Do 1 Thing for April - Emergency Food Supply

Karen Sell, RN, has served as the Emergency Preparedness Chairperson at Columbus Community Hospital for the past 20 years. Sell urges community members to take the proper steps to prepare themselves and their loved ones for loss of water, power, heat, shelter, and communication, when disasters happen.

“In a disaster, it could be days before anyone can get to you. Those services we take for granted every day may not be accessible.”

Sell encourages community members and businesses to visit Do 1 Thing is a non-profit organization that wants to help build stronger communities. The website offers a 12-step program, with one step to complete each month, in an effort to prepare individuals, businesses, and communities for all hazards and to become disaster resilient.

“The program is manageable. Even if you aren’t able to complete all 12 steps, if you can do just six of the 12, you are off to a good start.”

For questions, please visit, or contact Sell at

For the month of April, offers this step:

Goal for April: Have an emergency food supply that will meet the needs of your household for three days without outside help.

When deciding where to store your food, Sell says you need to take into account what type of disasters you may be exposed to. “If you live in a flood zone the basement is not the ideal location. If you are in a tornado zone again the basement could be the ideal place unless it is going to flood,” explained Sell. “The food should remain in its original container if possible and not sit on the floor and be 18 inches from the ceiling. It could be in plastic containers.  And it is best to buy food in sizes that you will use in one sitting. It is generally cheaper in larger quantities but cannot be stored once it is opened, so this is generally not a cost savings.” 

Buy a three-day emergency food supply for your household.

Put aside a three-day supply of food for disasters. You probably have a better idea than anyone else how much food you and your family members would need for three days. Follow the BUS rule to help you. BUS stands for balance, usability, and shelf-life.

1. Balance: You may already buy food that provides a balanced diet for your family. A balanced diet includes a variety of foods from each of the basic food groups. This is especially important for people with certain health conditions. Also include high energy foods (such as nuts and protein bars) and comfort foods (such as graham crackers or chocolate).

2. Usability: Choose items that don’t need to be cooled, heated, or need a lot of water. Examples include canned or dried meat, dry cereal, and canned vegetables. Make sure you have a manual can opener if you plan to use canned goods.

3. Shelf Life: Look at the expiration date listed on the food item. Use and replace foods before the expiration date.

Sell encourages us to choose food that you normally will use and can rotate so it does not go out of date. “You need to keep up your energy level in a disaster, so store what would be your normal food consumption per day times three days,” she explained.

Water is also essential. “Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day,” said Sell. “Men generally need a little more fluid then females, and keep in mind that if it is hot, the need for fluids increases.”  

According to Sell, food that needs to be reconstituted with water can be used, but this means that you will need to increase the amount of water you stock in the supply.

Take steps to make sure food in your refrigerator and freezer will stay safe.

During an extended power outage, temperatures in your fridge and freezer will begin to rise, even if the doors stay closed. As the temperature rises, harmful bacteria may begin to grow on your food.

If the temperature in your fridge stays above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for more than four hours, perishable food items (milk, lunchmeat, mayonnaise based salads, poultry items, leftovers, etc.) may be unsafe to eat.

If the temperature in your freezer stays above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for more than one to two days, food may be unsafe to eat. Food that still contains ice crystals should be safe. Always check the color and odor of food, particularly meat when it is thawed. If it is questionable throw it out (make sure it is discarded where animals can’t get to it).

Take steps now to make sure your perishable food remains as safe as possible:
• Install a thermometer in your fridge and freezer.
• If you anticipate a power outage, such as a winter storm, reduce the temperature of your fridge and freezer. The colder your food is the more time it takes to thaw.
• Keep containers of ice in your freezer to keep the temperature down.

When the power goes out:
• Cover the fridge or freezer in newspapers and blankets. Keep vents clear in case the freezer starts operating again.
• Avoid opening the door to the fridge or freezer.
• Use dry ice, if available. Identify a source for dry ice in advance and remember that if the power outage is widespread, there may be a lot of competition for this resource.

If you don’t know the temperature of your fridge or if the fridge was off for more than four hours, the food should be discarded. Eating perishable food that has not been kept cold can cause food poisoning, even if it is refrozen or cooked. When in doubt, throw it out!

Make sure you can meet any special dietary needs in your household.

Some people are on special diets for health reasons. There can be serious effects if the right food is not available during a disaster. If you use special equipment, like a blender, food scale, or feeding tubes, make sure you take those with you. Think about keeping extra equipment at a friend or relative’s home in case you have to evacuate.

Talk to your healthcare provider or a nutritionist about non-perishable menu options that can be used if you can’t get to a grocery store, or that can be prepared at an emergency shelter. Keep a description of your medical condition and the diet in your emergency kit.