Food And Water For Thought by Gary Benton
One aspect of an emergency a lot of folks rarely consider is the storage of food and water, or even how long they can be safely stored. If an emergency were to occur right this minute, how safe are the canned goods you have in the cupboard? Or, how long could you drink the bottled water you have in the basement? How safe is your food and water supply, or do you even have one? With today’s uncertain political world, it might be to all of our advantages to have at least a two-week supply of food and water on hand. For most of us, we could live for two weeks on what is in the freezer, cupboard, or the fridge, but in some homes it might result in a more limited food intake.
In the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, you may have to survive on what is available in your home when it occurs. If an emergency does happen and you still have electrical power, turn on the television to see what local authorities suggest you do, stay or evacuate the area. Additionally you should have a battery or alternate power radio available in case the power goes out, so you can listen to local radio stations to keep informed of suggestions and events. Knowing what to do and when to do it is very important in an emergency situation. If you are instructed to stay you might have to change your lifestyle a bit, but a lot will depend on if you have utilities and the extent the emergency limits your movements.
If you stay and have no utilities at all your first priority in most situations, in extremely cold weather you can stay warm under your blankets, but in hot weather you’ll need to increase your water intake and stay out of direct sunlight if you can, is water. Most folks would think of food as the number one concern, but without water people can die in as little as three days during moderate temperatures, faster in hot weather, and yet a healthy person can go as long as two weeks, some longer, without food. Water is your first concern, because it is a life sustaining consideration and remember, it can be stored prior to emergencies, you have emergency water sources, and most suspected unsafe water can be treated to make it safe to drink.
According to the American Red Cross, water can be stored safely in clean plastic containers, in glass, in fiberglass, or enamel lined metal containers. Make sure any container you use has never been used to store harmful chemicals or materials in it. I would suggest using empty two liter pop bottles for water storage; they even come with a cap to seal the container. You can also purchase commercial water storage containers, plastic drums, or buckets. I prefer those containers with tight lids to keep the water from being spilled and to keep it clean. If you use a sealed container, pop bottle, drum, or other container, label it on the outside with a permanent maker “Drinking Water” and add the date. Keep your water stored in a cool, dry and dark place, rotating it every six months, that is the reason for the date on the container.
In an emergency you can find water in ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams but keep in mind this water is not safe to drink until it has been purified. In your home you can use the water stored in your pipes as well as your hot water heater, just make sure the gas or electrical power is turned off before you drain the water heater. It is important for you to determine where your water comes from too, so you can determine in advance if your water might be safe or not in some emergencies. If your water at home comes from a private well it may still be safe to use, if you live in the country, In some emergencies, terrorist acts, floods, or tornados, public water sources might not be safe. Streams, ponds and rivers may not be safe then either and may even be the target of some terrorist acts. In most cases, unless I knew for sure my water source was clean I would shut my water off and use what remains in the pipes and hot water heater. Most hot water heaters are around the forty-gallon size and that’s enough for two people to survive for around twenty days at a moderate temperature, most survival experts suggest a gallon a day in mild temperatures, though you can survive on less if you do not eat.
If you are forced to use emergency drinking water from an unknown source at any time, streams, ponds or lakes, you will have to purify it before drinking. Try to get water from a fast moving source, river or stream, and avoid water that has a bad smell, has scum on it, or is obviously polluted in some way. There are four ways most folks purify water and though they all work to various degrees there are only two suggested by the Canadian Red Cross.
Water can be boiled for 3 to 5 minutes and then allowed to cool before drinking. This boiled water will have a very flat taste and this is because the process removes most of the air from the water as it boils. To improve the taste, take two containers and pour the water between them to mix air with the treated water.
Another highly suggested method is to add 16 drops of household bleach to a gallon of water, but do not use color safe bleach, scented bleach, or bleach with any additional cleaners in it. Once you have added the drops of bleach stir the water very well and then let it sit for thirty minutes. When you smell the treated water it should have a slight bleach smell and if it does not, repeat the process and let the water sit for an additional fifteen minutes.
