Health checklist: What to buy before a hurricane

Story highlights

  • In addition to nonperishable groceries, keep three days worth of food and water at the ready
  • Fruits, both fresh and dried, along with nuts are healthy choices to have on hand

When a hurricane, snowstorm, or other major weather event is looming, you probably already know the basics: fill up your gas tank, be sure the batteries in your flashlight and portable radio are fresh, and stock up on nonperishable groceries. But which foods are best, and what supplies may you be missing? The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends having three days worth of water and foods like the ones that follow on hand, plus several other items that will keep you healthy and safe in an emergency.

Water

    You may lose access to drinking water during a natural disaster—it could be compromised through contamination, or could be cut off completely. The average person needs 1 gallon of water per day, and that can be more depending on your age, physical activity level, and overall health. You'll also need more in hot weather. Stock up on at least a three-day supply per person in your home.
    Be sure to fill your bathtub, too: If your water is shut off, you can use the water in your tub to flush your toilet manually by pouring some in the bowl.

    Apples

    Apples stored in a cool, dark place—not necessarily the refrigerator—can last for several weeks. In addition to being a great source of potassium, fiber, and vitamin C, apples have a water content of 84%, which means eating them will help you stay hydrated when drinking water's in short supply.

    Dried and canned fruits

    Normally you'd want to stick to fresh fruit, but most varieties need to be refrigerated. Your next-best bet: canned or dried fruit with no gels, syrups, added sugar, or artificial sweetener. Read labels carefully, and check our list of the best packaged fruit.

    Ready-to-eat canned vegetables

    Canned soups and vegetables can be loaded with sodium, so shop smart: look for "low sodium" or "very low sodium" on the label. In addition to being bad for heart health, FEMA recommends avoiding salty foods during a disaster because they can make you thirsty and go through your water supply faster. (Note: Be sure you own a can opener!)

    Canned tuna, salmon, and sardines

    Nutrition experts recommend canned fish packed in water even when there isn't a natural disaster looming. Canned wild-caught salmon is cheaper than fresh, and still provides the same heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines are a great source of calcium (if you can stand the smell).

    Nut butter

    Whether you go for peanut, almond, cashew, or something else, nut butters are a tasty way to fill up on protein and healthy fats. Avoid nut butters that contain added sugar and partially hydrogenated oil. Here's a list of editor-approved picks.

    Comfort foods

    What foods make you feel good? They may not be all that nutritious, but FEMA recommends having some on hand to soothe you and your family during a potentially stressful situation.

    First-aid kit

    Check your first-aid kit: Are you out of bandages? Has your antibiotic ointment expired? Now's the time to freshen up your medical supplies. Here's what you need, or check this list from the Red Cross.

    Hand sanitizer

    Soap and water is always best for fighting germs, but you'll want to save your supply for drinking. Buy a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer that's 60-95% alcohol.

    Body wipes

    If you have to go several days without showering, you'll be glad you bought body wipes. Try ShowerPill Athletic Body Wipes ($10; amazon.com). These antibacterial wipes are thick like a washcloth, come individually wrapped, kill 99.9% of germs, and it takes just one wipe to cleanse your whole body.

    Dust mask

    FEMA recommends keeping a dust mask in your emergency kit. A mask will protect your lungs in the event that the air around you becomes contaminated with dust, smoke, or other pollutants.

    Garbage bags

    Be sure you're not low on garbage bags. You'll need them to toss trash and to keep your home sanitary, of course, but garbage bags can also be used in other ways: as a poncho, as a cover for broken windows, as a carrier for supplies, and even to collect rainwater.

    Portable battery charger

    If you lose power and landline phone service, you'll want to be sure you can keep your mobile phone charged. The Outdoor Tech Kodiak ($50; amazon.com) is waterproof, lightweight, and rugged enough to withstand being dropped. It has enough juice to fully charge a smartphone three times.

    Oranges

    Oranges keep for up to two weeks when stored at room temperature. The citrus fruit provides a hefty dose of vitamin C, as well as calcium and potassium. And, like apples, they'll help you stay hydrated—they're 87% water.

    A good book, playing cards, and board games

    Boredom will set in quickly if you lose power and don't have a book or game to fill the time you'd normally spend watching TV or using the Internet. Having something fun and light to distract you will also help keep stress at bay.

    Nuts

    Nuts are one of the healthiest pantry foods you can have on hand in case of an emergency. They are high in protein, healthy fats that raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Just be sure to buy unsalted nuts—you won't want to eat any foods that make you very thirsty.

    Protein bars

    When you can't cook full meals, it may be difficult to take in enough calories throughout the day. Protein bars can help; they give you a big dose of calories in a small, nonperishable package. Try these Health-approved bars.

    Paper plates and plastic utensils

    Washing dishes won't be possible if you lose access to running water—and letting dirty dishes fester in your sink for several days could attract unsanitary bugs and rodents. You won't want to deal with the stench of rotting food while you're stuck indoors, either.
    This article originally appeared on Health.com.