Preparing for a Natural Disaster When You're Gluten-Free

The Extra Steps You Have to Take

Each year, dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of people are forced out of their homes and into hotels and shelters by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and floods. When this happens to you, all of a sudden finding safe food becomes paramount.

While government agencies and organizations such as the American Red Cross do seem to manage to feed everyone successfully in these disaster situations, those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity need to take extra steps beforehand to ensure we have safe, nourishing food to eat.

In disasters, people in shelters often are served ready-to-eat meals, or MREs (meals-ready-to-eat). I took a look at these, and almost all of them rely on some form of wheat or oats as an ingredient. Even if you lucked out and got an MRE without obvious gluten-containing ingredients, it certainly won't be safe from gluten cross-contamination.

Nope, you'll be on your own – which means you'd better be prepared.

Jars of ingredients on wooden shelves
Denis Tevekov / Getty Images

Okay, So What Will I Need To Do?

You'll need to create a kit with non-perishable food for everyone in your household who's gluten-free (in some households, that's a lot of food!).

"Standard" disaster prep calls for three days' worth of food, but we recommend stocking five or even seven days' worth of supplies. You might get lucky and not need all that food, but at least you'll have it.

Following is the list of potential supplies for your gluten-free disaster emergency kit.

Gluten-Free Cereals, Crackers, and Other Grain-Based Products

Gather a hefty supply of your everyday staples — they generally keep for quite a long time. Think in terms of three meals per day, plus snacks — you probably can't stock too many cookies and other treats, especially if you have children to feed.

Shelf-Stable Milk

While you can eat your cereal without milk, you'll certainly prefer to have it the regular way. If you consume dairy, you can find shelf-stable cow's milk in most stores. If on the other hand, you prefer soy milk, nut milk or rice milk, it's possible your usual selection already is shelf-stable. Get plenty.

Hard Cheeses

Although cheese should be refrigerated under normal circumstances, hard cheeses – Swiss, cheddar, and Gouda, for example – last for several days or longer without refrigeration. Hikers report they do just fine with cheese on days-long hikes in very warm conditions. If you can handle dairy, cheese could be a good source of safe calories for you in an emergency.

Canned or Boxed Gluten-Free Soups

We're fortunate that many soup manufacturers now make safe products for us to consume. Look for soups that are ready-to-eat (as opposed to those that need water added), since in a pinch you can eat them cold. Oh, and don't forget a clean can opener for your emergency kit.

Canned Meat, Chicken, or Fish

If you eat meat, these can provide some quick protein, even cold.

Dried Fruit and Nuts, Plus Chocolate

If you don't eat meat, nuts and nut butters can get you that needed protein, while dried fruit is a reasonably healthy snack that keeps for months. And of course, chocolate is an essential food for any emergency.


Bottled water is safe for you to drink, of course, and you should have plenty of it on hand. But you also can consider stocking your emergency kit with your favorites (gluten-free, of course) – that way, you have drinks you know are safe for you, and you won't have to try different brands.

Ready-to-Eat Gluten-Free Meals

Thai Kitchen also makes several shelf-stable gluten-free entrees – but read your labels carefully, since not all Thai Kitchen products are gluten-free.

Utensils, Plates, and Cups

If you're stuck in a motel or in an emergency shelter, you'll want to have your own dedicated gluten-free dishes and cutlery, so pick up a package of each (paper and plastic are fine) and keep them with your emergency stash. And if you have pets, don't forget pet food (we have a specific gluten-free brand we buy for our cats, and we definitely would need enough of that).

But What If I Don't Eat Processed Foods?

A high-quality cooler will keep food cool for up to six or seven days, even without a fresh infusion of ice, and a one-burner propane or butane stove will cook some excellent one-pot meals, perfectly safely. Therefore, my emergency kit includes both, plus a pot and lid.

If you know a hurricane might hit, you can freeze (or potentially cook and freeze) as much meat and vegetables as possible. Then turn the thermostat on the freezer to the coldest possible setting.

Stock up on ice for a cooler (keep it in the freezer for the time being). If the power goes off, switch the ice and frozen goods to the ice chest.

If you needed to evacuate, gather up everything and be gone quickly with your own safe kitchen and food supplies with you.

It Pays to Be Prepared, Especially If You Eat Gluten-Free

Natural disasters are scary things, but with some careful advance planning, you'll be able to eat safely even if you're forced to evacuate.

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.