There are two other methods that old timers might use and neither is recommended by the American or Canadian Red Cross. Those that camp or backpack a great deal may decide to use a drinking straw (filter) or water purification tablets and while both work to a degree, neither are one hundred percent safe to use. This, according to the Red Cross, is because the only safe way to treat water is by boiling or using bleach. Neither the drinking straw nor water purification tablets contain a 5.25 percent of sodium hypochlorite, which kills all the micro critters in our emergency drinking water. I suggest we be safe and use the bleach.
After the water problem has been taken care of we should give our food situation some serious thought. First, if you do not have sufficient water, a gallon a day, cut back on your food intake and if you have no water at all do not eat. This is because if you do eat and are dehydrated, your body will use what fluids it has stored to process waste, so water is very important. Second, with a limited water intake avoid salty foods, foods high in fats and proteins, and foods that require water to prepare. Remember that most of us can survive for up to two weeks without any food at all, if we are in good physical condition. However, even if you have plenty of water, there are still some things you must consider.
Your goal, if you can achieve it, is to find foods that are high in calories, because in a survival situation you’ll burn calories much faster than normal. You also want foods that require no refrigeration, little or no preparation, and no cooking. Keep in mind that almost all canned foods require no cooking or water to prepare, so after you eat all the perishables in the fridge and freezer, go for the canned foods.
If you are unsure about how long your various foodstuffs are good for, here are some basic guidelines for rotating common emergency foods from the Red Cross.
Use within six months:
Powdered milk, boxed.
Dried fruit, in metal container.
Dry, crisp crackers, in metal container.
Use within one year:
Canned condensed meat and vegetable soups
Canned fruits, fruit juices and vegetables
Ready-to-eat cereals and uncooked instant cereals, in metal containers.
Hard candy and canned nuts
May be stored indefinitely, in proper containers and conditions:
Instant coffee, tea and cocoa
Noncarbonated soft drinks
Powdered milk, in nitrogen-packed cans.
If you have doubts on the safety of a canned product, check to see if it has a “use by” or “best by” date printed or stamped on it. If there is no date, the product should be discarded after six months. I keep dry beans on hand, because they are an excellent source of protein, if you have the water to cook them and they can be stored indefinitely if sealed containers are used and they are kept in a cool and dry place.
Recommended foods by the Red Cross include:
Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables. Be sure to include a manual can opener
Canned juices, milk and soup if powdered, store extra water.
High-energy foods, such as peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars and trail mix.
Comfort foods, such as hard candy, sweetened cereals, candy bars and cookies.
Instant coffee, tea bags.
Foods for infants, elderly persons or persons on special diets, if necessary.
Compressed food bars. They store well, are lightweight, taste good and are nutritious.
Trail mix. It is available as a prepackaged product or you can assemble it on your own.
Dried foods. They can be nutritious and satisfying, but have some have a lot of salt content, which promotes thirst. Read the label.
Freeze-dried foods. They are tasty and lightweight, but will need water for reconstitution.
Instant Meals. Cups of noodles or cups of soup are a good addition, although they need water for reconstitution.
Snack-sized canned goods. Good because they generally have pull-top lids or twist-open keys.
Prepackaged beverages. Those in foil packets and foil-lined boxes are suitable because they are tightly sealed and will keep for a long time.
Food Options to Avoid:
Commercially dehydrated foods. They can require a great deal of water for reconstitution and extra effort in preparation.
Bottled foods. They are generally too heavy and bulky, and break easily.
Meal-sized canned foods. They are usually bulky and heavy.
Whole grains, beans, pasta. Preparation could be complicated under the circumstances of a disaster.
In a natural disaster or emergency situation most rescues will occur within a few days or things will simply get back to normal, unless the situation is widespread or there has been a heavy loss of life. Keep in mind that most of us have sufficient food in our cupboards, refrigerator or freezer to survive for a week or two, so concentrate your efforts on water procurement. Rotate your water supplies ever six months and remember the alternate places to find water, as well as the various treatment methods to insure it’s safe to drink. Also keep a close eye on how long you’ve have your food stuffs in storage and rotate your foods so you always use the oldest foods first.
Take care and I’ll see you on the trails of America!