Emergency food storage is a critical part of any good prepper’s prepping strategy.
It’s also good common sense for anyone.
I learned this the hard way when I moved into my new home and suddenly found myself stranded by a freak snowstorm that dropped four and a half feet of snow with ten-foot snowdrifts.
It was five days until a backhoe could come to dig us out. And even though there was a grocery store a mile away, we just couldn’t get there through the deep snow. Then, I learned to stock up on emergency foods to be prepared for any emergency.
There are plenty of avenues to start your emergency food storage. You can purchase premade emergency food, create your own, or stock up on foods with a long shelf life. When you understand how to make your emergency food storage, you’ll understand which avenues you want to follow and what works best for your family.
There are a number of factors involved in creating your family’s emergency food storage. You’ll need to know how to decide what to store, where to store it, and how to store it safely.
You’ll also need to know how long food can be stored away and how to rotate your emergency foods so they do not go bad. In the rest of this article, we’ll go over these details so you can make an informed decision on how to start your family food storage.
How to Begin Creating Your Emergency Food Storage
To get started with food storage, you need to look at the following questions in order to understand you and your family’s needs. Then you’ll need to create your food storage plan.
Most people do not start out with an instant, one year emergency food supply. But if you create a plan, you can get started in small, manageable steps.
What Should You Store?
The first question most people ask when they want to know about emergency food storage is, What should you store? And the answer is, it depends. You need to understand your own food habits and needs before you can decide what food to store.
What Do You Eat?
It doesn’t do any good to store food that you simply won’t eat. If you hate brussel sprouts, there is no point in trying to grow and preserve them, because you will have wasted your time and efforts when you can’t stomach the taste.
The first thing you should do is try to understand what your food habits are. Make a list of the foods you like to eat the most. Also write down how you prepare those foods, how many people are in your family, and how much you eat in a typical day. You’ll want to consider having a variety of foods so that you don’t get bored eating the same thing every day.
How Many People Are In Your Family?
You’ll need to make sure you have enough food and water per person per day that you want to save for. How many adults, children, and babies are in your family? Does anyone have any special dietary restrictions or needs?
How Many Calories Per Day?
You might be wondering how many calories per day you need to survive. Most adult diets reflect an intake of 2000 calories per day. However, most adults in our current society are overweight.
However, in an emergency or SHTF situation, your caloric needs may actually increase due to increased activity. For example, if the power grid goes down, you will spend more time chopping firewood, working outside, and being active when you normally might be working a desk job.
How Will You Cook?
You also need to consider how you will prepare these foods. What if you are short on water? What if there is no electricity? How will you cook? How will you open cans if your electric can opener doesn’t work?
What Is Your Budget?
You will also need to ask yourself, what kind of a budget do I have to create an emergency food plan? If money is no problem, then you can simply order pre-made freeze dried food with a shelf life of 25 to 40 years.
However, if your budget is tight and you don’t have a lot of room for expensive extras, you can still have an extensive emergency food plan. It just requires a little extra effort and planning.
How Much Space Do You Have?
Another question you need to ask yourself is how much space do you have available to store your food? If you have a cool, dry basement with plenty of space, you’ll be able to store lots of food. If you don’t, you might have to get a little creative to fit all of the food you need to have on hand.
Getting Started: A 72 Hour Emergency Kit
The first step in creating emergency food storage is to start with a 72 hours (or three day) emergency kit. This is for the most basic of emergencies.
Every household should have a minimum of 72 hours worth of emergency food. This should get you through the most basic of emergencies, such as power outages, storms, etc.
You’ll need to have some basic food and water on hand for each person in your household. Since it is only for 3 days, you don’t have to go too crazy worrying about perfect nutrition. Just make sure you have enough easy meals and water to keep you satiated while you wait out whatever issue you may be having.
You need one gallon of water per person per day and about 2000 calories worth of food for each adult. If you need help getting started, you can find a 72 hour calculator here.
You simply input how many people in each age bracket are in your family and it will tell you how much food and water to store for 3 days.
Alternatively you can read our food storage calculator post which goes into great detail on how much of each item we recommend to store.
