Surviving power outages, eating well

05/27/2009 3:01 AM

05/28/2009 1:37 PM

This hurricane season will be my 30th in South Florida. Though blessedly spared outright devastation, we have, of course, been touched.

Besides the roof and fence damage Andrew brought our way in 1992, it was the power outages -- stretching 10 days in '92 and a week or more in the Katrina-Rita-Wilma trifecta year of 2005 -- that have made the biggest impression. Those experiences, along with numerous two- and three-day blackouts, have shaped my approach to hurricane preparation.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers concise advice on laying in provisions for any emergency; you'll find it summarized in the box accompanying this story. My advice, borne of my own mistakes and countless calls for help from Miami Herald readers over the years, can best be summarized in a list of Don'ts.

  Don't buy foods you wouldn't ordinarily eat.

Cans of salty stew, greasy hash and unappetizing Vienna sausages lingered in our pantry for years after my husband did the storm stocking-up one season. In the end, I guiltily donated them to a food drive. The lesson: If you wouldn't feel good about serving it in fair weather, forget it.

Focus instead on multipurpose canned and packaged goods that you can easily use when hurricane season ends:

 Beans (the unseasoned kind).

 Tuna, salmon and chicken (those packets of chicken breast are especially good).

 Salsa (mix it with beans and rice and call it a meal).

 Vegetables like corn, carrots and peas that hold up well to canning.

Thirty years ago, grain products were a storm-pantry challenge, but these days we have pouches of already-cooked rice. (Uncle Ben's Ready Rice is one brand. The seasoned ones are overly salty, so stick with plain.) If you have a gas stove or grill on which to boil water, couscous is another great choice.

  Don't overstock your refrigerator and freezer during hurricane season.

One weekend years ago, I arrived home from the supermarket, grocery bags bulging with meat and other pricey perishables, to an incredulous reception. ''Don't you know there's a storm out in the Gulf?'' my husband asked. By the next weekend, my inattention had cost us hundreds of dollars in wasted food.

Ever since, I've tried to maintain a lean inventory of perishables during hurricane season, and I advise you to do the same. It's a good time of year to cook your way through the contents of your freezer. Most frozen items begin losing quality after several months anyway, so it's a smart strategy even if the power doesn't go out.

 Don't forget that many ordinarily refrigerated foods will keep at room temperature.

Judging from the phone calls I've fielded over the years, a lot of people don't realize that many foods they're in the habit of storing in the refrigerator will be safe at room temperature should the power go out. Here's a short list:

 Hard cheeses: cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano, processed cheeses, dried grated cheese (the kind in the green box; discard other grated cheeses).

 Dairy: Butter, margarine.

 Produce: whole fresh fruits and vegetables (e.g., apples, oranges, carrots potatoes), dried fruits.

 Condiments and spreads: jam, jelly, relish, taco sauce, salsa mustard, ketchup, pickles.

 Baked goods: bread, rolls, cookies, cakes, tortillas.

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