When I think of shelf-stable foods for emergencies like natural or man-made disasters such as tornados, hurricanes, or forest fires, the first thing that comes to mind is hearty canned food like soups, stews, fruits, vegetables, and meats.
Shelf-stable food also includes any other edible that can sit in the pantry without refrigeration, ready to eat, with no cooking or water necessary.
Most of us have shelf-stable foods already in our pantry. If not, it’s a good idea to have at least the three-day supply suggested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the 72-Hour Emergency Kit.
There may not be the time or resources to cook fresh foods or perishable foods like white rice and dry beans in an emergency or natural catastrophe scenario.
Shelf-stable foods are the best emergency food for short-term SHTF situations.
Imagine a hurricane just hit, ocean surge has contaminated municipal water, you can’t drive anywhere because the roads are blocked. The power is out and will be for several days. In the cupboard are cans of Dinty Moore stew, Progresso Soup, peaches and whole wheat crackers. All you need to eat this emergency meal is a can-opener. Open the package and eat. Perfect.Scott Ready Squirrel
What are shelf-stable foods for emergencies?
Shelf-stable foods for an emergency don’t need to be cooked, refrigerated, or require water to be “ready to eat.” Foods have a pantry shelf life of 6 months to 5 years. Once opened, consume or refrigerate canned food and store boxed or bagged food in an airtight container.
Shelf-stable Food Vs. and Non-perishable food: Short-Term Emergencies
When you look up a list of shelf-stable or nonperishable food, both are on the list and considered the same. They are not, especially in an emergency where precious resources like water, fuel, and electricity are unavailable.
Shelf-stable and nonperishable food can sit in the pantry without refrigeration and stay good. The difference is nonperishable food takes more resources to make ready to eat.
Shelf-stable foods don’t need to be cooked. Nonperishables need to be cooked, usually boiled for an extended period with water, which takes up time and a tremendous amount of precious fuel.
Ready to learn more about Non-Perishable foods? Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Non-perishable Emergency Food: Grub With The Longest Shelf-life.”
Chart #1 Shelf Stable Vs. Nonperishable (Differences as emergency food)
|Characteristics||Shelf-Stable Food||Nonperishable Food|
|Additional Water Needed||No||Yes |
(10 cups of water to cook 1 pound of dry beans)
|Cooking Required||Optional||Yes |
(45 minutes to 2 hours to cook dry beans)
|Processing Required||No||Wheat needs to be milled for flour|
Shelf Stable Food List (134 Emergency Edibles)
Following are lists of shelf-stable foods that store in the pantry and don’t require anything but opening the package to make it edible.
When planning your emergency food storage, consider how much food is in each container and how many people you need to feed when planning what to store.
Storage Tip: once opened, canned foods require refrigeration. The food not eaten in one sitting goes in the trash if you don’t have power.
Start Hoarding Food for a year’s supply. Read the Ready Squirrel article, How Much Food For A Year: Proven Dry Staples.
List of Shelf Stable Protein
I suggest storing some full meals such as hardy Progresso soups, stews, and pasta meals in addition to individual ingredients like canned tuna and beans. You won’t feel like making mealtime a big production in an emergency, so keep it simple.
Following is a list of 52 shelf-stable proteins, many of which you probably already have in the pantry.
- Canned Tuna
- Tuna in a retort pouch
- Canned Salmon
- Salmon in a retort pouch
- Hormel Compleats
- Canned Chicken
- Canned Ham
- Canned Beef
- Canned Pasta With Meat
- Spaghettios with meatballs
- Beef Ravioli
- Canned or Jarred Pasta Sauce with meat
- Vienna Sausages
- Canned Spam
- Spam in a retort pouch
- Pickled Eggs
- Pickled Hamhocks
- Fermented Bean Curd
- Smoked Oysters
- Canned Crab Meat
- Kippered Herring
- Canned Bacon
- Potted Meat
- Corned Beef
- Shelf-stable summer sausage and pepperoni
- Canned Lentils
- Canned Pinto Beans
- Canned Garbanzo Beans
- Canned Kidney Beans
- Pork and Beans
- Baked Beans
- Dozen Cousins Retort Pouch Beans
- Sealed Peanuts
- Sealed Walnuts
- Sealed Almonds
- Sealed Cashews
- Sealed Pecans
- Sealed Pistachios
- Sealed Macadamia Nuts
- Mixed Nuts
- Sunflower Seeds
- Canned refried beans
- Packaged Meat Jerky
- Peanut Butter
- Almond Butter
- Nut Butters
- Coconut oil
Once you get your short-term-emergency food together, start working on stockpiling for the long term. Check out the comprehensive Read Squirrel article, “How Much Food To Stockpile Per Person.”
