Emergency food storage isn’t rocket science, but it’s good to have a basic understanding of the underlying concepts, so you know where to start and don’t waste time or money.
#1 Why Store Emergency Food?
Stockpile food to sustain your family during financial hardship, natural disasters, and economic and societal collapse. Following are eleven reasons to store food for disasters and family emergencies.
- Job Loss or Illness
- Social unrest
- The car breaks down, and you have to choose between food and transportation
- A family member or friend has a crisis and needs nourishment.
- Economic Crash
- Natural Disaster
- Food Shortages
- Global Melt Down
- Transportation Crisis
#2 Disaster Scenario And Food Choice
Each natural disaster and emergency are different. The event’s location, severity, and length will determine if you walk out of an emergency or leave the catastrophe in a vehicle or shelter.
Different emergency scenarios require specific types of food based on weight and the resources needed to prepare.
Following are the three types of survival food to stockpile.
Store any kind of food you want as long as the scenario is considered for example the power is out and you preparing food in a blizzard.
Fill the pantry with a year’s supply of white rice for each person (300lb beans & 150lbs Rice) with all the bells and whistles like hard grain, canned food, vitamins, etc.
Staying put during a disaster is the best scenario you could face in an emergency. All of your emergency food is available, along with all of your gear.
Storage space and cash are the only limitations to stockpiling this food.
Bugging-out On Foot
When walking away from a disaster you are limited to what you can carry on your back. Suggested backpack weights shouldn’t exceed 20% of a person’s body weight.
A bug-out bag holds food, shelter, water purification, clothing, and other survival gear. Food is just one component, so it needs to be light.
Lightweight survival food
Freeze-dried backpacker meals, emergency food bars, nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, instant oatmeal, instant pasta and meals, beef jerky, tuna in a retort bag, and granola bars.
Survival food and gear should be prepacked for everyone in the family and staged in one location. All you have to do is put on the backpack and start walking.
To learn more about bug-out bags, read the Ready Squirrel article, How big should a bug-out bag be: the real answer.
Family, food, water, cooking supplies, clothing, and first aid must fit into the car. This gear should be pre-staged and ready to throw in a vehicle at a moment’s notice.
Remember that roads may be closed before you get to your planned destination, gas could be unavailable, and you could end up on foot. If canned foods are a big part of your vehicle survival food, consider throwing in a backpacker stove, fuel, and freeze-dried meals to carry out.
#4 Dry Staples are Cheap And Effective
Most of the planet survived on grain and beans one hundred years ago. Dry staple foods like white rice, dried beans, and rolled oats are inexpensive compared to packaged food and are proven survival food. Following are the eight foods I hyper-focus on when building my survival food supply.
Using staples to make food from scratch is cheaper than buying prepackaged items, and it’s easier to incorporate garden produce, home-canned goods, orchard fruit, and foraged or bartered foodstuff into your meal plan.
- Hard Grains (e.g., wheat)
- Soft Grains (e.g., buckwheat, oats)
- Dry Beans
- Dry Pasta
- White Rice
#5 Ideal Storage Temperature
Heat destroys your survival food so store it in a cool location like a basement or temperature-controlled room.
Avoid storing it in a hot garage, shed, or where temperatures fluctuate.
An increase of 18 degrees Fahrenheit reduces food shelf life by half, so you can imagine what storing canned food in an Arizona garage would do for shelf-life.
Below freezing temperatures can damage survival food, especially canned goods. Cans of frozen and thawed food will bulge, buckle and crack, making the food not edible.
#6 Humidity and Moisture
Avoid storing foods in a wet environment. It rusts cans and invites mold, fungus, and degradation of a food’s shelf life.
Dry staples are especially susceptible to moisture. Hard grains and beans stored in Oxygen-free Mylar bags must be below 10% moisture.
Avoid storing food in direct sunlight. It heats food via the greenhouse effect and degrades food over time by reducing color, taste, texture, and nutritional value.
Also, don’t keep food near hot utilities or appliances like a stove or refrigerator.
Oxidizing enzymes cause food to spoil quickly. For this reason, store staples like beans, white rice, and wheat using oxygen-free storage methods by combining sealed Mylar bags and Oxygen absorbers.
