It's just a matter of time before the Gulf Coast is threatened by a hurricane again. This—not when store shelves are empty—is a good time to stock up on non-perishable supplies. Obviously, evacuate if you are advised to do so by city or county officials.
No one likes the danger and damage associated with hurricanes, but figuring out how to survive with the best menu possible of perishable and non-perishable food is kind of fun. It's not only a challenge, but a way to reconnect with the simpler foods many of us grabbed from the pantry as "latchkey kids."
When Hurricane Ike tore through Houston, some people had to live without electricity for two weeks or even longer. So, for the sake of your sanity, it’s important to buy food that is both shelf-stable and as tasty as possible.
In the days before the storm—and for as long as the fridge and freezer remain sufficiently cold—plow through all the refrigerated and freezer items before they go bad. You’ll be able to hold some perishable goods in ice chests until the ice melts. After that, unless there's a store that didn't lose power nearby, it’s use-it-or-lose-it.
Neighbors can get together and throw block parties and share their excess. One of the best hurricane parties I ever attended was a feast thrown by a caterer who had to get rid of her frozen inventory of vegetables, appetizers and meats. It sucked for her from a business standpoint (maybe she was able write it off as “advertising”?) but it was awesome for the rest of us and made the best of a bad situation.
(By the way, never attend a hurricane party that’s not close to your house until after the storm has passed and roads have been cleared. You might find yourself unable to return and that’s going to be an especially bad situation if you have pets.)
Here are a few guidelines:
- Never waste money on “hurricane food” that you would be appalled to eat on a normal day.
- Many foods with a long shelf like also high sodium content, so use those in moderation. They’ll make you thirsty and go through your water supply faster.
- Related to the above: have a big, potable water supply. We have two, 10-gallon water jugs like what is used for construction sites and sports teams.
- Be sure to invest in some sort of outdoor cooking method, whether it be a charcoal grill or a camp stove, and ways to light it to ensure maximum culinary capabilities. If you have a generator—well, lucky you.
Once the power returns, it may take time to consistently find refrigerated staples like milk. Everyone else will be out too, so scant supplies get snapped up at grocery stores quickly. Think outside the box and check drug stores, convenience stores and even dollar stores with a refrigerator section.
Finally, a disclaimer: This is in no way a food safety guide and you are entirely responsible for consulting FDA guidelines before you decide what to eat and what not to eat.
Here are 10 foods that will not only keep unrefrigerated for days or weeks but are downright delicious.
Bonus Pick: Condiments
Condiments will make hurricane dining much more enjoyable, so don’t forget about them. Mayo is absolutely critical for canned tuna salad in my book. The little packets keep for months. (Actually, this article claims that even opened jars of mayonnaise will keep for a while, but that idea makes me all squinchy inside.) I’m not saying to go out and raid your closest fast food joint because that’s not very nice. If your house is like mine, though, there’s probably a kitchen drawer where you’ve been stowing these anyway. Sorry, if you can't tell if you've had them longer than a year, ditch them and start over. Your local warehouse club store carries boxes full of them, but that's a heck of a lot for just one household. Soy sauce, fish sauce, hot sauce and opened jars of pickles will keep for a long time thanks to the high acid content. Full-size bottles of mustard and ketchup with also keep for about a month, according to this web site.
Believe it or not, fresh eggs will stay good unrefrigerated for seven to 10 days. Think about it: chickens don’t lay the things neatly into an egg carton that sits in a refrigerator. The fresher, the better, so get eggs from a local farm if you can. When in doubt, use the float test to check freshness. Fill a cup with water. If the egg lays at the bottom of the cup horizontally, it’s fine to eat. If it floats, get rid of it. (Personally, I even get rid of eggs that stand up on end, even though this article says they’re still okay to eat. Nothing is worth a case of food poisoning.)
Fried spam and eggs. There’s really nothing more than needs to said, is there?
8. Tuna And Other Canned Fish
Regular canned tuna is actually pretty good, truth be told. If you failed to get shelf-stable mayonnaise, lemon, salt, pepper and rinsed capers are lovely, light additions. Also, the pre-seasoned packets of tuna are all the rage right now. I haven't tried them, but I’ve heard good things about StarKist Tuna Creations.
Don’t overlook other canned fish, like smoked sardines and salmon. For ideas, check out the entries from this contest that challenged people to submit their best recipes using canned fish.
Okay, not a food, but I regard these items as important, life-sustaining elixirs. Coffee lovers, make sure to get a freshly-ground bag before an impending hurricane. There will be enough hardships to deal with and good coffee is easy to make with no power. Just have a power-free method of making coffee on-hand, whether it be a French press, Chemex or V60. For the latter two methods, don’t forget to buy paper filters!