List of Shelf Stable Vegetables
In my household, we use a lot of canned tomatoes. But these are usually used to make homemade pasta sauce and Sauce. For short-term emergencies, store shelf-stable canned vegetables or focus on getting soups and stews with vegetables as an ingredient.
Following is a list of 12 canned vegetables you can store for short-term emergencies.
- Canned Green Beans
- Canned Corn
- Canned Carrots
- Canned Peas
- Canned Asparagus
- Canned Vegetable Mix
- Canned Tomatoes
- Canned Beets
- Canned Sauerkraut
- Retort Pouch Vegetable Curries
- Kitchen of India Vegan Retort Pouch Meals
List of Shelf-stable Drinks
Your primary shelf-stable liquid will be good old water, but you might want to shake it up with some sweet juices for a hit of vitamin C.
I like the idea of storing extra emergency water and using dry fruit drink powders for flavoring.
- Water (Lots of water)
- Baby Formula
- Tomato Juice
- Shelf stable protein drinks
- Flavored Water
- Sports Drinks
- Nutritional Supplement Drinks (Boost & Ensure)
- Carbonated and uncarbonated water
- Apple Juice
- Grape Juice
- Grapefruit Juice
- Mango Juice
- pineapple juice
- orange juice
- lemon juice
- papaya juice
- juice boxes
- juice in a plastic bottle
- cranberry and mixed cranberry juice
- canned beef, vegetable, and chicken stock
- Vegetable and meat bouillon cubes (require boiled water)
List of Shelf-stable Pickled Foods
Pickled foods are excellent shelf-stable food for short-term emergencies.
You either love pickled foods, or you hate them. I eat pickled jalapenos and Spanish olives just about every day of the week, and I consider pickled foods to be comfort food. You may not.
- Salad Dressing
- Pickled Artichokes
- Pickled Garlic
- Giardiniera (Italian relish in olive oil)
List of Shelf Stable Condiments
Condiments are an excellent way to make emergency food a little more interesting. I’m a fan of soy sauce because it lasts indefinitely, and I also like and use Tabasco regularly.
- Soy Sauce
- Tabasco (Vinegar Based Hot Sauces)
- Oyster Sauce
- Fish Sauce
- Olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Refined Coconut oil
List of Shelf Stable Sweets
At the very least, I would have table sugar stored for emergencies because it lasts forever. I’m also a fan of honey, and I use it in my coffee and tea.
- Real Maple Syrup
- Sugar (White Table)
- Corn Syrup
- Real Pure Honey
- Hard Candy: Worthers, Jolly Ranchers
List of Shelf-stable Grains
This section could also be called snack foods. Super handy quick foods like granola and power bars should be at the top of your emergency food list.
- Power bars
- Cliff bars
- whole grain crackers
- wheat thins
- Ritz crackers
- potato chips
- corn chips
- Wheat thins
- toasted cheese and crackers (the type you use in lunch boxes)
- toasted peanut butter and crackers
- granola bars
- rolled oats (cold soak and requires water)
- Gummy fruit snacks
- Trail Mix
List of Shelf-stable Fruits
For the short term, consider dried fruit like raisins, dried cranberries, or mango for ease of use in an emergency. However, a can of sweet peaches hits the spot.
Following is a list of shelf-stable fruits.
- Dried mango
- Dried apple slices
- Dried banana chips
- Dried plums
- Dried cranberries
- Dried apricots
- Dried blueberries
- Canned pears
- Canned peaches
- Canned pineapple
- Canned fruit medley
- Canned cherries
- Canned cranberry Sauce
- Fruit Snacks (gummies)
- Fruit Roll-ups
- Fruit Preserves and Jellies
- Freeze-dried fruit (can be eaten without reconstituting with water, freeze dried strawberries are awesome)
List of Shelf-stable Dairy
Shelf-stable dairy is dairy you store in a cool dark cupboard or pantry. There aren’t many options for shelf-stable dairy; powdered milk or Nestle Nido is the most helpful dairy product. If you have an infant, don’t forget to store baby formula and enough water to make it.
Following is a list of shelf-stable dairy
- Low-fat powdered milk (requires water)
- Nestle Nido (Many preppers prefer the taste of Nido to low-fat powdered milk)
- Milk in a drink box (strawberry and chocolate)
- Shelf Stable Milk
- Oat milk
- Pasteurized nut milks
- Cheese in a can
- Evaporated Milk
- Sweetened Condensed Milk
- Velveeta cheese
- Cheese Wiz
- Ghee (Clarified shelf-stable butter)
List of Shelf-stable herbs, seasonings, and spices
If I’m prepping for short-term emergencies, I will store salt and pepper, and that’s about it. If I planned to cook meat from my freezer, I’d stock up on seasoning to cook meat.