Example of Oxygen’s Effect On Food
White rice will store up to 5 years in store-bought packaging (if the bugs don’t get it). Rice stored in an oxygen-free container has a shelf life of 30+ years.
#9 Characteristics of Emergency Food
Not all survival food fits every survival scenario. For example, imagine carrying a week’s supply of canned food in a backpack if you have to leave on foot. It’s not going to happen because it weighs too much.
Large, heavy bulk-pack foods in 5-gallon buckets and shelving units full of canned goods.
The food for extended survival scenarios is used when there is no food at the grocery store, restaurants are shut-down, gas may not be available, and credit cards don’t work.
For this scenario, you want the heavy-hitter foods in bulk. Food stored in 5-gallon buckets, canned food in bulk, and all the gear to prepare is too much food and weight to move quickly.
Lightweight ready-made food is good for scenarios where you have to leave right now (bug-out): freeze-dried foods, prepackaged staples, survival, and granola bars. Stockpile food cooked with a backpacker stove, over a fire, or eaten out of the package.
Ready-to-eat survival food includes canned meat, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, beef jerky, summer sausage, crackers, granola, and survival bars.
Indoors without electricity
This food is for emergencies like a snow blizzard where the power is out, and you can’t go outside to cook.
This food is for emergencies like a snow blizzard where the power is out, and you can’t go outside to cook. Most outdoor stoves create carbon dioxide, which is deadly to humans.
No cook foods are your best option.
Some examples of no-cook food: are canned meat, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, beef jerky, summer sausage, crackers, and granola bars.
Cook indoors with a butane stove with enough ventilation.
#9 Supplies and Materials
Mylar bags are the best storage containers for Do-it-yourself survivalists. Mylar stores dry survival food like wheat, white rice, dried beans, and soft and hard grains.
When sealed with oxygen absorbers, Mylar protects from light, oxygen, and moisture and kills bugs within two weeks. #10 cans are said to be better than Mylar, but most preppers have to purchase the cans versus doing it at home.
Learn about using Mylar bags for food storage. Read Ready Squirrel’s article Mylar Bags For Food Storage: Beginner’s Guide.
Preppers use food-grade buckets to store salt and sugar without Mylar or Oxygen absorbers. If you decide to keep grains, beans, or rice, you’ll want to use sealed Mylar bags and Oxygen absorbers because the Plastic in buckets does not stop oxygen from reaching the food, and it will oxidize over time.
Food-grade buckets are outstanding protection for Mylar bags and are easier to store.
To learn more about food grade buckets, check out Ready Squirrel’s article, Store Food in Buckets and Save Money.
When storing food inside Mylar bags, Oxygen absorbers remove the oxygen that ruins survival food. Oxygen absorbers and sealed Mylar bags will increase the shelf-life of most hard grains and dry beans to 30+ years. White rice, wheat, rolled oats, dry pasta, and dried beans have a 30 years shelf-life stored with this method.
#10 Freeze-dried Food
Freeze-dried food is one of the best food to stockpile for survival. It retains 93% of its nutritional value and tastes good. These foods have a 30 years shelf-life, so they don’t require rotation and are lightweight, which fits the bill for a more mobile situation where you have to walk out of an emergency area.
To know more about freeze-dried food, read Ready Squirrel’s article What Is Freeze-dried Food?
#11 Special Needs
Specific individuals require unique emergency supplies. Plan in advance to ensure you have the supplies you need. Some examples of special needs:
- Age-dependent (baby or elderly)
- Special diet requirements (nut allergies or gluten intolerance)
- Health risks
- Medication (Insulin, Heart, High blood pressure, etc.)
#12 Slow and Steady
- Creating your first pantry doesn’t mean you have to run out and purchase 100 lbs of grain or go broke building a huge post-apocalyptic survival supply.
- If you rush out and purchase a bunch of stuff, you will waste money on supplies you don’t need.
- Start your pantry by slowly adding a few extra items to your cart every time you go grocery shopping.
- Begin with canned foods and non-perishables that your family eats regularly.