Chances are, unless its grocery day, you always have enough food on hand for three days. This is an easy amount of food to store and something everyone should practice, but you should make an extra effort to have water on hand.
Recommendations from FEMA: A Two Week Emergency Food Supply
The next level of emergency food storage is a two week supply. This will get you through a longer emergency and is pretty easy to set up.
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, recommends every have a two week supply of food and water on hand at all times in case of an emergency. You can find FEMA’s tips here.
FEMA recommends storing one gallon of water per person per day (minimum of two weeks’ worth). If someone is sick, pregnant, or nursing, they may need more. Hot climates may need extra water. Trying to keep cool and avoiding salty foods may help you require less water.
FEMA also suggests keeping familiar foods on hand that do not require any special cooking methods, extra water, or tools. Always keep a manual can opener on hand as well as anything else you might need. Comfort foods will help everyone to feel better in an emergency.
You likely won’t need any ’emergency’ food rations for a short-term emergency if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Surprisingly, most families probably already have at least two weeks worth of meals on hand at all times and do not even realize it.
Always rotate the food in your pantry so you have the freshest food available at all times. Never eat anything that is spoiled or that could make you sick.
Long Term Emergency Food Storage: PrePackaged Meals
According to beprepared.com, you should have at least several months of food stored. You’ll need to plan on 2000 calories per day per adult.
The quickest and easiest way to do this is to purchase prepackaged emergency foods.
However, this is not an inexpensive option and a friend of mine racked up several thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt to create a prepackaged emergency food supply for her family of five. This gave her family the peace of mind that they could survive a food shortage but also gave them a lot of extra debt.
If you want to purchase prepackaged, freeze dried foods and have the means and space to do so, you’ll want to look for several important factors:
- Calories per day. Look for kits that offer 2000 calories per day split over several meals.
- Shelf life. Prepackaged meals should have a shelf life of 25 years.
- Packaging. Most of these kits are packaged in plastic food grade buckets. Make sure they are well sealed.
- Oxygen Absorbers. Each package should contain oxygen absorbers to help preserve the food.
- Easy open containers. You need to be able to open the containers easily. Make sure you have the correct tools to open buckets.
- Easy to prepare foods. The foods won’t do you any good if you cannot prepare them. Look for foods that require little to no preparation and cooking.
- Balanced meals. Your meals should have adequate calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, vegetables, and carbohydrates.
- Food variety. Each kit should come with a variety of foods so you don’t get bored eating the same thing every day.
Here are some of the most popular manufacturers of emergency foods:
|Manufacturer||Calories Per Day||Number of Servings||Approx Price||Shelf Life||Price Per Serving|
|My Patriot Supply||2000||1752||$1377.00||25 Years||$.79|
|Ready Wise||2200||2160||$4599.99||25 years||$2.12|
|Emergency Essentials: Beprepared.com||2080||1692||$1554.49||25 years||$.92|
|Legacy Food Storage||2000||2160||$4899.00||25 years||$2.26|
|4 Patriots||1206||600||$597||25 years||$.99|
As you can see in the chart, these prepackaged sets will give you plenty of meals, lots of variety, and food that has a very long shelf-life. You will need to have water stored, as well as the tools and means to prepare these foods.
You can purchase smaller sets and individual freeze-dried items from these websites and from larger retailers such as Amazon and Walmart. You won’t need to worry about rotating these foods if they are stored properly.
You’ll need to store your long -term food in a safe and secure location. A dark, cool, dry place is best, such as a first-floor closet or a basement if it isn’t damp. Some preppers prefer their food storage to be hidden to deter thieves.
These types of kits come with a hefty price tag. If this type isn’t for you, you can create your own long term, emergency food storage with a little planning and a little effort.
Creating Your Own Emergency Food Storage
It isn’t difficult to create your own emergency food storage, but it does take a little bit of planning. Where you store your food may dictate how much emergency food you can keep on hand, so figure out your storage space first.
Then you can begin adding the items that you need to keep on hand. Over time, you will be able to accumulate a complete, long term food storage plan that fits your needs and your budget, and much of the survival foods can be purchased from your grocery store.
