Hurricane Preparedness with Food Allergies

This post is NOT intended to be a complete set of guidelines for hurricane preparedness. Instead I would like to share some tips for those who need to make additional plans due to food allergies.
Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida. Today is the first day of hurricane season, and I wish I could say that I was already prepared, especially since the first named storm of the season rudely showed up a day early. Instead I'll be doing some extra shopping on my usual grocery run.
There are some excellent guides to hurricane prep, including the one on the website for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (If you look around online, you can also find more colorful suggestions for putting the patio furniture in the pool and the computer in the dishwasher.) So often, though, we Floridians just check off items on the list, without thinking through the conditions during and after a hurricane that would cause us to need extra tuna and batteries.
As far as natural disasters go, one of the few advantages of hurricanes is that they usually give you a few days warning. Storm forecasts have become fairly accurate, so if the authorities in your area tell you to evacuate, please, pack your epi-pens and gluten free crackers and go. If you have pets, make plans to take them, too. Do not ever leave them behind!
Personally, if I am not told to evacuate, I would rather stay home with my well-stocked pantry, than sit for hours on the interstate with a cranky child while burning gas and then needlessly inconvenience my relatives. That means I need to be ready for these possible conditions during and after the storm:
  • no electricity
  • phone lines down
  • emergency medical services unavailable
  • roads and stores closed (no groceries)
  • unsafe water supply
Anyone who takes medication needs to have several weeks worth on hand. Be sure to also have a good supply of Benadryl, or whatever your doctor recommends. If your child has anaphylactic reactions to food allergens, then it's time to count your epi-pens and check the expiration dates. Since they are intended as a lifesaving measure until emergency medical help can be reached, you may wish to speak to your doctor about prescribing additional ones for times when EMS is unavailable.  I also keep my expired Epi's that don't have discolored fluid as a back up, but please speak with your child's doctor about the advisability of using expired meds before doing so!  Many of our kids with food allergies also have asthma, so it might be a good time to also have a chat about obtaining a battery operated nebulizer for when the electricity is down.
I remember with nostalgia the times when FEMA told us to be prepared with three days worth of supplies, and they would show up by day four with the Red Cross in tow.Now the guidelines recommend having two weeks worth of supplies, which is a bare minimum when a member of the family has food allergies, since the wonderful folks at the Red Cross are most likely going to show up with peanut butter and powdered milk in hand.
Instead of having a dedicated supply of post hurricane nosh that gets discarded and replaced as it ages, I keep emergency supplies integrated into my regular pantry. We generally use fresh soy milk, but I keep some nonperishable cartons in my cupboard. My son isn't a huge fan of their taste, so I use them up in cooking and baking as their expiration approaches. Other items that I keep a large supply of are bottled juice, rice cakes, crackers, Sunbutter, dry cereal, tuna and canned fruit and legumes.  We also keep a small supply of Sterno for heating canned foods.
Other important kitchen supplies are a large stockpile of paper plates, bowls, and cups, plastic silverware, paper towels and napkins, and lots and lots of plastic garbage bags. It may sound like an ecological disaster in the making, but if you are unable to wash dishes, they are a necessity. I also strongly suggest buying serious quantities of baby wipes, even if you don't have a baby. (After a couple days without a shower, you'll thank me.) Instead of keeping large supplies of bottled water, we have a couple of collapsible camping containers for storing water that we fill when a storm approaches.

Once we learn a storm is headed in our general direction, I start to take some precautions, such as making extra ice since the stores will quickly run out, and making sure all the laundry and every dish in the house stays clean. I also try to use the perishables on hand and use up some of the food in the freezer. I'll cook any raw meat in the fridge, and hardboil some eggs for those of us who aren't allergic to them. Plus, I will cook up some starches such as pasta or rice, so that they just need to be reheated later. If there's really some extra time, I'll even bake some muffins or quick bread. At the store, in addition to stocking up on whatever nonperishables may be low, I make sure I have plenty of bread and "bowl on the counter" fruit, such as apples, oranges, and bananas.
When a storm becomes imminent, we fill up our water storage containers plus the bathtub and move the patio furniture inside. (It spent most of 2004 in the guest bedroom.) Rather than panicking, this is the time for some careful household management. Your refrigerator is a very, very well insulated box. If you don't open it, the food inside will be fine for quite a few hours if you lose electricity. I turn the temperature in the fridge as low as it can go, then remove whatever I think I'll need for the next several meals, such as sandwich ingredients, and place those items in a cooler with ice. Then I leave the refrigerator shut. When I had breastmilk in my freezer, which I absolutely didn't want to spoil, I would purchase dry ice for that compartment before the storm.
I don't know why, but hurricanes always seem to come through my area at night. I'm usually so exhausted from preparing, that I sleep through them, while my husband sits up and watches the weather reporters flap in the wind on TV or listens to the radio. If it happens during the day, make sure you have plenty of toys and games that are not dependent on electricity for the kids. It's not a bad idea to have some new ones they haven't played with before squirreled away.
After the storm, if you do lose electricity for more than a few hours, it's time to throw a barbeque. Even if you don't usually grill, having a little hibachi and charcoal will mean the difference between eating and throwing out the food in your freezer. [Update: remember that grilling indoors can be deadly due to the carbon monoxide fumes. Only use grills outside!] To prevent cross-contamination, you can place aluminum foil on the grill surface. Use your head and consume anything that might perish before it actually perishes. Only after you have eaten all the fresh food, should you start in on the actual hurricane supplies. I've never had to manage more than a few hours without electricity, but nearby areas went close to a week without it in 2004.
There's a certain superstitious element to my hurricane prep, since I'm sure that if I don't get ready, the big one will almost certainly land on my head. With luck, none of these strategies will actually be necessary, but planning for the worst is always the job of parents with allergic kids.

Hurricane photo courtesy NASA.

Updated August 2012.


Anonymous said...

This is a great article! D and me are here in Tampa Bay too, so we're right there with you getting ready for the season. Loving your CH entry!

Libby said...

Thanks! I'm still not completely ready, but I have mommy guilt to motivate me to finish this weekend. Bleah.

Elizabeth Powell said...

Hi. Such great advice. I shared your article on the Granville County Food Allergy Support Group's FB page. Hope all turns out well. My 6 year old multiple food allergy kid wants to visit Winter in Clearwater; so waiting to see where Isaac lands and praying for the safety of everyone in it's path.