The past few years have produced some unusual weather. Whether you live in an area that has been hit with storm-related power outages or you just want to stock up for the times you're unable to shop, creating an emergency pantry using canned goods as staples is a wise choice.
First, start with a good quality product. Choose can goods that aren't rusted, dented, scratched or bulging. Home-canned foods should only be made using research-tested procedures, equipment and recipes from sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.
Here are some tips for creating, stocking and using an emergency pantry:
Canned goods and water
• Choose foods your family enjoys. Good options include canned beans, vegetables, fruit, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, pouches of fully cooked whole grains, nuts, whole-wheat crackers and shelf-stable milk or plant milk (the kind sold in aseptic boxes in the grocery aisle).
• When buying canned foods, choose low-sodium or no-salt-added products, and choose fruits packed in water or their own juice instead of syrup.
• Store canned goods in a cool, dark, dry area away from furnaces, pipes and other places where temperature changes occur. Keep metal cans off the floor, because moisture may lead to rust.
• Always use the FIFO (first-in, first-out) method when using foods from storage so that you use your oldest cans first. If you see that a can or jar has a broken seal or is rusting, bulging or denting, it should be discarded. If any food does not look or smell right, throw it out.
• Keep at least 6 gallons of water per family member to be prepared for one week. Store water in airtight, food-grade storage containers. Replace water every six months.
Refrigerated and frozen foods
If electrical power is off, eat foods from the refrigerator first. These foods are not safe to eat if they've been at room temperature for more than two hours. Foods in the freezer will stay cold depending on the size of the freezer and the amount and kind of food in it. A large freezer full of meat will stay the coldest, longest. Keeping frozen jugs of water in the freezer will help maintain the cold temperature.
Alternative cooking methods
Many foods can be skewered, grilled or wrapped in foil and cooked. Disposable covered catering pans with Sterno holders, wood-burning fireplaces, candle warmers or fondue pots may be used to heat foods. Outdoor grills, camp stoves or charcoal burners should only be used outside — the fumes can be deadly.
Here are a few recipes using ingredients that should be in every emergency pantry — grains and beans! They are nutrient dense, packed with protein, versatile and are very filling. These No-Cook Emergency Pantry Recipes (courtesy of Trisha Calvo, a writer for Consumer Reports) are simple and easy to prepare no matter what the weather may be.
No-cook emergency pantry recipes
Overnight Oats: Mix rolled oats with water and let sit overnight on a counter. In the morning, add peanut butter, raisins or other dried fruit, and a little cinnamon.
Chunky Gazpacho: To a can of diced tomatoes with juice, add chopped onion, chopped cucumber, a little Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper, and a dash of salt and pepper. You also can add chopped red or green peppers if you have them. Drizzle with olive oil and top with fresh parsley or cilantro if you have it. To make this a heartier dish, add a can of chickpeas (drained).
Corn Salad: Combine drained canned corn with vegetables you have on hand (tomatoes, peppers and onions, for example), chopped. Add drained canned black beans if you like. Toss with a dressing made of one part apple-cider vinegar and one part olive oil, with fresh or dried basil and a little salt and pepper.
Power Bean-and-Grain Salad: Combine drained canned beans with a pouch of precooked grains, olive oil and any herbs and spices you like. You also can add chopped veggies and nuts, if available.
Salmon or Tuna Stuffed Avocados: Combine chunks of canned salmon, tuna or smoked trout with chopped tomato and cucumber. Toss with a dressing of lemon juice or white vinegar, olive oil, paprika, and salt and pepper. Stuff into avocado halves; use to top lettuce greens or as a sandwich filling.