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Preparing for Weather Emergencies

By Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES November 4, 2015Pearls of Wisdom Blog

During hurricane and tropical storm season, some families’ homes are destroyed by floods and wind. Hurricane season runs until November 30 for both coasts. Then, winter comes. Ice storms can lead to the loss of power and other utilities for days. Are you ready for a natural weather disaster? What would you do if you were without power and electricity for 3-4 days? How could you prepare and store meals and drinks without a stove and refrigerator? Even in the face of a weather emergency, you will still need to meet your nutritional needs. If you are a cancer survivor currently in treatment, you will still need to be able to manage side effects. It’s best to be prepared. Get your disaster plan ready now!

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provide great tips to be ready for a natural disaster. For this blog, I adapted these recommendations for cancer survivors who want to be prepared with an emergency food plan in case of a natural disaster. Follow these strategies to be prepared for any bad weather that may come your way:

Make an emergency food pantry.

Include foods with a long shelf-life such as canned and powdered foods. Aim for at least a 3-day supply of food and drinks to have ready. Choose items that require no cooking, water, or refrigeration just in case you are without power and utilities. Avoid foods that make you thirsty like salty or spicy ones. For example, choose salt-free crackers, whole-grain cereals, canned foods with lots of liquid content, low-sodium soups and broths, meat or fish packed in water, etc. Of course, choose foods that you like, and try to have a variety of foods.

Examples adapted from

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables with a manual can opener
  • Protein or fruit bars
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Crackers
  • Canned juices
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • Dry milk power
  • High energy foods
  • Vitamins and dietary supplements if prescribed by your healthcare team
  • Comfort/stress foods

Check expiration dates.

Date all food and use it before the expiration date. Replace any discarded items as soon as possible.

Remember your special dietary needs during your cancer journey.

To meet your nutritional needs, stock liquid nutritional beverages in cans or plastic bottles that don’t require refrigeration, bottled water to take oral medicines, powdered beverages, and protein products that can be added to liquids, vegetable or fruit juices, and powdered or canned milks. These specialty items can supplement the food in your pantry.

Store medications correctly.

Cold packs, ice coolers, and insulated lunch bags can all be used to store medicines that need to be kept colder than room temperature. In the winter, place ice or snow in coolers or lunch bags to maintain medicine temperatures until you can reach a shelter or medical facility. Place a refrigerator thermometer in the cooler to monitor the temperature. Know where you can purchase dry ice in a disaster. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice will deep a 10-cubic foot freezer below freezing for 3-4 days in an emergency. Use gloves to handle dry ice, and don’t let food or medications come in direct contact with the dry ice.

Remember your pets.

Plan for your pets, too! Keep extra pet food and bottled water on hand for your furry friends. If your pet needs medication, keep extras of those on hand as well.

Keep food preparation tools in your emergency pantry, too.

Keep the following on hand: cooking utensils, manual can opener, aluminum foil, plastic eating utensils, paper towels, disposable plates, and cups. You may also wish to purchase a temporary cooking resource like a camp stove or a grill with fuels.


Have a written list of emergency contacts, family members, medical facility, police department, fire department, and your local emergency agency. If you are a cancer survivor, keep a copy of your medical history close by as well as a list of any medications. Use a mobile power device to charge your phone or digital tablet in case you lose power. Have flashlights with fresh batteries. Put all these items in a plastic bag or safe box that is water proof.

Keep clean.

Food safety and personal hygiene are important. Store plenty of hand sanitizing gel. Keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected. For cleaning, you can use low-odor or unscented liquid household chlorine bleach for general cleaning and sanitizing. 1 teaspoon of chlorine beach in 1 quart of water creates a simple cleaner in emergencies. Sanitize any container before using it for food or clean water.

Practice good food safety, even in an emergency.

Follow these food safety strategies, especially if you are a cancer survivor with a weakened immune system:

  • Keep food in covered containers.
  • Keep cooking and eating utensils clean.
  • Keep garbage in closed containers and dispose outside, burying garbage if necessary.
  • Discard any food that has come into contact with contaminated floodwater.
  • Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more.
  • Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.

Get to safety quickly.

If possible, go to an emergency shelter or community center as quickly as you can. If you have recently had surgery or cancer treatments, try to go to a medical center in case you need additional care.

Seek medical care during a disaster as quickly as possible.

If you are a cancer survivor in treatment or recently finished treatment, your immunity maybe be compromised, and simple illness can become urgent. Get refills on any medications that may have been compromised during a power outage.

Stay safe after the storm.

Once your kitchen power is restored, follow local instructions about the safety of the water in your community. Is it safe to drink, or do you need to boil water?

Check the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer. If the freezer thermometer reads 40 F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If there is no thermometer in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or smell. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.

Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40 F for two hours or more.

Plan ahead for a disaster! Use this information as a check-list. Assembling an emergency food pantry and supply box is easy. Do it today and it may save your life and the lives of your loved ones if you are ever caught in a natural disaster!

Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

Author Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

Nutrition Educator Margaret Martin is a Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist in the State of Tennessee as well as a Certified Diabetes Educator. Margaret graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics and received her Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science & Public Health from the University of Tennessee. With more than 10 years of experience in Clinical Nutrition, Margaret has also worked in the insurance industry with WellPoint Inc. and Blue Cross Blue Shield providing telephonic nutrition consultations, service assistance, and web-based nutrition education. In her free time Margaret volunteers with the American Lung Association’s annual “Lung Force Walk" in Middle Tennessee. She belongs to the Oncology Nutrition & Diabetes Care and Education Dietetic Practice Groups of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

More posts by Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

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