Jamaica: Proper storage of food essential during disasters


KINGSTON, (JIS): Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - With the hurricane season lasting until the end of November, and the threat of other natural disasters being a distinct possibility, preparedness is an essential habit that all persons should adopt.

Besides ensuring the safety of one's self and family as well as securing property from possible damage, proper storage of food in a disaster is an equally important method of disaster preparation that all Jamaicans are encouraged to practise.

Nutrition consultant, Dr. Heather Little-White, tells JIS News that proper storage and preparation of food are indeed, two critical things Jamaicans need to be cognisant of, should natural disasters of any kind strike.

In situations where persons have received due warning that a disaster, such as a hurricane, is imminent, the first thing they need to do, she says, is to check what supplies they have stored in the kitchen cupboards at home. She explains that this checking is necessary as it gives persons a general idea of what foods they already have, and of course, what they will require.

Dr. Little-White points out that in terms of items stored in the refrigerator, it is advisable that such items be used, given that the loss of electricity is likely in disasters.

"Try to use up what's in the refrigerator and make quick meals that can be used in a very short space of time," she suggests.

Among the options persons have to dispose of the food in a refrigerator in a meaningful fashion, is to start cooking what can be prepared, sharing the cooked food with family, neighbours, or even the homeless.

Having checked the cupboards, Dr. Little-White says that when persons make the trek to the supermarket or grocery shop to stock up on goods, their food purchases should ideally be non-perishable items that will not require refrigeration, based on the assumption that there will be an absence of electricity.

She recommends that purchases should include canned foods, such as sardines, corned beef, tuna and mackerel. Baked items like biscuit and bread can also be bought, as they "can stay longer", she says. Furthermore, select fruits, vegetables, and ground provisions can also be purchased given that some of them do not spoil easily, she adds.

The nutritionist points out that a fundamental consideration to be given when buying foods, is to "think of your own storage at home". One should strive to ensure that wherever the food is being stored at home is free from insect or rodent infestation.

She says it is ill advised to purchase meats when disasters have occurred, as it is a ripe opportunity for unscrupulous merchants to sell bad meat. The nutritionist cautions that following disasters like hurricanes, persons should buy only from reputable merchants, as cheap and unsafe goods can be sold to unsuspecting customers.

Shifting focus to the meals persons would be preparing following a disaster, albeit from canned foods, Dr. Little-White says although the foods are canned, this should not prevent people from using their creativity to make interesting meals.

"For example, if you are using corned beef, there are various recipes one can make. You can make a corned beef salad, corned beef fried rice, a corned beef mix, although it is not baked, you can combine ground provisions with the corned beef," the nutritionist suggests.

She points out that meals prepared in a variety of ways would interrupt the routine of having to cook a product in similar fashion, noting that if meals are cooked in the same way, "after a while monotony sets in".

One-pot meals, she continues, are also ideal in post-disaster scenarios, "at this time, you can throw everything in and really just leave them to simmer". One-pot meals refer to such dishes as soups and stews.

Given that after a disaster, access to a staple utility such as water is often not immediately available from the taps in many households, Dr. Little-White says that where possible, persons should store ample amounts of water in advance.

If one has stored the precious commodity, the nutritionist says it is critical that persons boil water to wash foods and vegetables, or to drink. "So you have to boil, boil and boil", she emphasises.

She also points out that regardless of where the water comes from, its source could be contaminated, and as such, water should be boiled until normality returned.

A checklist of things-to-do, before and after, can also assist persons to better prepare for a disaster, and tend to their food needs.

"Before, you need to store some water. You need to have a 'just-in-case' supply of convenience foods, so maybe tins of corned beef, sardines, and so on. You need to have an alternate supply of cooking, if you have electricity, think about gas; if you have gas, think about coal," Dr. Heather Little-White says.

She stresses that persons should also prepare a family plan in terms of who will assume responsibility for the preparation of foods, if there are elderly, diabetic or hypertensive relatives living at home.

Following the disaster, she says persons should take stock of what has happened. One must address such questions as: "Where do I go?" "What do I have in my refrigerator and how am I going to get rid of it?" "What am I going to give away?" and, "What am I going to cook?"

If there is a lack of electricity and water, the nutritionist says one should have formulated a plan as to how he or she is going to operate in those circumstances.