil without power?
The following foods keep at room temperature for a few days: butter or margarine; hard and processed cheese; fresh fruits and vegetables; fruit juices and dried fruit; opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings; jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives; fresh herbs and spices; fruit pies, breads and cakes, except cream cheese-frosted or cream-filled. Discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor.
My power is back on. Can I refreeze thawed food?
You can refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals but have been kept at 40 degrees or below for no more than one to two days may be cooked, then refrozen or canned.
Should I empty my refrigerator before I evacuate?
You'll face a refrigerator full of rotten food if you evacuate, the power goes out and you can't return home for days or weeks. If you're gone only a day or two and the power stays on, your food should be fine. Here's a middle ground: Throw out the leftovers, stuff that probably won't get eaten. From your freezer, throw out items such as meat and poultry, which will go bad quickly if the power goes out.
Compiled with information from Times files, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and Clemson University Cooperative Extension.