In a world heavily reliant on electricity and refrigeration to preserve food, a prolonged power outage would be potentially disastrous. Unless, of course, you are one of the few with the ability to can, pickle or seriously stock up on food.
There are three ways to keep food longer than its natural shelf life: canning, freezing and drying. However, should there be a serious power outage, freezing food is an unlikely option.
Mary Braun, who moved to Winnipeg from Paraguay in 1984, cans salsa, applesauce and apple pie filling. Pickling - canning with a higher level of acidity - is another of her skills. Some family favourites for pickled foods are cucumbers, onions, watermelon and beets.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s not hard to do, it’s just a lot of work,” she said. “They last for a long time, too. For maybe about two years I would keep them - not much longer than that.”
Braun uses pickling salt, vinegar, water and fresh basil in her cucumber pickles. Ingredients such as onions and garlic can be added for additional flavour.
To seal the jars properly, a vacuum must be created through heating then cooling the filled jars. This expands the contents of the jar, then creates a seal when the temperature cools, locking in the freshness and locking out bacteria that would spoil the food.
Drying food can also keep it beyond its typical shelf life, but might be difficult without a functional oven or food dehydrator. Sun drying has been used for hundreds of years, but is not recommended for meats or vegetables. Fruits are easier to dry without equipment.
“It’s best to have canned foods on hand,” said Cheryl Galbraith, environmental health officer with Alberta Health Services. “We always like to (recommend) pre-canned foods that are from an approved source because you know it’s done the right way.”
She said that home canning must be done with caution as there are health risks if the food is not sealed properly.
“If you don’t do it the right way you’re going to have mould or possibly botulism organisms in there,” she said.
Galbraith said it’s important to store food off the ground and in food-grade containers.
“Keep your refrigerators and freezers closed all the time if possible during a power outage.”
If the power stayed out, she said, food in the freezer would probably last about two days. She recommends keeping a thermometer in both the fridge and freezer.
“If the temperature goes above 4 C, food shouldn’t be kept at that temperature.”
A couple of hours above 4 C would spoil foods such as dairy products and meat.
“Produce would be fine,” she said. “It’s just your perishables.”
Published in Volume 66, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 1, 2012)