Do you have enough ready-to-eat foods and water in your house in case of an emergency? People often call my office and ask about what foods to store and how much food they should have on hand. The answer depends on several factors:
How many people live in your house?
At a minimum you will want to have enough ready to eat food and water for each person in your house for 3-4 days. Don’t forget about the food and water needs of pets.
What emergencies are you most likely to encounter?
Fire, flood ,earth quake, snow storm, power outage, illness, job loss; each of these risks might require more or less stored food to get you through the emergency. For example, a snow storm or power outage might mean you need 3-4 days of ready-to-eat food to get you by until the roads are cleared or the power comes back on. If you have well water you might need power to pump the water to your sink, so have ½ to 1 gallon of water per person per day stored for this type of emergency.
If you lose gas or electricity, stored food should not need cooking before eating. Therefore foods like dry beans or rice would not be very helpful. In this case, canned beans, a manual canner opener and crackers would be much better.
A job loss might require a larger supply of food, until you can access unemployment benefits or a visit to a local food bank. In this situation and if you have a stovetop and utilities, dry beans and rice could come in very handy. If you need to flee your home due to a flood or fire, it would be advisable to have at least 24 hours of ready to eat food and water that can be quickly packed and thrown in the trunk of your vehicle. Consider hanging a to-go-bag on a hook near your food pantry, in case you need to load up and go!
How far are you from neighbors, stores or others that could assist you in an emergency?
People who live in remote areas should consider a larger supply of food and water than those living close to neighbors and stores.
How much storage space do you have?
Some people have large pantries or a room dedicated to food storage, while others have very little storage space. If space is limited, consider a shelf in a kitchen cabinet, or a hard plastic box with a well fitted lid stored at bottom of a closet or under a bed. Something is better than nothing.
What Does Your Family Like to Eat?
Have a plan to work most of your stored food into your meal plan within a year and replace it as you go. Shelf stable food can lose it nutritional value and may not be as flavorful over time.
How Much Can You Afford to Spend on Emergency Food Supplies?
Even if it is only a few dollars a week, you can start with purchasing one shelf stable and ready to eat food to put in your pantry each time you go shopping. For example, the next time you grocery shop buy an extra box of crackers, jar of peanut butter, can of beans, can of tuna or a jar of applesauce. But again, don’t buy foods you don’t like to eat, or it could be a waste of money in the long run. No need to buy pricey freeze dried camping food, when a box of ready to eat cereal, can of nuts or a pouch of raisins is a fraction of the cost.
Protect Shelf Stable Foods
Protect foods from temperature extremes and pests like insects and rodents. About a month ago my family discovered mice had gotten into our pantry. They had tasted and contaminated hundreds of dollars’ worth of packaged foods, such as a pouch of snack mix, an unopened bag of flour, boxes of crackers and cake mixes, even a carton of shelf stable tofu. Who knew mice like tofu? During the clean up we also found quite a few packages of foods at the back of a shelf that were way past their best if use by date. We had failed to put these foods into our menus. We are slowly replacing the damaged and outdated food and putting everything in food safe hard plastic containers or wide mouth glass jars.
Protect stored food from freezing temperatures. Wet foods expand when they freeze, often braking a jar or bulging a can. This damage can lead to food spoilage. Storing shelf stable foods at high temperatures can shorten their shelf life. While these food are still safe to eat, foods stored at temperatures above 70 degrees F can accelerate negative changes in the color, flavor, texture and nutritional value of foods overtime.
Develop a Plan
Make a plan and a budget to slowly build a stock pile of ready to eat foods and water. Make sure the foods you include are things you and your family like to eat. Work with family members to make a list of what foods to purchase. Include on the list some food safe and pest proof containers. You can repurpose food safe hard plastic, metal or glass containers, like quart sized canning jars or canisters with tight fitting lids.
Communicate to others the need for emergency foods and the importance of proper storage. Friends and family can help by saving food safe containers for you, or help you brainstorm solutions for your specific situation. If canned foods are cheaper by the case, see if someone wants to split a case with you. Employ a first in, first out rotation of food from your stockpile into your weekly menus.
Consider donating foods your family does not eat or you won’t use before “best use before date” to a local food bank.