Where to Store Food for Emergency Use
Storing emergency food supplies that you have put together yourself is a little different than storing prepackaged emergency foods. Since those foods are designed and packaged to last up to 25 years, you don’t have to worry about rotating them.
But when you create your own emergency food storage, you’ll need to have easier access to these items because you’ll want to keep them rotated as best as possible. This will prevent loss due to spoilage.
First and foremost, your food storage needs to be protected and stored in a safe location. That means a spot that is safe from prying eyes.
In an emergency, if people know you have food, you will probably have to share it and you might be forced to give it up. So your best bet is to store your stuff where you can keep it a secret.
You’ll also need your storage space to be:
- Clean and dry
- Free of pests and insects
- Cool – preferably below 70˚ Fahrenheit
- Dark (out of direct sunlight)
- Out of the way but easily accessible when you need it
Some practical examples of where to keep your emergency food stash are:
- A spare closet.
- A basement that is very dry
- Hidden in bins on shelves in your mudroom or pantry
- Under your bed
- In the closet behind your clothing.
These spaces are good because they are typically dry, out of the way, out of sight, but still easily accessible when needed. Do not store your emergency food in areas that are hot or damp.
For example, you should avoid saving food in attics, storage sheds, barns, or laundry rooms, bathrooms, or wet basements. The heat and moisture could degrade or ruin the food.
Hardcore preppers may advocate hiding some food in very out of the way places. If this is you, you may want to consider creating small stashes of food in places such as in between walls, in the box spring of your bed, or in a hidden closet.
What Food to Keep In Your Emergency Food Storage
You need to store the foods that you will eat, as we mentioned earlier in this article. These foods will fall into several categories:
- Dried Goods. These include foods such as rice, beans, lentils, pasta, sugar, and flour. Many of these foods have an indefinite shelf life when stored correctly.
- Canned Goods. Canned goods generally consist of jams, jellies, fruits, vegetables, and some meats. These have a much shorter shelf life but can be rotated through so you always have a fresh stash.
- Dehydrated Foods. Dehydrated foods, when processed correctly, can last up to five years, depending on the type of food and the way it was dehydrated.
- Freeze Dried Foods. Many freeze-dried foods have a 25 year shelf life.
- Water. Water needs to be rotated about every 6 months.
Make sure you have a variety of food and a combination of protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. Having a well-balanced diet, even in a crisis, will help you to stay healthier.
The Best Foods for Long Term Storage
You can create your own long term storage foods and tailor it specifically to your diet as well as your budget. You will want a balance of items in your food pantry. You will need items that are calorie dense and filling, such as white rice or grains.
You will want to have some good protein sources, such as lentils or dried beans, to keep your muscles strong and your energy levels up. You will also need fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals.
Other items you will want to consider having on hand are items that will enhance flavor and keep your meals interesting. Eating rice and beans every day may be healthy enough, but without some variety in flavor, you will get bored and may even lose your appetite.
So you will need to consider having items on hand for flavor, such as salt, sugar, molasses, dried herbs, and spices.
Of course, you must have water to survive. If you do not have access to a clean spring, you will want to store water long term as a part of your emergency food storage. Not only will you need drinking water, you will also need water for hygiene and for cooking. You may also want to consider adding some water purification strategies to your food storage, such as Life Straws or Berkey Filters.
Foods that Last Indefinitely
You also need to consider how long items will store safely. There are a number of foods that have a relatively indefinite shelf life when stored correctly. For example, the following foods should last indefinitely if they are stored safely:
- Raw Honey. Honey should be stored in its original container if possible, away from heat and light. Keep the container tightly sealed. Do not store honey in a metal container.
- Liquor. Spirits will last the longest. Store them unopened in their original containers for best results.
- White Rice. White rice is an excellent survival food, with good quality calories at a low cost. Brown rice has more oils than white and tends to go bad much faster than white rice. First, put your white rice in the freezer for a week to kill any eggs or insects. Store your rice in food grade buckets with tight fitting lids and oxygen absorbers. This will protect your investment from critters, insects, and moisture.
