The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has shaken many Americans and the nation’s capitalistic foundations to their core. Many of the products consumers have come to take for granted may soon either be in short supply or simply unavailable. Most will be resupplied eventually but government and emergency preparedness agencies recommend maintaining a two-week supply of food and water as a standard contingency measure.
The concern that many are feeling in regard to these shortages has led to an unforeseen run on all types of food stuffs in addition to everyday products such as toilet paper and household disinfectants.
There are, however, many foods that are lining market shelves and freezer aisles that often go unnoticed and which make excellent options to an emergency food supply.
Even after the March 23 executive order by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown adding tougher restrictions to social distancing requirements, there is still the strong possibility of even more limitations of personal movement. That means there is still time to better prepare for potential shortages of staples like pasta, rice and canned goods.
Many food products can be purchased by an individual or family in small quantities, a little at a time to build a backstock of emergency items while allowing for stores to restock and replenish popular foods.
Canned soups, beans and vegetables are inexpensive and still readily available at most local grocery stores. Canned tomatoes and prepared pasta sauce have extended shelf lives and make a healthy addition to many types of dishes. They are also relatively inexpensive and almost always available for purchase.
There are also some unexpected options for those filling their pantry and refrigerators which may not come to mind when stocking up on food. Tuna is now offered to consumers in vacuum packed pouches which do not require a can opener and come in a variety of flavors.
Frozen foods that have been prepared for easy use — such as chicken breasts, burger patties and seafood — keep for extended periods and often require minimal cooking time.
These foods are high in protein and can be used in numerous ways, making for more interesting meals and also promoting healthy energy levels.
There is also a whole array of rice products available now that do not require boiling water and can be cooked in minutes in a microwave oven.
Perhaps the most healthy and undervalued emergency food are fruits and vegetables. Oranges, apples, tangerines and pitted fruits like pears, figs and plums can be purchased inexpensively and can ripen and be eaten over time. Many are also available packaged and dried, providing a long shelf life for eating by themselves or to incorporate into cooking.
Squash, potatoes, onions and other root vegetables like beets and carrots also last for longer periods of time and can be baked, stir-fried or added to soups and other dishes.
In addition, there are also unusual foods that are not often considered when stocking an emergency pantry such as tempeh, tofu and bean sprouts. These plant-based food products are healthy and lend themselves to a wide range of Asian-based recipes while having extended shelf lives. These are also excellent replacements for meat-based dishes, with numerous recipes available online and in cookbooks for their use.
Many of the foods mentioned here can be dried for even longer-term storage and there are also options available which can be easily purchased to dry and store these foods.
When stocking up, it is also good to have backups of commonly eaten items like peanut butter, granola bars, instant oatmeal, nuts and trail mix.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a disaster preparedness page on its website, www.fema.gov, but it is more of a general list of items to have on hand in case of an emergency.
FEMA offers some simple advice when considering which foods to include in your emergency stockpile.
“As you stock food, take into account your family’s unique needs and tastes. Familiar foods are important. They lift morale and give a feeling of security in times of stress. Try to include foods that they will enjoy and that are also high in calories and nutrition,” the agency reported.
These can include dairy products, such as sour cream, cheese and milk, that can be used in multiple ways, and desserts that can be doled out as treats.
As of press time, there is an adequate supply of all of the foods mentioned in this article at all three of Florence’s larger grocery stores.
But there is one nonfood product that does seem to be in short supply in many locations, including Florence: toilet paper.
“If you ask me why everyone is grabbing toilet paper, I can’t really explain it,” said Tom Sellars, CEO of Sellars Absorbent Materials in Milwaukee, Wisc., which processes paper products. “It’s not like we are suddenly using more of it. But the surge in demand could strain the supply chain. Most mills are 24-hour, 7-days-a-week operations already. They are running on fixed capacity. It's not like there's an idle machine that can be cranked up to increase production.”
Georgia Pacific, the maker of Angel Soft and Quilted Northern toilet paper, reported some orders from retailers have nearly doubled in the past two weeks. The company managed to ship out 20 percent more than its normal capacity but was operating at near-capacity previously to the COVID-19 outbreak. Ramping up additional production will take some time.
Consumers should also disinfect all packages and containers that food is sold in and thoroughly clean all surfaces that come in contact with food packaging and grocery bags used to move food from the store into the car and into the house.