Disaster Preparedness: Gluten-Free Needs

June 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm 3 comments

If you’ve noticed that natural disasters seem to be more common and more devastating in recent years, you’re not alone. A recent cover story in Newsweek addressed the wild weather that has wreaked havoc across the U.S. in 2011 alone. Floods, tornados, wild fires – they all beg the question: Are you prepared?

When residents are displaced, safe zones and shelters become a vital source for food and health needs. Gluten-free families, however, face the added challenge of maintaining their dietary needs while away from home. Fresh produce and other gluten-free options are typically limited, especially since donated items are often non-perishable foods that contain gluten.

After the recent tornados, individuals called for donations of gluten-free products to feed victims who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It got us thinking about ways to arm yourself before disaster strikes.

Natural disasters may be unpredictable, but you can still make every effort to be prepared. Consider these tips to ensure your family’s needs are met:

  • Pack an emergency kit. We asked our Facebook fans for suggestions of what they’d include in a gluten-free emergency kit. While many admitted they had never thought of it, we all agreed it’s a good thing to keep on hand.

Suggestions include:

  • Bottled water
  • Gluten-free energy bars
  • Small packs of nuts or dried fruit (watch those seasonings!)
  • A few cans of gluten-free soup
  • Canned tuna
  • Shelf stable gluten-free bread or crackers
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned fruit
  • Gluten-free jerky
  • Powdered milk or non-dairy substitute
  • Celiac-safe freeze-dried meals (StoreHouse Foods has a bunch of yummy options – and they’re a member of NFCA’s GREAT Business Association)
  • Important medications
  • Bowl(s) and set of utensils
  • Can opener
  • Aluminum foil (for cooking packets)

If you need to evacuate, bring the emergency kit. You never know how long it will be before you reach a destination that offers gluten-free options. And as our Facebook fan Colleen Cook recommended, check the expiration dates on your stock every few months and replace anything that has gone bad.

  • Find out which locations in your town are designated as emergency shelters (i.e. hospitals, firehouses) and who is in charge of disaster response.  Speak to that person (or department) about gluten-free needs, or invite them to a support group meeting so they can anticipate any supply challenges. (While you’re at it, encourage hospitals to get gluten-free foodservice training through NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens program.)
  • Talk to your kids’ teachers to find out if their school has a disaster plan. Facebook fan Amy Young noted that her kids’ schools request a 3-day supply of gluten-free food to keep on hand in case of emergency.
  • If a disaster strikes and you find yourself at a shelter, do what you can to avoid gluten exposure. Ask volunteers about the food they are distributing, and read the labels on any cans or packages of food. Request that volunteers change gloves before they serve your meal.
  • If no gluten-free options are available, make your needs known. The disaster response team may be able to secure a safe stock of food or, if possible, request gluten-free items.
  • Remember to thank anyone who helps you out. It’s a hectic time, so they’ll appreciate knowing the difference they made.

– Cheryl

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Keri  |  June 16, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I’m a celiac who works in the emergency management field so I greatly appreciate you posting this!

    What we typically tell people is that you should plan to survive for 72 hours on your own in the even of a disaster. If you get stuck at home you need enough non-perishable food and water (a gallon a day, think drinking and being able to flush your toilet) to last you 3 days. I’d plan for longer though (after Katrina it took 7-10 days to reach some people along the Gulf Coast).

    My kit is comprised of items that I typically buy anyway…things like Chex cereal, peanut butter, canned soups, nuts, tuna. I shop as though I don’t have those in my kit but when I buy a new box of cereal, for instance, I go home and swap it out with the one that has been in my kit so I stay ahead of expiration dates. Also remember to include some comfort food items. When you are under the stress of a disaster you are going to want some candy or soda!

    Having worked in and around emergency shelters, I would recommend that you plan to take your food with you to any general population shelter. Most food is prepared off-site and brought in and they simply lack the capacity to accomodate special diets. I always take my own food when I’m working at them. I do my best to educate others in my field about my dietary needs, and point out to them that if I had to go to a shelter and eat the foods available there I would end up in a medical shelter on an IV after a few days thanks to my gastro-intestinal symptoms following gluten consumption.

    Incidentally, given that I can be called up at anytime (and that I travel a lot for my job), I always keep a small plastic bin (about the size of a shoe box) in my car that is loaded with non-perishable food that won’t go bad in the Texas heat. Again, peanut butter, gluten-free granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, cereal in zip-loc bags…that way if something ever happens and I cannot get home to grab my kit I can still eat!

  • 2. CinderellasPear  |  August 24, 2011 at 11:51 am

    This is a great post. Thanks, Keri, for the comment. Those are really great ideas. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and just bought a canning book so I can can my own food. (That’s a funny sentence…ha.) Glass bottles with food will probably be heavy, but they’d be transportable and I know they’d be safe for me.

  • 3. Gluten-Free Dining Post Sandy | Blinded by the Bite! ™  |  November 15, 2012 at 9:20 am

    […] sure your prepared in case of a natural disaster by checking out this write-up and links from the National Foundation for Celiac […]


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