Cheap Emergency Food: Stockpiling on a Budget

Stocking up on cheap emergency food can be done at your local grocery store, big-box store, and online for much less than purchasing professionally packaged survival foods, but there is a little more work involved. You will have to seek out sales and do a little couponing to maximize savings.

Cheap Emergency Foods for short-term crises include canned beans, fruits, vegetables, and meat. Canned food is an excellent survival food as it is non-perishable, shelf-stable, and ready-to-eat. However, pound for pound, dry staple foods like dry white rice, dry beans, and wheat are the cheapest emergency food for long-term emergencies.

Canned food and dry staples aren’t quite as sexy as freeze-dried backpacker’s food, professionally packaged survival food, or Meals Ready to Eat. Still, with some planning, these relatively cheap foods work just as well for most emergencies. Keep in mind that our ancestors survived on home canning and dry staple foods.

If you want to learn more about the cheapest survival foods, check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Best Emergency Food: Cheap to Expensive,” and get started building an awesome food safety net for your friends and family.

Commercially Canned Emergency Food

Canned foods like meat, vegetables, and fruits are outstanding for the short term. They should be the core of short-term emergency food storage. Excellent for, the Federal Emergency Management agencies suggested 3 day supply of shelf-stable food and other natural disaster preparedness such as hurricanes.

How long do Canned Foods Last: Shelf Life

Canned foods that are high in acid have a shelf-life of 1 to 2-years. These include canned tomatoes, citrus fruits, and any soups or stews with these ingredients. Foods low in acid will last 3 to 5 years. These include canned meats, vegetables, soups, and stew that do not contain high acid ingredients.

Home Canned Foods should be used within one year (USDA)

Take canned food shelf-life with a grain of salt. According to the USDA, canned foods that are stored properly and left undamaged have an indefinite shelf-life.

The only issue you will have with properly packaged and stored cans is time. Over the years Canned food will degrade in taste, texture, and appearance even if it is still edible.

Storage Tip: Rotate your canned foods by eating the oldest cans first or first-in, first-out (FIFO). This way, you can avoid eating a questionable can of green beans or canned meat and will always have a healthy supply of ready-to-eat, shelf-stable foods in case of an emergency.

Storage and Treatment

If you plan on using canned food in your long-term storage, get to know the 10 signs of a bad can really well (see below.) This is the only way you will know if the food in a can is safe to eat.

Storage Tip: The “Best By Date” on a food can is not a safety date and is not mandated by law. Manufacturers choose to put this date on canned food to notify the customer of peak food quality.

Store all canned foods in a cool, dry place. Don’t store them above the stove, under the sink, in a damp garage or basement, or any place exposed to high or freezing temperatures. 

If cans are in good condition (no dents, swelling, or rust)  and stored in a cool, clean, dry place, they are safe indefinitely.

United States Department of Agriculture, How Long Can You Keep Canned Goods

11 Signs A Can Of Food Is Bad

If you handle your cans with care and keep them cool and dry most of them will have a good shelf-life. That said, you should know the 11 signs of a bad can so you don’t take a chance of getting food poisoning.

  1. Leaking
  2. Bulging
  3. Badly Dented (seal may be broken)
  4. Cracked Jars
  5. Jars with loose or bulging lids
  6. Foul odor when the can is opened
  7. Container that spurts liquid when opened
  8. Oozing of liquid under the lid
  9. Gas bubbles in the jar
  10. Food is moldy or discolored
  11. Intuition: when in doubt, throw it out

Warning: While extremely rare, a toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum is the worst danger in canned goods. Even a minuscule amount of botulinum toxin can be deadly.

United States Department of Agriculture

Pros: Canned Food

  • Shelf-stable,
  • Non-perishable
  • Ready-to-eat
  • Fuel and Water Not Required

Cons: Canned Food

  • Require Rotation
  • Controversial Shelf-life (1 to 5 years to indefinite)
  • Heavy
  • Less palatable than fresh & perishable food (subjective)
  • Require refrigeration after opened

Dry Foods: White Rice, Wheat, Beans, Rolled Oats

If you want to store food for long-haul emergencies and survival, i.e., a year’s supply, the cheapest and arguably the best food to store are dry foods like grains and dried beans.

You can get 30 years of shelf life or more from dried foods (staples.)

21 Cheap-Dry-Foods

Not to beat a dead horse, but if you are looking to build a pantry will 100 pounds of food, dried staples are the best bet. Following is a list of relatively inexpensive foods stored for decades of shelf-life.

  1. White Rice
  2. Hard White Wheat
  3. Hard Red Wheat
  4. Dried Beans
  5. Millet
  6. Kamut
  7. Spelt
  8. Dried Pasta
  9. Dent Corn
  10. Rolled Oats
  11. Dried Potatoes
  12. Dried Vegetables
  13. Dried Fruit
  14. White Granulated Sugar
  15. Salt
  16. Buckwheat
  17. Flax
  18. Barley
  19. Hulled Oats
  20. Rye
  21. Quinoa
  22. Non-fat Powdered Milk
  23. Powdered Juice Drink
  24. Powdered Eggs
  25. Powdered Peanut Butter
  26. Powdered Butter

Ready to start hoarding cheap survival food, check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Cheap Food With A Long Shelf-life.”

How long do dry foods last

Properly packaged the backbone staple foods such as white rice, wheat, and dried beans will store for thirty-plus years when properly sealed in an oxygen-free container, using Mylar, food-grade buckets, and Oxygen absorbers.

Where to get dry foods

You can get dry staples in any major grocery store or big box stores like Sam’s Club or Costco. If you want to store in bulk, the easiest way I’ve found is to order online.