If you’re really hardcore (like me), buy whole beans and use a heavy mortar and pestle to grind them. It takes some elbow grease to get them ground evenly by hand, but it’s the freshest coffee possible during a storm and there’s something really satisfying about being that self-sufficient. If you'd like to be a little less of a caveman about it, invest in a hand grinder.
Tea lovers will be glad for a fresh batch of loose tea on-hand—a calming luxury amid chaos. Check out the amazing selection The Path of Tea at 2340 West Alabama. Central Market has a good variety as well.
6. Pasta and Rice
Good old Blue Box macaroni and cheese. That cheese powder is shelf-stable and the stuff never tastes as good as when eaten by candlelight. Use evaporated milk to substitute for fresh. (I've never found a brand that tastes better than Kraft.)
Butter will also keep unrefrigerated for days—longer if you keep it in a French-style crock or an opaque, covered butter dish. If that idea makes you squeamish, use a shelf-stable butter substitute or just a dash of olive oil for the expected richness. Alternately, grab a block of Velveeta or a jar of Cheez Whiz. Hopefully the power will be back on before you’ve hit sodium overload.
(A little secret: preserved cheese food is not the only option. Hard cheese that is whole—that is, still fully encased in wax or rind—will keep for a long time when kept in a dark, dry, somewhat cool spot, like the back of a closed cabinet. After it’s been cut into though, the clock is ticking. Read this article from a cheese writer and backpacker who had some experience with keeping cheese under less-than-ideal conditions.)
Don’t forget rice and noodles. Rice can be used for a plethora of savory dishes and you can also make a really decent rice pudding with dried fruit and evaporated milk. You'll want the noodles for the savory dish recommendation in the next item.
5. Peanut Butter and Jelly
Peanut butter and jelly, considered individually, are some of the most flexible foods around. There’s just so much you can do with them. Obviously, while there’s still fresh bread around, you can make sandwiches, but be sure to have crackers on hand for when that runs out.
Make Thai Peanut Noodles with this recipe (just skip the cilantro if you don’t have any, and powdered ginger will work in a pinch if you lack fresh). Mix jelly with hot water for quick and easy syrups, glazes and sauces. Create on-the-fly snacks with roasted nuts, granola, chopped dried fruit and just enough peanut butter to bind them.
4. Jerky, Dried Beef and Dried Sausage
Jerky and dried sausages are some of the most tasty foods ever invented that don’t need refrigeration. As mentioned in the introduction, take it easy on these. They’re all high in sodium and eating too much is just not good for you. It’s a snack, not a lifestyle.
As mentioned earlier, hurricane dining can be a way to reconnect with easy childhood snacks, and there’s just something comforting about pudding. The only disappointment is that it no longer comes in pull-top cans. Now it’s in safe plastic containers, which just doesn’t seem nearly as much fun as a Hunt’s Snack Pack, accidental cut risk aside.
For more dessert adventure during your time as a savvy survivalist, check out the international foods section of your grocery store for canned British rice pudding, treacle and tapioca.
2. Fruits and Vegetables
As much fun as it sounds to live on nothing but protein, salt, carbohydrates and sugar, that’s not good for anyone. Keep in balance by stocking up on hardy fresh fruits and vegetables that can survive room temperature for a while. Skip delicate items like lettuce and high-water-content, thin-skinned items like grapes. These just won't keep long enough. Buy smart, and you can still have fresh produce for a week or two. After that— well, even though many canned vegetables are nasty, stock up in case a power outage lasts longer than a week. You'll be glad you did.
Bananas will keep for about a week — longer if you buy some that still have some green and use the brown-paper-bag ripening trick when you’re ready to eat them. The same goes for carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
Citrus fruits, like oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit, keep for a few weeks, as do melons, apples and hard-skinned gourds, like butternut and spaghetti squash.
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Hardier greens, like spinach and collards, as well as fresh herbs, will keep for a couple of days when stood upright in a glass of water. That also goes for asparagus.
The Boat Galley is an excellent resource for managing perishable and nonperishable food and says that fresh vegetables will last longer if they’ve never been refrigerated. That means it’s best if you can visit your local farmers’ market before the storm. Check out the Boat Galley's web site for a comprehensive guide on the shelf life of fresh vegetables. Here's a list of area farmers' markets, but do verify the days, hours and whether they're even still running in that location before you go.
1. Prepared Indian Food Packets
When we discovered these during a prior storm season, we thought we’d won the hurricane lottery. They’re not as good as freshly-made from an Indian restaurant, but they’re still some of the most flavorful, shelf-stable food available. Get several different kinds, make a pot of rice, have a makeshift buffet and dream of when you’ll get to dine out again.