Once you have a good start on putting your emergency food stores together, you might think that you are all set for whatever crises come your way. But you’re actually just beginning. One of the most important aspects of emergency preparedness is ensuring that you will be able to prepare and use the food and water you’ve set aside. Your kitchen needs to be ready for life after a natural disaster or power outage, too.
Child safety latches on kitchen cupboard doors are not just for keeping toddlers out – they are just as valuable for keeping stored goods and dishes in during an earthquake. There really isn’t much worse than finding jars of pickles and peaches smashed on the floor along with your grandmother’s prized china, as I found out the hard way some years ago. This simple step can help to ensure that at least some of your more fragile food stores will survive, and with luck your tableware will, too.
During an emergency, when safe water supplies may not be readily available for washing and cleaning, you will probably find paper plates, plastic utensils, or the equivalent environmentally-friendly alternatives made of such things as bamboo or cornstarch to be invaluable. Disposables can help you avoid much worry and stress when you already have plenty of both. Don’t forget to stock paper cups, too. When disaster strikes, sanitation becomes especially important as a means of preventing food-borne illnesses and disease caused by Norovirus, a hardy virus easily able to withstand inadequate dishwashing technique.
The properly outfitted prepper’s kitchen should include, in addition to stored water, a reliable means of treating contaminated water to make it potable and safe. The best way to do so is by using a water filter like the Katadyn Hiker Pro (if you are looking for a portable unit), Berkey Light (tabletop), or the ProPur (also tabletop). As a double back-up, it’s a good idea to keep a small bottle of plain chlorine bleach (unscented sodium hypochlorite) on hand for disinfection of water in case your filter system has a problem or proves inadequate for your needs. Treatment of water consists of adding 8 drops of bleach per gallon of water and allowing it to stand for at least 30 minutes before using. Never assume that you will have potable tap water or the means to boil easily boil gallons of water every day in the event of a serious emergency.
Unless you are one of the few Americans with a propane refrigerator (yes, they do exist!), one of your big concerns in the event of a power failure will be refrigeration. A common solution for the short term, and if you have advance notice, is a chest cooler with water ice or dry ice. This obviously isn’t going to be an option if your power stays out for more than a week or so, though. Unless you are willing to risk dangerous food poisoning by leaving cooked foods at room temperature more than a few hours, the best option is to only prepare what you can eat within 12 to 24 hours. Any food left unrefrigerated must be reheated to a boil before eating to kill any disease-causing bacteria, and this alone is no guarantee of safety.
Of course, all this talk about boiling water and cooking or heating food is all for naught if you don’t have a functioning stove of some sort. In the event of a disruption in power and/or natural gas or propane supplies, most homes will not have a way to cook. Wood cook stoves have long since gone the way of the buggy whip unless you are Amish or an extremely dedicated self-sufficiency practitioner. So your emergency preparations will need to include a cooking stove of some sort and the appropriate fuel, too. If you just want a highly portable means of heating small amounts of water, a little Cube Stove might be the perfect choice. If you need something with a little greater capability but that is still portable, a propane backpacking stove is just the ticket – but don’t forget to keep the small gas canisters on hand. A full size camping stove with two burners is probably the minimum you’ll want for family use, and some of these have multiple fuel capabilities for maximum flexibility. And the standard patio gas grill with side burner makes a surprisingly passable emergency stove, as many residents of California and Florida discover every year when the inevitable earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes put in their appearances. Just remember to give your stove a dry run well in advance of any emergency to work the kinks out of the process.
Don’t forget to read up on how to cook whatever you have in your food storage. Have the information and recipes available in printed form rather than simply assuming that your internet connection or even your computer will be operational in a disaster. This website has some excellent books that will help you to utilize your stored foods effectively. The internet is full of websites that discuss emergency food preparation and cooking – use those resources now, while you still can.
Speaking from personal experience, I’d like to offer one last piece of advice: Cooking from scratch is great – until an emergency strikes – then you need the convenience of easy-to-prepare products. When your personal life is in turmoil, the infrastructure that makes your life simple and easy today comes crashing down due to nature or human activity, and the necessities you take for granted are no longer available, you will not have the mental energy to prepare recipes. If there is ever a time for using “convenience” foods, it is during an emergency. Store foods that require a minimum of preparation, and leave the do-it-yourself purism for another day.