Nonperishable foods to stock up on in advance of a snowstorm

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snowy road in woods
(Farm and Dairy/Susan Crowell file photo)

Q: “There’s a snowstorm predicted. What are some foods I should have on hand if I think I’ll be housebound for a few days?”

A: Generally speaking, bread and milk are typically the first items that many people stock up on when a winter weather emergency is forecast.

While there are several theories as to why many people hoard bread and milk in anticipation of winter storms, the meteorologists at AccuWeather.com attribute the trend to the record-breaking Blizzard of 1978, when New Englanders were trapped in their homes for several weeks and the items that were most purchased prior to the storm were, you guessed it, bread and milk.

However, if you really want to be prepared in the event of a snowstorm or other weather event that may keep you inside for a few days, you should make sure you have at least three days’ worth of food and water on hand, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The average person needs 1 gallon of water per day, depending on their age, physical activity, and health, the agency says.

You should also have enough nonperishable food for yourself, your family, and your pets, advise the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross.

On their food and beverage lists:

  • Milk (yes, milk!) in either shelf-stable or powdered form in case you lose power
  • Cans of soups, stews, vegetables, beans, and other items that can be eaten hot or cold
  • Dried meats like beef jerky and canned or vacuum-sealed pouches of tuna, chicken, potted meat, or sausages
  • Snack foods such as whole-grain crackers and cereal, granola bars, dried fruit, applesauce, fruit cups, trail mix, nuts, and peanut or other nut butters
  • Fresh fruit that have a longer shelf life, like apples, oranges, and pears
  • Protein or fruit bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Canned juices
  • Food for infants
  • For pets, you should have on hand dry or wet food in cans, sealed containers. or bags, in addition to enough water for each pet

If your power goes out, remember to keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperatures, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service advises. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours, or at least 24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed.

Always keep a thermometer in the refrigerator so you know the precise inside air temperature, says Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension educator and registered dietitian. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

“You can also keep several ice cubes in a zipper bag or small container in the freezer as a way to monitor the temperature,” she said. “If the ice cubes have melted, the temperature was above 32 degrees.”

Once the power is back on, check your food to make sure it is safe to eat, making sure to check each item separately. Generally speaking, perishable foods that have been at temperatures of 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more will need to be discarded to avoid the potential for foodborne illnesses. This is because food that isn’t maintained at proper temperatures can enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees at which bacteria grow most rapidly, according to the CDC.

According to FoodSafety.gov, here is the list of perishable foods you’d need to discard if they’ve been at 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more:

  • Meat, poultry, and seafood products
  • Soft cheeses and shredded cheeses
  • Milk, cream, yogurt, and other dairy products
  • Opened baby formula
  • Eggs and egg products
  • Dough and cooked pasta
  • Cooked or cut produce

FoodSafety.gov says the following perishable foods are generally OK to keep after they’ve been held at 40 degrees or higher for more than two hours:

  • Hard cheeses such as cheddar, colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, and Romano
  • Grated Parmesan, Romano, or a combination of both in a can or a jar
  • Butter and margarine
  • Opened fruit juices
  • Opened canned fruits
  • Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, and pickles
  • Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, and hoisin sauces
  • Peanut butter
  • Opened vinegar-based dressings
  • Breads, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, and tortillas
  • Breakfast foods such as waffles, pancakes, and bagels
  • Fruit pies
  • Fresh mushrooms, herbs, and spices
  • Uncut raw vegetables and fruits

Another safety rule of thumb is to throw away any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch, the USDA advises. You should also check any of your frozen foods for ice crystals. Any food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 degrees or below.

“Some foods that might have completely thawed, such as raw meat, you might not want to refreeze due to a decrease in quality,” Shumaker said. “These products could be cooked first and then frozen in their cooked form — such as ground beef crumbles or chicken pieces.”

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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