- Dried Beans. When stored properly, dried beans can easily last 10 years or much, much longer. Beans contain oils, even when dried, which helps them rehydrate more easily. Beans need to be stored in sealed food grade buckets or mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. They need to be kept in a cool and dark location. To rehydrate beans, soak them in water overnight then simmer until soft. If the beans become too old to rehydrate, they can be ground up and used as a protein-rich flour.
- Corn Starch. Corn starch will last indefinitely if kept in a cool, dry place. It is used as a thickening agent. However, if it comes in contact with moisture it will begin to dissolve. Store it in its original, sealed packaging.
- Maple Syrup. Store maple syrup in sterilized, sealed glass jars. Keep the jar in a cool, dark place. Maple syrup can last for up to 50 years when stored correctly.
- Popcorn. Popcorn can be a fun comfort food or it can be ground up and used as a flour. This type of corn has a hard outer shell, making it ideal for long term storage. Keep it dry and away from light.
- Powdered Jello. According to eatbydate.com, unopened powdered jello or plain gelatin will store indefinitely but it must be kept completely dry.
- Salt. Salt is a natural preservative. It simply needs to be kept cool and dry.
- Vanilla Extract. Pure vanilla extract should last indefinitely when stored in a sealed glass bottle in a cool dark place.
- Unopened Soy Sauce. The high salt content of soy sauce means it can be kept indefinitely when sealed. Once opened, it is still good in the fridge for 2 to 3 years.
These items that can be stored indefinitely make great staples for your emergency food pantry. They can add flavor, variety, and nutrients to your typical meals. You can stock up on them over time and many are available inexpensively at big box stores and dollar stores.
Foods that Store for Long Term
Many foods can be stored for a long time. You may want to store these items in vacuum sealed bags, mylar bags, or in Gamma buckets with oxygen absorbers.
If you store these items in small packages in gamma buckets, you can use what you need on a regular basis and replenish the stock to keep it fresh.
- Flour. If you store unground flour, it can last up to 25 years. You’ll need to have a flour grinder on hand to be able to grind the amount you need at a time. You may want to have a hand operated grinder rather than an electric one. In a pinch, a mortar and pestle can grind small amounts. Ground flour has a much shorter shelf life.
- Dry Pasta. Some people claim that dry pasta can be stored up to 25 to 30 years. Pasta in its original packaging may be good until two years after the best by date.
- Powdered Peanut Butter. Powdered peanut butter is an excellent source of protein. When sealed in its original packaging, it can be safely stored in a dry location for 15 years. However, the creamy variety of peanut butter we are used to eating can be stored for up to 2 years. Powdered peanut butter can be added to milk, water, yogurt, or used in creating other dishes. You can mix it with water to make a paste, but it will not have the same taste or texture as creamy store-bought peanut butter.
- Rolled Oats. Oatmeal is an excellent survival food because it takes very little effort to cook it. In a pinch, you can even chew on rolled oats in their uncooked form. However, their shelf life is relatively short compared to other emergency foods. You’ll need to rotate your rolled oats at least every 2 years, if not more frequently.
- Wheat. Unground wheat in its sealed, unopened container can be stored for 25 years. However, when wheat has been opened it will last about 3 years, and once ground, it needs to be used quickly. Only grind a small amount at a time to preserve its nutrients.
Fruits and Vegetables
You’re going to need to add fruits and vegetables to your diet to prevent illnesses such as scurvy. Ideally, you would be able to grow your own fresh fruits and vegetables.
But if this isn’t possible, you will need to find ways to have preserved fruits and vegetables on hand.
- Freeze Dried Fruits and Vegetables. You can purchase individual pails of freeze dried fruits and vegetables. This freezing process does preserve a lot of nutrition in the food and allows the food to be preserved for up to 25 years. Some brands are edible as is. For example, freeze dried strawberries are a delicious snack. Keep in mind that freeze dried fruits are not as filling as fresh. While you can purchase equipment to freeze dry your own fruits and vegetables, it is a time consuming and expensive process. It is probably just as easy and inexpensive to purchase the freeze dried food you want from a commercial supplier.