#13 Store What You Eat
Store what you eat is a common mantra among food preppers, but I think it is more nuanced. We eat mostly fresh food and dry staples like rice and pasta. For a long-term survival scenario, we may not be able to get any fresh food so we will have to store canned foods.
If you are on a budget, it is much quicker to build a massive stockpile of beans and rice from a big box store than to buy smaller quantities at the grocery store.
Start your emergency pantry by collecting non-perishable items that your family regularly eats.
- Store foods you are familiar with and enjoy
- Stock rotation and expiration dates are more accessible to track with foods you eat regularly
- Cut down on waste by avoiding large purchases of foods you haven’t eaten and tested (like the 10-year-old can of lima beans. It seemed like a good idea at the time)
#14 Stock Multi-Vitamins
Stock multivitamins to fill in the nutritional gaps present in your survival food.
#15 Plan To Cook Without Electricity
Cooking indoors when the power is out is one of the most challenging aspects of survival in your home. If you live in a warm-weather environment, it’s no big deal, go outside and spark up the propane grill.
What if your power is out, you have no heat, it’s -15° F, and there are 30-mile-an-hour winds outside?
If you go out, you’re letting cold air into your shelter.
- Store enough fuel, like propane or wood, for alternate cooking methods
- Have a method to cook food indoors without producing carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide
#16 Filling Emergency Food
It’s good for morale to have a feeling of fullness. Dried beans, lentils, and white rice are the foods that fit this need in my emergency pantry.
Foods you might consider:
- Canned soups and stews
- Nut butter
- Canned fish
- Canned poultry
- Canned meats
- Dried and canned beans
- Instant potatoes
- Granola bars
- Protein powder
- Dried fruit
#17 Indefinite Foods
As long as these foods are packaged properly they will keep for 30 years to forever.
- Honey found in Egyptian tombs is still edible.
- Rice; if hermetically sealed and properly stored, it can last 30 Years
- Vinegar is used to pickle garden produce and for cleaning.
- Salt preserves food, adds flavor, and can be used to clean and scour.
- Maple Syrup Bake with it, and use it as a sweetener for bread and meat
#18 Seed and Bean Sprouting
Most long-term storage pantries lack anything fresh and green. Sprouting seeds indoors fills that gap.
Why sprouting seeds are so incredible for the Emergency Pantry:
- Sprouts are extremely nutritious
- Sprout seeds just about anywhere, in any season, with a regular ball jar.
Check out the fantastic nutritional value of sprouts in the chart below.
Seed Chart includes: the type of seed, days to germination, and nutritional profile
|Seed||Days to Germination||Taste Profile||Nutrition|
|1. Adzuki||3 -5||Mild Flavor||A, B,C & E, All Amino Acids accept Tryptophan, 25% Protein|
|2. Alfalfa||5 -7||Mild Flavor||A B,C,E & K, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Zinc, Carotene, Chlorophyll, Amino Acids, 35% Protein|
|3. Almonds||3-5||Almond Flavor||Vitamin A, B, C, & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, All essential Amino Acids, 20-25% Protein|
|4. Broccoli||7-10||Spicy/Radish-like||Vitamin A, B, C, E & K, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Carotene, Chlorophyll, Amino Acids, Antioxidants, 35% Protein|
|5. Buckwheat||1-2||Mild Flavor||Vitamin A, B, C & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, Amino Acids, 15% Protein|
|6. Cabbage||3-5||Cabbage flavored||Vitamins A, B, C, E & K, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Carotene, Chlorophyll, Amino Acids, 20 – 25% Protein|
|7. Fenugreek||6-8||Bitter Flavor||Vitamins A, B, C, & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Amino Acids, 30% protein|
|8. Garbanzo||2-4||Substantial Eating||Vitamins A & C, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Amino Acids, Protein|
|9. Kale||2-5||Strong Flavor||Vitamins A, B, C, E & K, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Amino Acids, |
|10. Lentils||3 -5||Substantial Eating||Vitamin A, B, C, & E, Calcium, Iron, Niacin, Phosphorus, Amino Acids, 25% Protein|
|11. Millet||2-3||Sweet and Nutty||Vitamins B, C, & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Amino Acids, 15% Protein|
