By Christina Stock
The first time I encountered a real-life hoarder was in 1999 — it was my husband-to-be David. I had moved in September to Roswell and he showed me his shed full of MREs. An MRE is a “Meal Ready to Eat” — military men and women eat these when they are in combat or other field conditions far away from the nearest kitchen. David asked me how Germany had prepared for the computer virus Y2K that would “throw us back into the stone ages.” I was baffled.
Even though I worked at the time for some of the biggest computer companies in Germany, I had not heard of that Y2K virus that was supposed to strike at midnight when 1999 switched to 2000. I asked my cousin who was a computer engineer at IBM and he laughed. They were aware of a possible glitch and had been working on it for a decade. Everything would be fine. Of course, David was skeptical.
Social media was in its early stages, and the entire U.S. was in the grip of the Y2K fear. A bug of a different kind than today’s novel coronavirus. The news was full of headlines, such as, “The End of the World,” “Y2K insanity” and rumors that even got into established — usually reliable — media, which wrote that “police throughout the world secured emergency bunkers for themselves.”
The year 2000 came and nothing major happened. Benefitting of my husband’s and many others’ “hoards” of food were local food banks.
This time around, the real danger is a biological virus worldwide, which causes new hoarders to appear.
What is this phenomenon that turns intelligent people into squirrels gathering and hoarding weird items, such as toilet paper? Panic shoppers are again on the rise, as if there will be no deliveries to grocery stores anymore. This time, it seems as if the entire world is joining in the hoarding effort.
In regard to the U.S., there are more than 450 paper mills and 90% of the toilet paper sold is made in local American factories. According to The Associated Press, “Manufacturers, paper industry executives say, are raising production to meet demand, but there is only so much capacity that they can or are willing to add.” Probably simply because those hoarders will never need to buy toilet paper in the near future. Of course, there is a dark side to some hoarders: Shopping sites warn of those who try to profit from the pandemic.
The Associated Press reported on March 1 a case of two brothers in Tennessee who cleaned out their local shops and grocers of hand sanitizers, just to turn around and sell them for 70 times the actual cost. They could sell only one day until the shopping site (Amazon in this case) caught up and pulled their items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes and face masks. Sellers were suspended and warned if they tried it again, they would lose their sites. Other sites, such as eBay have followed with even more extreme measures, prohibiting anyone in the U.S. from selling masks or sanitizers. While many are trying in vain to find sanitizer, the two brothers are sitting on 17,700 bottles of it and no way to sell it.
Now, it is smart to have enough of any necessary product, including food, available in case somebody in the family comes down with any illness. It is, however, wasteful and can downright be dangerous to hoard excessive amounts of food because food — even frozen — doesn’t last a long time. I studied food preparation and storage in my German trade school, as well as bacteria growth. I was surprised at how short the time is to be able to eat stored food safely.
The U.S. government has all the information about food storage and cold food storage on its website foodsafety.gov.
Rule of thumb is that the more fat content meat has, the faster it spoils. The more meat is ground up and the smaller the surface, the faster it spoils.
Here are some samples:
Shortest expiration time goes to hot dogs, luncheon meat, bacon and sausage. An unopened package lasts two weeks in a refrigerator if bought right when it was delivered (40ºF or below); in a freezer (0ºF or below) it lasts a maximum of two months.
Next are hamburger meat and other ground meats, these last up to two days in the fridge and up to two months in the freezer.
Fresh larger pieces of beef, veal, lamb and pork (steaks, chops or roasts) are the longest lasting. Depending on fat content, they can last up to five days in the fridge and up to 12 months in the freezer.
Soups and stews with vegetables or meat last up to four days in the fridge and up to three months in the freezer.
If there is a power outage — such as we have occasionally — that lasts more than four hours, all must be tossed.
Now to fruit and vegetables. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health, some fruit and vegetables can develop toxicity with age, such as tomatoes. The danger may not even be seen from the outside, only when the tomato is cut open. Sprouting seeds are toxic and the fruit should be tossed.
The same goes for potatoes, which should be kept in a dark and dry place. A little growth of sprout can be removed by cutting a large portion around it — if the sprout reaches about 2 inches, the potato chemistry changes and it carries toxins in its flesh. If potatoes are subjected to sunlight and turn green, the entire potato needs to be discarded.
Even spices are no exception from turning inedible. Dried herbs only last one to three years, ground spices only up to three years. If they are not kept in a cool and dark place or are not protected from contamination, these spoil faster and can even be contaminated with salmonella bacteria.
The only exceptions are salt and vanilla extract (due to its alcohol content) — these last indefinitely.
All these storage expiration numbers change if the products are not stored correctly.
Now to the good news, especially for New Mexico. Dried beans, as our pinto beans, can be stored indefinitely if stored correctly and kept dry. However, its nutritional value lasts only two to three years after drying. The same goes for pasta and rice if stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. There is an exception: Brown rice has fatty acids that go bad as they oxidize, which can become oily and give off a rancid odor.
Book hoarding — the good kind
For those who love to read, there will never be enough books, especially in today’s era of e-Books. It is common to have long lists of to-be-read books ready to be read. What better time than now? Forget all about the problems surrounding COVID-19 — which we can’t change, only prevent by social distancing — and enjoy a couple of hours of reading a new book at home.
On March 16, I contacted the New Mexico Co-op out of Albuquerque to check if any author might be interested in forwarding us information about their books. At the time, we didn’t know the extent of event cancellations and postponing of events that would sweep through the state. Book fairs, conferences and book festivals have been canceled, much to the despair of local Indie authors who depend on these to find their readers or sellers.
First to respond was author Savannah Hendricks via email.
She wrote, “I was planning to sell my books during the now canceled Tucson Book Festival, and this is such a blessing. I’d love to have my clean romance novel, “Grounded in January” mentioned — and the book even has an original recipe in the back for green tomato pie.” Hendricks’ book won Best Romance in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards in 2019.
About the book: Laughter laced, “Grounded in January” is the story of Oxnard, who struggles to accept his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, and Kate, who’s at a crossroads in her life. Add in a therapy dog, Bayou, and these two lost souls make for the perfect romance in the snow.
You can find “Grounded in January” at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other major online retailers.
Hendricks is a multi-award-winning author and social worker. Her books also include three children’s picture books: “Winston Versus the Snow,” “The Book Who Lost its Title” and “Nonnie and I.” She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education and a master’s degree in criminal justice. You can find out about all her books by visiting theseashellsoflife.wordpress.com.