Thursday, June 24, 2010

You're Celiac or have Food Allergies. Are you prepared for a natural disaster?

People seeking shelter in the Superdome before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. credit:

With hurricane season upon us, floods and tornadoes in the news, and a 5.0 earthquake rattling southeastern Canada just yesterday, it seems the perfect time to offer a few pointers to the gluten-free and food allergy community on how best to prepare for a natural disaster.

A few basic facts: research shows that 72 hours is the average time it takes for grocery store shelves to be cleared in the wake of a disaster, and 14 days is typically how long it takes to restore regular food shipments. It is also important to remember that emergency aid groups like the Red Cross or government run shelters or evacuation centers will be unlikely able to accommodate any type of specialty diet. You and your GF or food allergic family members may have very little to eat if you are unprepared and find yourself in the midst of a disaster area. Yet all it takes is a few minutes of planning to ensure your family – whether following a GF diet or not – will have enough to eat and drink should the emergency last days or even weeks.

Recommended Items to Include in a Basic Emergency Supply Kit: (adapted from
  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle, unbreakable mirror to signal for help
  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes,  hand sanitizer, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Can opener & utensils for food (if kit contains canned food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone and chargers
  • Water proof matches or lighter
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food

Needless to say, if an emergency strikes and you have someone in the house with Celiac Disease or food allergies, it’s essential you have appropriate foods in storage to consume on-site or take with you to a shelter.

As someone with special dietary needs, we need to do a bit more planning than for a normal supply kit. However, packing for an emergency is not all that different than packing for camping or backpacking. In fact, keeping your emergency supplies in a backpack or duffel is a good idea because it is easy to grab and its portability can be very important if you have to walk any distance to safety or a shelter.

The Basics
  • Dehydrated or freeze dried food is best because it is light and easy to pack however finding dehydrated food that is gluten free can be challenging. Dehydrating your own food is not difficult and can be much cheaper. Most home dehydrators come with recipe books on how to dehydrate just about anything.
  • Where dehydrated foods are not available, canned meats, fish & beans are a good option. Avoid prepared, canned meals as they are often mostly water and less nutrient-dense. You must be aware that all canned foods are heavy and bulky and you might have to carry them for some distance.
  • Boil in bag meals and meal replacement beverages can also be an option if they are available. Again you’ll want to watch the weight.
  • Dried meats and fruit (jerky, fruit leather etc) are an essential for any kit. They are lightweight, last a long time and have excellent nutritional value. Get low sodium meats if possible. Make your own beef jerky and fruit leathers to save money and ensure they are gluten free.Jerky Tips & Recipes
  • Gluten free energy/protein bars are quite widely available and make a great addition to your kit.
  • GF dry soup or bouillon cubes can be a good way to add flavor to your emergency meals.
  • Rice is often suggested as a good staple for a gluten free emergency kit. I prefer Quinoa as it is far better for you from a nutrient standpoint, it cooks quickly (saving your limited fuel) and can be used for all meals (cinnamon & sugar quinoa for breakfast, cayenne, garlic & beef jerky quinoa for supper). If you want to use rice, get the quick cooking kind. Boil in bag rice is available which is very convenient. Brown rice is better nutritionally, but takes a lot of time and fuel to cook.
  • suggests packing a small 3 cup rice cooker but you may be without power so I would suggest a small single burner camp stove or sterno stove with extra fuel. You can even make your own sterno stove. Always make sure you have adequate ventilation when cooking with any kind of combustible fuel.
  • Pepper, salt, sugar, other spices such as garlic, cayenne, chili, cinnamon. While you don’t need these, they can help make your rations taste a whole lot better. When backpacking, I store these in empty 35mm film canisters. They’re light, durable and water tight. They aren’t easy to find these days but you might be able to still get them. Ask at your local photography store.
  • Coffee, tea, chocolate mix, powdered milk. Again not, essential (and some may argue that coffee is) but can make your time waiting in a shelter pass a bit more pleasantly.

Keep all of your supplies in heavy duty, re-sealable plastic bags to keep them dry. Store your entire kit several feet off the floor so it won’t be damaged by flooding but not so high that it is difficult to get to. Check your kit every 3-4 months, check expiry dates and replenish with fresh supplies where needed.

Obviously, what emergency items you’re most likely to need should be based on what type of emergency you’re most likely to face (flooding, quakes, and so on). But there’s one item none of us can do without – preparation – so do your homework, know your options, involve your family, conduct practice drills and, most of all, stay safe!


Gluten Free Sourdough Baker said...

excellent post with excellent suggestions for gluten freers!

Amanda said...

What a great post! I've linked it to my blog, Gluten Free & Tasty (which also post itself to Facebook and Twitter). I have friends in natural-disaster prone areas, and want to get the word out. Thanks for such great information!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Just want to add, if you must evacuate your home during a natural disaster don't forget to take your medications. Even if you run out before you can get home, the prescription bottle can usually be used to help you get a temporary resupply.

Gluten Free Diet said...

My son is on gluten free diet, thanks for the alert.

Richard Stooker said...

As someone who reads about disaster and emergency preparedness, and who mainly follows the Primal Blueprint for diet and exercise, I applaud this post pointing out that too much writing in the field of disaster preparation assumes that people want to follow the standard American diet. And the selection of many freeze dried foods menus reflect this.

First, I'd point out that you can also buy many freeze dried fruits.

Second, I'd suggest that people with celiac disease look upon that as a positive - none of us should be eating grains. It's just that most people can "get away" with it in the short term, and that lowers their health in the long run.

So, do away with grains altogether. Forget the rice and quinoa as well as the wheat.

And if we ever have a permanent collapse of civilization, prepare for it by keeping animals and growing a garden. You'll have an advantage over your neighbors trying to grow wheat and bake bread as well.

Gluten Free Doll said...

Thank-you for this post! It will help many people on the east coast prepare for Irene and keep safe.

pmzf said...

We lost all our food in Friday's storm. We were without power for 72 hours. Bagels, breads, donuts in the freezer. Fruits and veggies. My daughter is soy and potato free in addition to GF. We had to go 60 miles to find a market with some foods for her.

Monica I. said...

One suggestion I've read on the Internet is to place everything in a wheeled garbage bin in the event that vehicle transport is not possible and you have to relocate to a disaster shelter.

Anonymous said...

My son was just recently diagnosed with Celiac and food allergies along with Crohns. As we're learning we have a Cat 4 Hurricane Irma possibly coming our way. Thank you so much. Great information not just for emergency but every day living. Thx again