|12. Mung Beans||3-5||Mild Flavor||Vitamins A, B, C & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Amino Acids, 20% Protein|
|13. Peanut||5-10||Fresh Pea or chickpea||Vitamins A, B, C & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, Amino Acids |
|14. Peas||5-7||Mild Flavor||Vitamins A, B, C & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, Amino Acids, |
|15. Radish||3-5||Peppery Flavor||Vitamins A, B, C, E & K, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Amino Acids, Trace Elements, Carotene, Chlorophyll, Antioxidants, 30-35% Protein|
|16. Crimson Clover||4-6||Mild-Earthy||Vitamins A, B, C, E & K, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Carotene, Chlorophyll, Amino Acids, Trace Elements, |
|17. Rye||2-3||Nutty Flavor||Vitamins B, C, & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Amino Acids, 15% Protein|
|18. Sesame||2-3||Nutty Flavor||Vitamins B, C, & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Amino Acids, 15% Protein|
|19. Sunflower||3-5||Mild Flavor||Vitamins A, B, C & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, 25% Protein|
|20. Wheat||2-3 Days||Corn Flavor||Vitamins B, C, & E, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Amino Acids, 15% Protein|
#19 Survival Garden
A 100 sqft, highrise apartment has enough room to grow greens. A window herb garden, a grow-light, a small patio garden, or a jar in the closet can provide fresh produce. You would be surprised how precious a basil plant in the window becomes if the store is out of fresh produce.
A big tip is to either grow a survival garden, no matter the size or stockpile seeds like wheat berries you can sprout for greens.Scott Ready Squirrel
Garden In The Yard:
- Start small and keep from getting overwhelmed
- Raised beds are easy to amend and weed
- Plant what you like to eat
- Start with easy plants (see list below)
- Use inexpensive gardening methods like permaculture to create garden beds on the cheap.
Limited Space and Container Gardening
- Plant in containers (just about any container will work)
- Start an herb garden in a window
- Plant in a container on a balcony
- Learn about hydroponics
- Sprout seeds or plant micro-greens
Tip: If you live in a space with limited sunlight, get a bookcase and a grow-light and start a mini garden inside. Locate your container garden close to your dining area so you can enjoy the beauty of your bounty.
#20 Garden Seeds
It may be too late if you wait until you need garden seeds in an emergency.
During the COVID pandemic, I did the majority of my garden-seed ordering after the lockdown. Two orders were canceled, and many seeds I wanted to purchase were unavailable.
Work towards saving seeds from your garden produce by using cross-pollinating plants called “heirloom” varieties. Avoid planting hybrids because you won’t get the same fruit or vegetable type from the offspring.
#21 Food Preservation
Combine food preservation skills with a survival garden, and you are ahead of the curve in emergency food storage. Use these food preservation techniques to increase your stockpile.
7 Food Preservation Methods
- Canning: kills micro-organisms and creates a vacuum seal
- Smoking: smoke creates an acidic coating that deters bacteria
- Fermenting: food is preserved with alcohol or organic acid
- Pickling: lactic acid is used as a food preservative
- Freeze-drying: low-temperature, low-pressure dehydration
- Dehydrating: removing moisture with heat
- Salting: Salt draws water out of food and dehydrates it
#22 Food Rotation
Restaurants use a method of food rotation called FIFO or “first in, first out.” FIFO works well to keep track of the expiration dates on your emergency food supplies.
5 Steps for using FIFO (First in, First Out)
- Maintain a logbook listing food type
- Track expiration dates in the logbook; be really meticulous about this
- Store like supplies together
- Keep items that are close to expiration close to the front for easy access.
- Use a permanent marker to put large “use-by dates” on the outside of your food packaging before you store them.
If you purchase food that doesn’t get eaten, rotate it out of your stock by donating or trading to make room for items you regularly eat.
#23 Test Food
By purchasing small amounts of unfamiliar foods, you can make sure it’s something everyone likes and that you will use it in your food rotation.
