Preparing for a Hurricane or Other Emergency Situation with Food Allergies

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You regularly stock up on allergy-friendly foods and epinephrine auto-injectors to prevent an allergic emergency, but are you prepared for a different type of emergency situation? Do you have a stock of safe foods set aside in case of a hurricane, natural disaster or other type of emergency?

We discussed the topic with Sarah Lamb, a My Kid’s Food Allergies contributor and food allergy mom to two boys. She juggles food preparations for her son, age 11, who has no food allergies, and her other son, age 6, who has a severe food allergy. Sarah’s goal is to make life as normal as possible for her family while ensuring that her younger son, and other kids with life-threatening allergies, don’t feel left out from school, church and other social activities.

Hopefully, Sarah’s answers can guide you with your own food allergy emergency preparations.

Can you share specific ways you prepare for a hurricane or other emergency with food allergies? For example, do you recommend certain prepared foods? Are there companies that make preparations easier?

With food allergies, nothing is easy and everything takes planning, especially when you think about emergency situations. Any emergency can be dangerous. A hurricane, a flood, a massive snow storm—all of those events can cause a disruption in your food supply, since stores can't always restock depleted shelves. You might be stuck in your house for days with no way to get out, or for anyone to get in, or you might be forced to evacuate to a shelter or another town where you are at the mercy of whatever supplies are available. 

It's important to keep a supply of food that is not only safe but is food that your allergic child and other family members will actually eat. When you're feeling stressed or worried, you tend to want comfort foods, so get some favorites that have a long shelf life and keep a supply on hand, then rotate them out as you buy more. I like to always have an unopened box of my allergic child's favorite foods. The rest of us can make do and eat whatever we might have, but in a crisis where you may have to depend on food gifted from others, like in a shelter or another family member's home, there's no guarantee there will be safe food for your child with an allergy, or a way to get it.

While there are no particular food items that I suggest, I would recommend they all be single-serve size. In case of a power outage, you won't have a way to keep your food from spoiling, so a single serving juice box or an applesauce pouch isn't going to go rancid the way that opening a larger container and eating or drinking just one serving and leaving it out in the heat would. Without proper refrigeration, bacteria might grow, causing any family member to get sick. And depending on the situation, smaller single-serving packages are more portable, can be shared, portioned out in case of needing to ration, and can stay safe from contamination.

While there are companies that can make emergency preparation easier and even sell kits to help families be ready for most anything, there aren't as many options for buying kits for food allergy families, since often you can't read the labels before you buy.

(You might find our post on food allergy snack boxes helpful for stocking up on safe, non-perishable foods.)

Do you separate the allergy-friendly food from other emergency food? If so, how?

In our house, we do have a few foods with our younger son's allergens. Those are kept separate, but our emergency supplies are made up of all his allergen-free foods. Obviously, if you have multiple family members with different allergies, you'll need to make sure each has what he or she needs, and nothing with their allergen in it, which is why I go back to the single-sized packages. Single-serve packages reduce cross-contamination from anyone reaching into a shared package with who-knows-what on their fingers, and a backpack or box for each family member with only their food inside could be a good idea.

If you have a designated storage area just for your emergency supplies and have multiple food allergies to worry about, an idea would be to take each person's safe foods and put them into a large, labeled Ziploc baggie—easy to grab, and no mistaking whose baggie is whose.

What do you find challenging about food-allergy emergency preparations? How do you overcome these challenges?

Shelf-life is one of the biggest obstacles for food allergy emergency preparations. While you can go to the grocery store and buy a box of non-allergy-friendly granola bars with an expiration date a year or more out, a package of safe Enjoy Life bars or cookies for example, even ordered directly from the company, usually has an expiration date of 3-4 months away. I don't know why that is, but it sure can make it difficult when you'd rather just buy the emergency supplies and forget about them until you need them.

Another problem is that if you want to build up a long-term supply of food designed for an extended emergency, say, after a hurricane when you have no power for a few weeks, a typical go-to would be dehydrated foods or ready-to-serve meals sold in pouches; however, most of the time your child's allergen will be in there, because the top 8 food allergens are common ingredients. Even if the allergen isn't in the actual food, it can be tough to find out from these emergency preparedness companies about allergen information on shared lines or shared facilities, since it's not mandated by law to label for that.  That's where buying the products your child likes and rotating them out comes into play. That truly is the best way to be sure your child has a safe meal or snack in the event of an emergency.

Another thing to think about is that hot water might not always be available for washing, so I like to have a supply of hand wipes available. They are better at removing grime and possible allergens from little fingers before they eat than hand sanitizer.

Is there anything else you think would be valuable to share?

Always make sure you have at least two sets of epinephrine auto-injectors per allergic person and one set always with them. You never know when you might have a misfire, or one could get damaged or dropped in the water, and you don’t want the epinephrine to be with someone who isn't there when your child has a medical emergency. Always carry two auto-injectors with you, protect them from extreme heat and cold, and keep an eye on the expiration date. And you never know when that epinephrine could save someone else's life. Allergies show up at any time and don't discriminate who they affect. In an emergency shelter situation, perhaps not everyone will be as well prepared as you are. That epinephrine could save your child, another family member, a neighbor or even a stranger's life.

(Read more about different types of epinephrine auto-injectors in our post on alternatives to EpiPen.)

 

We’d like to thank Sarah for her helpful answers! If you have any advice to add, please share in the comments.