Jan Norris: Food and Florida

Food, Restaurants, Recipes and Pre-Disney Florida

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Hurricanes and Food

September 5th, 2008 · 3 Comments

If you go to the About page, you’ll see a photo of me in my former office at The Post. You’ll note a tiny TV behind my desk — tuned not to the Food Network, but to the Weather Channel.

I took some razzing from readers who thought it odd I’d watch weather over food. They were obviously new  here. Everyone on a coast with any sense watches the weather and takes it seriously this time of year, especially in South Florida. And we’re not tuned in just three times a day, but probably at :50 past every hour if there’s a hurricane brewing.

The TV newspeople always manage to find some crusty type who says they’ve never left during a storm and aren’t starting with this one. Or some twits at a beach bar who plan on making it through another hurricane party.

“It’s just a little wind.” Tell that to Homestead residents who saw their entire town blown away in Andrew. Wind, in fact, is the problem, and even a Cat 1 storm can turn something as innocuous as a plastic kiddie

Hurricane Andrew devastation in Homestead

Hurricane Andrew devastation in Homestead

pool into a lethal projectile. My former co-worker (and cycling partner) Ken Steinhoff has a good post about wind on his blog, PalmBeachBikeTours.com.

The thing is, though, despite the advances in predicting where a storm will go, it’s still a prediction — an educated guess.

It’s simply smart to be prepared. People grumble about firefighters who are paid for 24-hour shifts when they might actually sleep eight of those hours. If they sleep 23 hours, and you need them in hour 24 — or if you’re lucky enough to never need them —  it’s darn comforting to know they’re there for you.

Moral of the story: Get ready for a storm if that “cone of probability” even looks vaguely close to South Florida. If it tracks elsewhere, great. You’ve got an emergency stock for the season — it can be a long season, too, when they run out of alphabet to name the storms.

Every year, as Food Editor at The Palm Beach Post, I wrote columns about what you need to get ready The newspaper compiled the information on their comprehensive storm prep site — Storm 2008 . It has lists of foods to buy and those to avoid (stay away from sweets and salty snack foods that will cause extreme thirst — when water is a premium).

Grocery stores are now mandated to have generators. But that doesn’t mean delivery trucks are going to be able to get to them quickly – so stock up now. People don’t die from starvation or even thirst after a storm, but it’s still unpleasant to be without our comfort foods when it’s stressful out there.

Here’s the short, essentials version:

  • Have prescription medicines filled, a week’s worth of baby formula, pet food and water (two weeks of water is best — you dehydrate quickly in the heat.) Note: Take care to keep water clean once you open it — bacteria will grow rapidly in warm water.
  • Ensure, or other “meals in a can” are a good backup for seeing that the elderly, and those on daily medications, especially, have needed nutrients.
  • Clean and fill the bathtub with water to flush the toilet and for clean-ups. 
  • Have battery-operated lamps to cook by. Oil lamps and candles are risky. If you have a generator, make certain you know how to use it. (Don’t run it in a closed garage.)
  • Never use a charcoal stove inside for cooking, or in a closed garage where fumes can come back into the house.
  • Don’t try to save raw or cooked meat, fish or poultry (that includes cured meat) that has reached a temperature higher than 40 degrees (your refrigerator’s temperature) for 1 hour — it will make you sick. Having food poisoning is your worst nightmare when it’s hot out and you can’t flush toilets. In extreme cases, dehydration from food poisoning can be fatal.
  •  If you have to question whether a food is edible or safe, throw it away. Maybe you’re wasting a few bucks but it’s much cheaper than a hospital bill. (See the list on Storm 2008 of what is safe to keep, and what must be tossed.)
  • Be a good neighbor: Check on the elderly folks around you. They may need help removing shutters and getting air or extra water.

Above all, stay informed and keep your cool. We may have been knocked down a few times, but Florida’s still here.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ben // Sep 7, 2008 at 8:39 am

    A quick tip to keep the fridge cool… take your largest mixing bowls, fill with water and freeze. These ice bowls/blocks will keep the fridge cold for quite some time. Once the ice has melted, the water can be used for drinking, brushing teeth, etc.

    Very important, do not forget the storm essentials: cheese in a can, Ritz crackers, onion dip, chips, salsa, etc. During a storm calories are not counted!

  • 2 Matt // Sep 7, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Also, don’t forget the liquor… You may be stuck inside your house for days with just your family and animals. No electricity and certainly no air conditioning. You’re going to need a drink, possibly several. Make sure to choose a beverage that can be sipped room temperature.

    —Matt

  • 3 Lurch // Sep 8, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Ben’s idea on ice is a good one.

    I’m lucky enough to have an ice maker that makes more than I need. So during storm season, I save the excess in plastic containers or bags and keep the freezer stuffed with it. Whatever space isn’t taken by food has ice.

    This will both keep your frozen food cool, but help keep the fridge cool too.

    Also, when I know a storm’s coming, I turn the house airconditioning down to sub-zero. Pre-chilling the house can keep it comfortable for at least a couple of days after the power goes out.

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