I bought a 50 lb bag of quinoa, which is considered one of the perfect superfoods. My entire family thinks quinoa tastes awful, so I wasted food and money. I now have a 50lb bag of quinoa sitting in my pantry taking up space.Scott, Ready Squirrel
#24 Cooking Skills
If you don’t know how to cook and your regular diet consists of frozen or microwave dinners, go with ready-made meals like canned soups or freeze-dried meals.
- If you’ve never cooked in your life, consider foods that don’t require cooking or foods that just need boiled water to prepare.
- If you don’t cook, avoid staples that take up a lot of space and require processing or cooking skills.
- If you are using staples, incorporate them into your diet and use them with the other ingredients in your pantry to see what works for you
- Start keeping a list of “go-to” recipes and meals that work for you
#25 Food Packaging
The type of packaging used to store your emergency food can increase or decrease shelf-life by decades. Keep this in mind when planning food rotation.
Let’s look at rice as an example of how food packaging affects shelf-life.
- Dry white rice in the store-bought plastic bag will last 4 to 5 years.
- Dry white rice stored in a hermetically sealed #10 tin can will last up to 30 years!
- Incorporate both packaging methods into your pantry but ensure ingredients are used before they go bad.
#26 Don’t Rush
Build your pantry slowly; find out what foods you use and what foods are missing. Try integrating pantry meals into your regular diet so you can see gaps in your storage supply.
If you take your time and observe, you will build a stronger, more useful pantry.
Weaknesses discovered in my emergency pantry during the COVID Lock-down:
- I had a lot of rice and flour in my pantry but not enough protein. My local grocery store started rationing meat and dried beans. The local Costco was out of all meats.
- I have hundreds of lbs of rice and only one bottle of soy sauce.
- I had plenty of wheat flour but no yeast to make bread; the store ran out of yeast.
#27 Rationed Food
The following ten foods tend to be rationed when there is a run on grocery stores. Don’t worry about luxury items until you have an abundance of these food items stored.
- Flour (white all-purpose)
- Dry beans
- Rolled oats
- Canned tomatoes
- Canned fruit
- Canned vegetables
- Canned meat (Spam)
Certain food items serve so many purposes they are worth having in your emergency pantry. Here are some examples of foods that build redundancy in your survival pantry.
Spices food preserves meat, cleans cast iron, replaces electrolytes
Alcohol acts as a disinfectant, a base for tinctures and herbal remedies, preserves fruit, and is excellent for barter.
Use Baking Soda to wash your hair, soothe an upset stomach, and as a leavening agent for baking.
Soy sauce is a master flavor enhancer for the pantry. It lasts virtually and forever, adding flavors to everything from rice to meat marinades, soups, and stews.
Peanut Butter: Eat it on bread, crackers, off the spoon, or add it to smoothies and baked goods.
It’s the most commonly eaten food in the world for a reason. Eat it hot with any number of sauces, with meat and spices, or use it with fresh produce and herbs to make a cold salad.
White rice is similar to dry pasta. It is a solid base for meat, vegetables, dairy, and beans. It can be eaten with just about anything.
#29 Storage Environment
The proper storage environment can be created in any size domicile. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 4000 sqft mini-mansion or an apartment. As long as the critical environmental requirements are met, food shelf-life can be maximized.
The ideal storage environment for survival food is cool, dry with low humidity, and dark (protected from sunlight). Also, avoid storage environments with significant temperature fluctuations, keeping temperatures below 75 degrees Fahrenheit and above 32 degrees Fahrenheit (above freezing.)
Keep stored foods away from heat sources like stovetops, ovens, venting electronics, and furnaces.
Store food in airtight containers
Keep food safe from minor flooding. If you are storing food in a basement, try getting items off the floor and onto something like a guerilla rack, cheap plastic bookshelf, or even an old pallet.
That would be best if you could avoid storing your emergency food in your garage or an outside shed. Fluctuations in temperature can be drastic and wreak havoc with food.
As an example of what heat does to food items, the Military Meal Ready-to-Eat (MRE) has a shelf life of up to 7 years if stored at 70°. Suppose stored in temperatures above 80° that shelf-life drops to 1.5 years.