Honey, Can You Sniff This? Food Safety in the Apocalypse

can dateBefore we go too far into any recipes, we need to talk about some basic food storage and safety facts. You may not think that it matters, but, believe me, it does. Just think about how scary it would be to try to fight or outrun zombies while doubled over from food poisoning!

Okay, so here’s the situation: You’re in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. That means no new deliveries to the grocery store. No fresh meat, no fresh veggies. No Pea Pod deliveries. No Amazon groceries delivered by UPS. And we are not even talking about whether or not you’ve got power! So unless you live on a totally self–sufficient farm, you are going to have to make do with what you have and what you can scrounge until you’re either rescued by the Army or you can grow your own food….

We’ll discuss our Apocalyptic Pantry lists of what you should keep on hand or pick up from your local ransacked convenience store later. Today, we are going to discuss how to tell if the food you are looking at eating is safe or not.  And the first step to knowing that is understanding how to tell when food was packed and knowing how long it keeps for. That where packaging and expiration codes come in.

It would be so much easier if every food used the same coding system. Unfortunately, they don’t. Some products use the date something was made, some have a sell by or use by date, some a best by date. Some even use a pack date system based on the Julian Calendar.

We’ll discuss in another post whether those dates make sense. The FDA requires water to have an expiration date, even though it doesn’t expire.

WebMD has a good article on codes and expiration dates.  About.com also has a chart. There are also a good number of pages on university web sites like this one from the University of Nebraska. These will tell you all about the differences between dates with terms like sell by, use by, expiration, best by  and so on.  And don’t forget, drugs and medicines have dates too!

In practice, there doesn’t seem to be a consistency to the use of these terms. A loaf of bread may have a sell by or a use by date, depending on the manufacturer.

Now, some of those facts aren’t going to apply to us. Things like put it in the refrigerator immediately when you get home. Or don’t open the refrigerator or freezer when the power goes out. Yeah, right!That doesn’t mean too much if the power never comes back on….

But even in a zombie apocalypse, there are still some basic rules we can apply:

  • Avoid jars, canned goods and bottles with severe dents, bulges and compromised seals. There is no cure for botulism in a zombie apocalypse.
  • Storage conditions count! Extreme heat and extreme cold shorten the shelf life (and compromise the taste!). So do light, moisture and air.
  • Avoid old items that have been opened (See this article about killer pancake mix –the stuff will literally kill you!)

And, most importantly, remember what George Carlin said: “There is no blue food.”

Apocalypse Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Stew

Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, I told you that I would post the recipe that gave me the idea for this blog.

IMG_20140206_174326I was making a pot of Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Stew and realized, that if I had to, I could easily make a passable version of this using ingredients from cans. Now, actually, this is a lot more of a radical concept than it sounds. One of the food trends we have seen in recent years is the emphasis on fresh foods and quality ingredients. Cooking in the zombie apocalypse turns that idea on its head. Yes, that’s right. I basically just told you that we are going to take healthy recipes and turn them into canned, processed meals. Welcome to the end of the world!

But, seriously? Depending on the scenario, fresh food may not be available and using what’s on hand (or what you can scrounge) is a whole different cooking experience. In many of the recipes we are going to talk about on this blog, the concept of substitution is key to making recipes work.

As we start a couple of things to remember here: It is always better to cook with quality, fresh ingredients if possible. Canned foods are processed foods and contain more sodium, additives and fats.  These recipes will be higher in calories than their healthier counterparts and that needs to be kept in mind.  Of course, you are going to be getting plenty of exercise outrunning the zombies, so that is going to help!

If you are a prepper, a survivalist, or just hate to grocery shop, there are a lot items like dried goods and herbs you can keep on hand. These foods are useful in a pinch even in the here and now (sans zombies). In a future blog entry, we will talk about the concept of an apocalyptic pantry.

These recipes as intended as a general guide: If you have fresh onions, use them. If you need to substitute dried, minced onions, do it. Cooking during the apocalypse is all about responding to the situation at hand. Be flexible!

Apocalypse Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Stew

This version is made with all canned/dried ingredients   (Original Recipe is here.)

approx 6 TB of dried minced onion

2 cans chicken breast

1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 cans whole kernel corn

Approx 1 cup of salsa, any flavor

1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes


Dried Cilantro (to taste)

Approx 1 tsp Lime powder


Add all ingredients to a large pot and heat until hot. Serve with tortilla chips if you can scavenge them.

Substitution notes:

What ingredients you use will affect the taste. Hot salsa is different than chipotle; plain diced tomatoes give a totally different taste than Ro-Tel. Dried cilantro tastes different than fresh (you may need to add coriander to get the same effect as fresh). You also may need to add 2 TB olive oil if you cook with fresh onions instead of dried.