- Canned Fruits and Vegetables. According to eatbydate.com, canned fruits and vegetables should stay good for at least 1 to 2 years past the printed date on the can. They are well-preserved and should retain their nutrients reasonably well. Number 10 cans are great for long term storage. Their larger size makes them economical and the thickness of the cans means they are sturdy. Keep these in a cool dark place. However, they should be easily accessible because they should be rotated frequently.
- Home Canned Fruits and Vegetables. You can grow or purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for home canning as an inexpensive means of creating an emergency food storage. The USDA states that home canned food, when preserved properly, has a shelf life of one year for optimum quality and safety. Food that has been properly preserved may be safe for much longer periods of time, but you do run the risk of food born pathogens and poor quality of food.
For best results, follow the directions from companies such as Ball (https://www.freshpreserving.com) on how to can food safely. Rotate your food pantry yearly to insure you always have a safe, healthy supply of home canned food.
- Dehydrated Fruits and Vegetables. Another means of preserving fruits and vegetables is dehydrating them. Dehydrated fruit can last up to five years and dehydrated vegetables can last up to ten when stored correctly.
Dehydrators are easily available and not very expensive. It does not take much work to dehydrate a few food items each week to add to your stash. Once dehydrated, store your food in vacuum sealed containers with oxygen absorbers. (Potato flakes)
It is very important to have some sources of protein in your emergency food storage. Beans are a form of protein that is easily stored long term. However, other forms of protein may be more difficult to store.
Consider adding a few freeze dried items, such as freeze-dried chicken or beef. You may also want to invest in dehydrated eggs or a long-lasting protein powder,
Canned goods are an easy and inexpensive way to fill all of the gaps in your emergency food storage. Canned goods without dents or damage typically last considerably longer than their best buy date.
However, for best practices, only store canned foods that you use on a regular basis, such as tomato sauce or Spaghettios and rotate these items frequently.
Never use a can that is puffy, has an off odor, or just doesn’t seem right.
Water. The CDC recommends storing one gallon per person per day of water for a two week time period, at a minimum. For best results, store commercially bottled water in the roriginal containers.
You can store water in other food grade containers, if necessary, but it must be replaced every 6 months. Keep a bottle of bleach on hand if you need to disinfect your water. The CDC has a additional water guidelines at www.cdc.gov.
Powdered Milk. The USDA states that most unopened powdered milk can last anywhere from 2 to 10 years past its best if used by date. However, some companies market their dried milk for a shelf life of 25 years. Keep it away from light, cool, and dry for best results.
Coffee. Coffee can go rancid, or at the very least, lose its aroma and taste. For the longest storage of coffee, vacuum seal green, unroasted coffee beans in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. Another great option for long term coffee storage is instant coffee. Otherwise, stock up on your coffee and make sure you are rotating the stock regularly.
Tea. Many different types of teas have beneficial properties, making them a great addition to your food storage. Dried tea leaves will last up to two years when stored in a cool, dry place away from heat or light.
It can be difficult to store dairy items long term. The simplest way to do this is to purchase freeze dried dairy, such as butter and yogurt. Although this is expensive, it is the most economical way to have these items on hand for an emergency if you do not have access to fresh dairy. Dairy can serve as a source of protein and calcium.
Ideally, you will find a system for rotating your food stock that works for you. If you use a lot of canned goods, you may want to use open shelving to store your cans. Always put the new cans in the back and use the cans from the front first. This will automatically rotate your canned goods for you. This is a good practice for all items in your pantry.
If you are using food that has been commercially prepared to last for 25 years or more, you may not need to rotate these items, but it does not hurt to check on them periodically.
Labeling your food storage items is also a good practice. You can print labels on your computer or simply write on the packaging with a permanent marker. You might want to include the date you bought the item, the expiration date, and any other pertinent information, especially if you have preserved the item yourself.
Don’t skip on adding comfort foods to your emergency food storage, especially if you have children. Look for storable items such as chocolate, cookies, or other foods you love to have on hand. Comfort foods can boost morale or serve as bargaining items. If the items you love cannot be stored long term, consider storing the ingredients and tools to make them.
