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It Happens …cogitations on calamities, cataclysms and catastrophes, preventing, preparing and pulling through

Ah February. The shortest month at the heart of winter. Chocolates and flowers, candy hearts and Valentines, President’s Day, and National Canned Food month. Wait what? Yes, it is National Canned Food month! Read on for a look at the long lasting and convenient meal source we should all consider keeping in our kitchens in our efforts to be prepared for anything…unexpected guests happen. So do power outages and ice storms.

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The Beginning

“An army marches on its stomach.” You may have heard this quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, General, First Consul and Emperor of the French. Love him or hate him, we should remember Napoleon for more than his contributions to military tactics and law. When the sometime conqueror of Europe needed a better way to feed his armies and navy, than the usual foraging and purchasing, his government offered a reward to encourage innovators to come up with food preservation solutions. In 1809, enter Nicolas Appert, confectioner. Appert developed a technique of filling glass jars with food, sealing the jars and heating them. This was the first successfully heat processed “canned”, more accurately, jarred food. Many people today (including the author) still use a similar method to Appert’s to preserve all sorts of foods for future use. Modern commercial canning techniques using actual metal cans developed soon after Appert’s breakthrough and to this day continue to develop with safer and faster farm-to-can processing methods.

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The greatest thing since sliced bread?

The canned foods we have access to today are pretty great. The speeds with which they are harvested and processed contribute to higher nutrition levels than older methods. With one warning: the longer the can sits on the shelf, the lower the nutrition levels go. Sell by dates and expiration dates can be mighty confusing when it comes to canned food, the USDA has this to say: “There are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for open dating in the United States. As a result, there are a wide variety of phrases used on labels to describe quality dates. So what does that mean? According to both the USDA and The Joy of Cooking (1975 edition), commercially canned food can be kept nearly indefinitely if it is stored in a cool and dry place; but it is recommended to consume high acid foods and fruit within 18 months and low acid foods such as meat, vegetables and beans within 2-5 years. Home canned (bottled and jarred) foods should be used within 1 year.

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To help you keep your cans in order and your preparation of nutritious meals nearly effortless, we’ve come up with a few tips:

Rotate your stock: All of the oldest dated cans should be in the front of the cabinet and used first. As you acquire new ones, place them in the back.
Prevent cans from freezing: The contents can grow bacteria if they are thawed at a temperature above 40 degrees. The exception to this is, if you find a frozen can that you know has not thawed and been re-frozen and it is not swollen. If this is the case, thaw the can in the refrigerator and use it as soon as possible.
Check it: Always carefully inspect the outside of the can before opening it, no matter its age. Has it leaked? Is it dented? Is it swollen? If any of these
apply, throw it away without opening it. If upon inspection, the outside of the can looks perfect but it’s a little bit beyond it’s “best by” date, open and do a look and sniff test. If it looks good and smells good, it more than likely is good.
Wash it: Rinsing the tops of cans or washing them with soap and water, if obviously dirty, before piercing them with your can opener helps keep your food bacteria free. This is particularly important with canned foods that are not going to be cooked before eating.
Cull your cans at least once a year: Despite your best efforts, you may be surprised to find some damaged cans that need to be thrown out. You may
also find a few that have lost their labels. Unless you can positively identify what is in the mystery can and how old it is, throw it out. Culling will also give
you a very good idea of what your household does and does not like and you can shop accordingly.
Re-Supply: For the easiest way to make sure you can make a balanced meal from just the cans on hand, go for 25% proteins such as tuna and chicken; 25% fruit; 50% vegetables and beans. Beans are all around a good choice as they are high in fiber (like vegetables) but also high in protein and minerals.

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Food prices up and up

Now that you’ve got some ideas of what cans to stock and how to store them, you are a big step closer to being prepared for “it” to happen. The next step is acquiring all that food! Considering that, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the price of all food has gone up 2.7% the past year, it may be difficult to stock your pantry as well as you would like. Please don’t despair. Residents of the 27 counties of Northwest Missouri served by Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph can visit: https://catholiccharities-kcsj.org/pantry/

If you’re all stocked up and inspired to help our neighbors who are less fortunate, please visit: https://catholiccharities-kcsj.org/host-adrive/ Organizing a drive a little too much work at the moment but still want to help?

Visit the Food Pantry wishlist for Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Amazon.

Thank you for reading, see you next month!

Shayna Deitchman, Americorps Disaster Relief Services

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