Winter storm warning: How to prep your pantry

As a much-ballyhooed blizzard approached the Northeastern U.S. this week, anxious consumers in New York, New England and the surrounding states rushed to pull together supplies that would ensure their survival in the instance of a historic snowfall. And while that makes perfect sense, what’s puzzling is the supplies they were hunting for. Bread and milk were among the most coveted pre-apocalyptic goods, according to several headlines.

“This mass accumulation of dairy and dough has become an American snowstorm tradition,” the Washington Post reported.

The trouble is, neither of those foodstuffs will last long in a truly epic storm. Lose power and the milk goes bad. Bread’s also short-lived, and not all that nutritious to start with. The rush for bread and milk may stem from a simple desire for comfort food amid an unsettling storm, but the experts say it’s better to avoid the bakery and dairy aisles when shopping for emergencies. The Red Cross offers this advice: “As you stock food, take into account your family’s unique needs and tastes. Familiar foods are important. They lift morale and give a feeling of security in times of stress. Try to include foods that they will enjoy and that are also high in calories and nutrition. Foods that require no refrigeration, water, special preparation, or cooking are best.”

In addition to bottled or canned water, a well-stocked survival cabinet should include a heavy helping of canned meats, tuna, soups, fruits and vegetables. According to a 1995 University of Illinois study, canned foods are just as nutritious as their fresh and frozen counterparts. Plus they’re shelf stable, tough to crush, need no refrigeration and are good for at least a year after purchase date. “Shelf-stable food is extremely important during disaster relief when people lose power and can neither refrigerate nor cook food,” says Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, the nonprofit that operates a national network of 200 food banks. “Perishable food can spoil quickly when refrigerators and freezers fail, and sometimes present contamination problems.”

Fraser also recommends ensuring you’ve stocked another important item. “When Hurricane Katrina hit, a manufacturer of kitchen items called us and asked if people in the Gulf area might need can openers,” he says. “They sure did. The company sent us 50,000 can openers, which were distributed very quickly. When people have to leave their homes in a hurry they don’t often think, ‘Hey, gotta remember the can opener.’”