If you can’t find 50lbs bags of white rice, wheat, rolled-oats, or beans, you’ll have to order them online. Expect to pay a hefty price for ground shipping. The cheapest shipping I’ve found is through the LDS Home Storage Center, where you can purchase dry foods in #10 cans.

Another way to do it is to purchase smaller bags of white rice, grains, and dry beans and repackage them for long-term storage. Check out the Ready Squirrel article, How Much Food Will Fit In a 5-gallon Bucket

Storage and Treatment

At this stage, it’s not arguable. The best way to store dry foods like white rice, wheat, and dry beans is in Oxygen-free storage. You can do this one of two ways for maximum food protection and storage life.

Learn more about cheap emergency food. Read the Ready Squirrel article, “Cheap Long Term Emergency Food Supply: Epic Dry Staples.”

One: Bucket, Bag, and Oxygen Absorber(s)

The best and easiest DIY storage containers for bulk dry foods (staple foods) are with a 5 or 6-gallon food-grade bucket, lined with a Mylar bag and sealed with oxygen absorbers.

Two: #10 Cans

These big beefy cans are the flagship of food storage because they are tough and excellent at protecting food from oxygen and light. However, it is cheaper to purchase #10 cans from the LDS cannery than to do it yourself because the cans are expensive, as is the equipment to can. The cannery has the ability to purchase cans in bulk which decreases the cost.

One of my favorite things about #10 cans is the manageable serving size. 5 and 6-gallon buckets expose a lot of food when opened.

Pros Of Dry Food

  • Decades of Shelf life
  • Proven Survival food
  • Least Expensive
  • White rice and beans provide an entire protein

Cons Of Dry Food

  • Require processing (wheat berries must be milled into flour, and flour doesn’t have the shelf life of wheat berries)
  • Water and fuel are necessary to cook them
  • Heavy
  • Not ideal for most “on the move situations such as bugging out on foot
  • Must be repackaged for maximum shelf life
  • Not ready to eat like canned foods
  • Do not require refrigeration after opening
  • Require basic cooking skills (good to learn)

Learn how to store rice for the long-haul, check out Ready Squirrel’s article, “How To Store Rice In Long Term Storage: By The Numbers.”

Pre-packaged Foods (Not Cans)

Pre-packaged shelf-stable foods that provide substantial calories and nutrition. For example, peanut butter and honey and side dishes like Knorr pasta, boxed macaroni and cheese, and Ramen noodles are flexible and simple to make.

How long do they last

Pre-packaged FoodShelf-life
Knorr Pasta and Rice Sides 16 (months)
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese24 (months)
Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes18 (months)
Ramen Noodles (bagged)8 (months)
Cup of Noodles6 (months)
Peanut Butter (unopened)24 (months)
Crackers6+ (months)
Potato Chips6+ (months)
Chocolate24 (months)
Soy Sauce (unopened)Indefinite
Lipton Soup Mixes24 (months)
Freeze-dried Backpacker Meals (Mountain House)Learn More30 Years
MRE (Meal Ready to Eat, Combat Ration)Learn More7 years
Spices36 (months)
Hot Sauce4 years
Lentils –Learn More30 years (O2-free/storage)
Instant Oatmeal12 (months)
Granola6 (months)
Granola Bars6 (months)
Fruit leather/Fruit Roll-Ups6 (months)

Storage and Treatment

Store your pre-packaged foods in a cool, dry location and rotate them into your regular diet, so you always have a fresh supply.

In my house, we mow through Ramen noodles, so we buy them by the case. Other family favorites are peanut butter, oatmeal, lentils, soy sauce, and Tabasco.


  • Reduce palate fatigue (eating just dry staple foods get’s old quick)
  • Flexible ( use to build full-meals)
  • Simple to make, some are ready-to-eat, and some are not, but even the ones that aren’t only require boiled water.


  • Shelf-life is limited
  • Not as nutritious as dry foods
  • Not Ready-to-eat like cans (even though most of us will heat canned food if possible)

Cheap Long Term Storage Container: PETE Bottles

Soda and juice bottles made of (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic can be used with oxygen absorbers to package dry non-perishable, and shelf-stable foods for up to 5 years.

I’d only use this method if you can’t swing getting food-grade buckets, Mylar bags, and Oxygen-absorbers because you will lose decades of shelf-life storing food this way.

To make sure bottles are food-grade PETE, check that they are marked PETE or PET under the recycle symbol, usually on the bottom of the bottle.

Don’t use other types of plastics or bottles that contained non-food-grade items.

Avoid storing moist foods or foods high in fats in an Oxygen-free environment. The moisture content of stored foods should be 10 percent or less. This is the prime environment for anaerobic bacteria like botulism.

Packaging in PETE Bottles

  1. Use PETE bottles that have screw-on lids with plastic or rubber lid seals. First, verify that the lid seal will not leak by pressing a sealed empty bottle underwater and pressing on it. If you see bubbles escape from the bottle, it will leak.
  2. Clean used bottles with dish soap and rinse them thoroughly to remove any residue. Then, drain out the water, and allow the bottles to dry completely before you use them for packaging food products to maintain less than 10% moisture.
  3. Place a 300cc oxygen absorber in each bottle. The absorbers can be used with containers of up to one gallon capacity (4 liters).
  4. Fill bottles with dry foods like white rice or other dry staples with less than 10% moisture content.
  5. Wipe top sealing edge of each bottle clean with a dry cloth and screw lid on tightly.
  6. Store the products in a cool, dry location, away from light.
  7. Protect from rodents.
  8. Oxygen absorbers are “not” reusable.

Information provided by Church of Jesus Christ

If you want more information about long-term storage, check out Ready Squirrel’s comprehensive article “How Much Food To Stockpile Per Person.”

Thanks for stopping by. I hope this article helped you on your journey to becoming independent.


United States Department of Agriculture, Q&A, How Long Can You Keep Canned Food? Link