Freezing is a great way to store items for about a year. However, in a serious emergency, there may be no way to have electricity to keep foods in the freezer frozen. This makes freezer food better for short term savings but non-emergency plans.
If the power goes out, your refrigerator and freezer will be fine for at least 2 hours if you do not open the doors.
A full freezer should stay frozen for 24 to 48 hours. If this is the case, begin eating foods from the refrigerator first, such as milk and yogurt and other perishable items. After one to two days, you will need to cook and prepare the food in the freezer. You can find more detailed information from the Red Cross.
Creating Your Storage Plan
Once you know what you are going to store and how you are going to store it, you can create a plan to stockpile enough food for six months to one year.
Start with baby steps, making sure you first have 3 days of complete meals. Then move on to two weeks. After you have two weeks worth on hand, you should try to plan for one month’s worth of food for your entire family.
- Create a meal plan. Decide what you will eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks based on your regular intake. It may help to keep a food journal for one week, writing down approximately what and how much each person eats every day. This may be time consuming, but it will help you to plan well. One you have your meal journal complete, you can begin planning for a month’s worth of storage meals. You may have to adjust ingredients. For example, instead of fresh milk, you may have to use powdered milk. Try to create a plan that incorporates a little bit of variety.
- Begin shopping for your meal plan. Know your budget and how much you can allocate each week towards creating an emergency food storage system. Plan on adding at least a few things each week until your stash is large enough to make you feel comfortable.
- Store your food correctly. It would be terrible to open your food stash in an emergency to find that it has spoiled or been contaminated by rodents or bugs. Make sure you store your food properly and keep a regular watch over it to make sure nothing goes bad.
- Rotate your foods appropriately. Remember to rotate you canned foods regularly so that you always have the freshest possible food on hand.
- Continue adding to your emergency food supply. Keep adding items until your stock has been built up. Then, continue rotating items.
Tips to Purchase Foods for Emergency Food Storage On a Budget
Starting your emergency food storage when money is tight may seem like a daunting task, especially when compared to the prices of freeze -dried food. But with a little effort, you can start your food storage even on a few dollars per week.
Local grocery stores have cancan sales, where canned goods are on sale for $1 or 10 for $10. Keep a running list of what you have and what you need, so you don’t waste money buying too much of something you don’t really need for your emergency food storage.
Buy in bulk
Shop in bulk for supplies such as rice, beans, and other items that can be stored for long periods of time. You won’t have to worry about them spoiling and the larger sizes means you save money on the packaging.
Trim Your Budget
Make some short-term sacrifices to get your emergency food storage pantry started. For example, it costs $55 to feed my family one meal at McDonald’s. Skipping just one McDonald’s meal could easily purchase 50 pounds or rice or more.
Practice Dehydrating and Canning Your Own Foods
If you can get your hands on a dehydrator, you can easily dehydrate and store your own fruits and vegetables. You can grow your own, or shop at farmer’s markets at the end of the weekend for some really good deals. Alternatively, learn to can your own foods and you’ll be able to store jams, jellies, tomato sauces, and all kinds of different foods for your long term storage at a fraction of the price.
Pick and Choose What’s Most Important
You may want to have a few pricey items, such as freeze-dried chicken or freeze dried butter. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands of dollars for a complete pantry full of freeze-dried foods. Just choose which long term storage foods are most important to spend money on and focus on inexpensive ways to get the rest.
MREs might be a good option for your emergency food storage. The benefits to MREs are that they are ready to eat meals that are packaged for long term storage under less than ideal conditions. However, they are expensive, not as tasty as homemade food, and full of preservatives. While it is ok to incorporate MREs into your emergency food storage or bug out plan, you probably wouldn’t want your entire stash to be made up of them.
HOLT is an acronym for humidity, oxygen, light, and temperature. These are the critical components to storing your long-term emergency food safely. You need low humidity, oxygen absorbers, low light, and low temperature to help keep your food safer for longer.
Thin, plastic containers do not work well for long term storage as discussed in this article on which plastics are safe for food storage. Consider using glass for items that are liquid. Also use food-grade five gallon buckets with gamma lids to hold foods that have been preserved in mylar bags. This gives you extra protection against spoilage and moisture.