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MARGARET PROUSE: Lessons from Dorian

Canned food and fresh vegetables and fruit are a few of the things that will hold up for a while without being chilled.
Canned food and fresh vegetables and fruit are a few of the things that will hold up for a while without being chilled. - Contributed

It’s time to review and restock provisions for the next storm

NORTH WILTSHIRE, P.E.I. —

Meteorologists warned us early that Hurricane Dorian was coming last weekend. We knew that there was a good chance we would be without electricity and were advised to prepare for 72 hours without power. 

Were you ready? 

This week, right after Dorian pulled out of the Maritimes, is a good time to review how it went, and restock provisions for the next time we face a storm that isolates people in their homes without power.  If there was something you’d have done differently, now is a good time to make a note of it, before it’s forgotten. 

Environmentally, using bottled water when tap water is available is a bad idea but, for people who rely on electric pumps to draw their well water, bottled water can fill the gap during emergencies when there is no power. How much should you keep on hand? The department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness says there should be two litres per day for every person in the household. It’s a good idea to keep enough bottled water on hand at all times to supply your household if a power outage takes you by surprise. In cases like we had last week, when we have lots of warning, it may be possible to store enough tap water before the power goes out. 

There is something calming about having warm food and drinks. For heating water and food we use a small butane burner in a well-ventilated room. In winter, our wood stove is a good resource for heating food as well as keeping us warm. 

In order to maintain a safe refrigerator temperature for as long as possible try to keep the fridge closed while the power is off. Instead, rely on foods that don’t need refrigeration: bread, biscuits, and rolls, crackers, peanut butter, canned food, fresh whole vegetables and fruit that will hold up for awhile without being chilled. Remember they should be washed in potable water before eating. Then, there are nuts and seeds, dried fruit, packets of instant oatmeal, tetra packs of beverages and granola bars. 

What you choose to keep on hand depends on the needs of your particular household. To be ready for next time, I’ll be restocking a supply of canned food, granola bars, crackers and hand sanitizer to store with the bottled water. 

After a prolonged power outage there is always the question of what is safe to use, and what has to be discarded. Food is expensive and no one wants to throw it out unnecessarily. Here is some information to help you determine what to keep and what has to go.

A food thermometer is a valuable tool.  The general rule of thumb is that perishable foods should be held at “danger zone” temperatures (4-60 degrees C/40-140 degrees F) no longer than two hours. How do we apply that after a power outage? Keep a thermometer in the fridge and check the temperature as soon as the power resumes. If the temperature is in the danger zone you have no way of knowing how long it has been that warm, and you should discard the food. Although it can be tempting to smell or taste the food to see if it’s gone bad, that is neither reliable nor safe. Remember the old axiom, “when in doubt, throw it out.”

What about frozen food? If there are no ice crystals, it must not be refrozen. This applies to vegetables and fruit, as well as meat, fish, and poultry that has been frozen. If there are ice crystals throughout, the texture of the food may suffer, making it less palatable, but it can be refrozen. 

Meat that has defrosted but hasn’t yet warmed to 4 degrees C or 40 degrees F can be cooked thoroughly and eaten or frozen again. It must be handled carefully, cooked to a safe internal temperature – 82 degrees C (180 degrees F) for whole chickens, 71 degrees C (160 degrees F) for pork, medium done beef, ground beef and ground pork, and 70 degrees C (158 degrees F) for fish– and leftovers chilled quickly. 

Power failures can result in losses of expensive food, and that is regrettable. An even bigger loss would be to consume food that is no longer safe, and become sick with food poisoning.

Now is a good time to prepare for the next loss of power – we can be sure there will be one. 

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at islandgusto@gmail.com.

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