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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Preps: Food - Part 2

This is the conclusion of the second of twelve "drill downs" for the Disaster Impacts you can encounter if an emergency occurs.  Click here to update yourself on the entire list of twelve, and our philosophy on Emergency Preparedness.  All of these drill-downs will be categorized under the 12 Impacts label listing.

Click here to see Part 1 of this post. 

In yesterday's post, we talked about determining Food Selection and Amounts, and Storage Preparation options.  Today we'll tackle:
  • Location options
  • Eating Preparation options
Location Options

Location options come down to two words:  Cool and Dry.  Regardless of the actual site(s) chosen, you will significantly extend the shelf life of your food preps by ensuring they are kept as cool as possible, and as devoid of as much moisture as possible.

An excellent demonstration of the effects of temperature on stored foods is given with regards to recommendations for Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).  These are military-style cooked foods in self-contained packaging.  The lower the storage temperature, the longer the food stays edible (click image to expand) -

While this information is specifically related to MREs, the principle is sound:  Lower temps are better for shelf life.

Many of the dryness issues can be overcome with proper packaging.  NEVER store foods directly in cardboard or paper packaging.  Moisture in the air or a burst pipe in your storage room may ruin/spoil your foods.

Re-package your store-bought preps into water-resistant packaging, such as vacuum bags, mason jars, mylar bags and food-grade buckets.  Consider adding desiccant packages to absorb any moisture that may be present in dried foods such as grains and flours.

These "rules" apply regardless of the sites you choose to store your foods - and you should have multiple sites.  These include:
  • Home
  • Vehicle
  • Work
  • Retreat/Other Secondary Site
At your home, you generally have the most control over the environment where you store your foods.  This is generally not the case with the other sites.

Having a minimal (3-day) emergency pack in your vehicle or at work (a Get Home Bag - GHB) is prudent - you never know where you'll be if a disaster occurs.  But these locations - especially your vehicle - are environments over which you have little control.

You may park your vehicle in a lot with no cover.  The interior of your car can easily reach temperatures in excess of 120F.  Any foods you have in your GHB will lose their quality and nutritional value much more quickly than the same foods being stored in your home.  You need to rotate those food items more often than the same foods stored elsewhere.

Multiple large storage locations should also be selected to ensure against having, "all your eggs in one basket".  If your home is your primary storage location, and you have a fire, tornado, earthquake or flood, you may lose all of your food preps.  You now become a refugee that is dependent upon the government, or the charity of others.

If you have already established a secondary retreat site, that would be a logical location for your secondary storage (as long as the site had adequate measures to prevent theft).

Some other options:
  • The home or garage of a friend or family member.  Establish reciprocal storage agreements in advance.  An incredible amount of food can be held in the plastic tubs that are available at Walmart or similar stores.  If properly planned and packed, one month of food for a family of four can be stored in 4, 64-quart tubs.
  • A storage shed on your property that is sufficiently distant from your primary storage site to reduce the likelihood of both stores being destroyed by the same event.
  • A month-to-month storage site sufficiently distance which is accessible 24/7.  This can get very expensive, very quickly, but it may be an option for some.
  • Caching stores of food and equipment.  There are many things to consider with this option, and it will be the subject of a future post.
With all of these secondary options, you want to achieve the highest density of calories and protein as possible.  This chart, gleaned from our own preparedness spreadsheets, shows the calories and protein per pound for a number of commonly stored foods (sorted by protein per pound - click to expand) -


Eating Preparation Options

So, you've stored all of this food.  How are you going to prepare it for consumption?

If you're still in your home, that is generally not an issue.  You have your stove, oven, whisks, spoons, trays, bowls and "gadgets".  You have your cookbooks and the Internet to read and follow recipes.

What if you're not at home?  What if part of the disaster allows you to stay in your home, but you have no cooking/heating gas and electricity?

What then?  Having the tools and knowledge to cook your food using alternative methods can mean the difference between just surviving, and eating well.

When you are "off-grid", conservation of fuel is generally a major consideration.  These methods will generally require different cooking techniques and timing.  You MUST practice with these methods before you are forced to use them.

Consider the following alternative methods of cooking your foods -
  • Camp stoves with portable propane or white gas fuels
  • Bar-B-Ques using charcoal or propane
  • Campfires
  • Penny Stoves or other ultra-light camping stoves
  • Solar ovens
  • Rocket or Hobo stoves
  • Thermos cooking
Make your choices - with at least one that uses natural fuels found in your area - and practice making meals on a regular basis.

When you make the meal, make it in a space that can hold everything you need.  Every bowl, spoon, can opener, pinch of salt, half-cup of oil, piece of aluminum foil, knife, pot, Bic lighter and printed recipe.   

Then make sure all of those items are a part of your primary and secondary storage.

Near the top of the "easy to cook, yet very tasty and nutritious" list are soups, pasta, beans and rice.  Beans and rice, in particular, are very easily cooked using the low-fuel thermos method.

In a pot, you bring your rice and pre-soaked beans (and spices) to a boil.  Immediately dump them into a stainless steel-lined thermos (NOT one of the injection molded cheap ones), close it up and set a timer.  Some bean varieties will take longer than others to cook.  For instance, lentils don't even need to be pre-soaked, but pinto or kidney beans will almost certainly be under-cooked.  Smaller beans (and peas) cook more quickly with lower fuel requirements.

Pasta is also a natural for thermos cooking.  Couscous takes under 5 minutes from the time the water starts boiling.  Try pasta shells, spaghetti and other long forms of pasta.

Add meat and vegetables.  Try oatmeal, cream of wheat, bulgur wheat, and many other cereal grains.  Make whole meals like Tuna Macaroni (or chicken, beef or pork).

Practice, take notes and place those notes in your food prep stores.

Accept The Challenge

Work to identify alternative sites while you still have options available.  In addition to the storage sites having the proper moisture and temperature requirements, consider how you will reach those supplies in the event of an emergency.  Perfectly stored supplies are useless if you cannot access them!

Commit to making at least one meal a week only using supplies found in your storage.  Commit to cooking one meal a month only using storage foods AND an alternative cooking source.  Develop the skills and acquire the tools needed to provide for your family in times of crisis.

Copyright 2009 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Andrea said...

In Sept.08, the remains of Hurricane Ike ripped through the Ohio valley. Though I was fairly prepared with food, I walked around in a daze for about 2-3 days, trying to figure out how to function without water or electric. (The thermos method would have been invaluable to us!) It became glaringly evident the areas of preparation we needed to work on. So, as you said, practice using your food storage and use alternate means of cooking!

Since Ike, I've practiced using campfires, Dutch ovens, etc. and an earth oven is one of the projects on our list for next year.

Chief Instructor said...

It is amazing to see how difficult it can be to cook food if you're missing one little thing or ingredient. If you're caught off-guard, it can be even worse.

I've never cooked with a Dutch oven. I really need to get one, and get up to speed with them. Supposed to be extremely versatile.