Herbs and seasonings are for long-term survival, used to season nonperishable foods like dried beans and rice.
Most of the shelf-stable foods you eat will already be loaded with salt, sugar, and flavorings.
Down below is a list of Herbs and seasonings you might consider storing.
- Bay Leaves
- Cajun Spice Mix
- Black Pepper
- Chili Powder
- Cayenne Red Pepper
- Powdered Garlic
- Dried Onion Powder
- Oregano or Italian Mix
- Mustard Powder
Shelf Stable Foods That Make You Feel Good (Morale Boosters)
The most critical aspect of survival is a survivor’s mindset—plan to store some foods that fit your version of “guilty pleasure” to boost morale.
- Dark Chocolate
- Hard Candy
- Tea bags
- instant tea
- instant coffee
- loose leaf tea
- Hostess Cakes
- Moon Pies
- Oreo Cookies
- Individual powdered drink mixes for bottled water
- Canned Cheese and Crackers
- Pepperoni stick or summer sausage
- Potato chips and canned sour cream and onion dip
- Corn Chips & canned bean or cheese dip
Shelf-stable MREs (Meals Ready To Eat)
MREs are one of the best shelf-stable emergency meals you can store for a short-term emergency. They are self-contained meal that requires very little to prepare. MREs are survival-type food because they have everything you need to eat when emergency circumstances don’t allow cooking or food preparation.
What is an MRE?
An MRE (Meal Ready To Eat) is the U.S. Military’s current combat ration, a shelf-stable, self-contained, pre-cooked meal with accessories that do not require refrigeration. MREs are used to feed forward-deployed troops if cooked food is unavailable. Each MRE contains approximately 1,250 calories.
Avoid using Military MREs for survival food because they are purchased second-hand, and you cannot know how they’ve been stored. Instead, purchase Civilian Versions of MREs.
6 Companies that sell civilian MREs
- Meal Kit Supply
What is in an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat)?
|Items||Content Of Military MREs|
|Asian Style Beef Strips, Beef Patty, Beef Ravioli, Beef, and BBQ Sauce, Beef Stew, Beef Taco, Brisket, Cheese Tortellini, Chicken Egg Noodles, Chicken Burrito Bowl, Chicken Chunks, Chili Macaroni, Chili With Beans, Spinach Fettuccine, Chicken Pesto Pasta, Meatballs in Marinara Sauce, Mexican Style Chicken Stew, Pork Sausage Patty, Southwest Style Beef, Spaghetti with Beef Sauce, Hashbrown Potatoes With Bacon, Vegetables With Pasta, Macaroni in Tomato Sauce, or Tuna|
|Side Dish||Corn, Fruit, Mashed Potatoes, or Rice|
|Cracker or Bread||Bread, crackers, tortillas, toasted corn kernels, Pretzels, or Nuts|
|Spread||Cheese spread, Peanut Butter or Jelly|
|Candy||M&Ms, Skittles, or Tootsie Rolls|
|Beverage Mix||Sports Drink Powder, Cocoa, Dairy Shakes, Cappuccino, Coffee, or Tea|
|Accessory Packet||Matches, Creamer, Sugar, Salt, Chewing Gum, and Toilet Paper|
|Dessert||Cookie, Pound Cake, Brownie, Cobbler, Fruit, Granola With Milk And Blueberries, Muffin Top, Pudding, First Strike Energy Bar, or Toaster Pastries|
|Hot Sauce||Hot Sauce in some meals|
|Condiments||Mayonnaise, Ketchup, Mustard, and Chipotle|
|1 Spoon||Eating Utensil|
(Flameless Ration Heater)
|Chemical heater (heats entree when a small amount of water is added)|
|Paperboard Sleeve||Heat sleeve used to heat entree with the FRH and water|
|Paperboard Insert Card||Contains Food Product Information|
Shelf Stable Water
The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests storing a bare minimum of 1 gallon of water per day per person for a three-day supply.
If you plan on cooking dry soups and food packets, include enough clean water in your stores to cook them. The 1-gallon per day per person is a bare necessity, and I’d consider storing 5-gallons of water per day. The water is used for hydration, sanitation, hygiene, and food preparation.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the bottled water industry, does not require a shelf life for bottled water. Bottled water can be used indefinitely if stored properly, but we recommend no more than two years for non-carbonated water, and one year for sparkling water.Nestle Watersna.com
What Are Some Shelf-Stable Foods You suggest Storing?
The following are my top-shelf-stable foods for emergencies. They provide the most nutritional bang for your buck and don’t require any preparation.
- Canned Soup
- Canned Chili
- Canned Stew
- Canned Tuna
- Instant Coffee
- Tea Bags
- Table Sugar
- Spam (loaded with fat and calories)
- Dried Fruits (my favorites are dried mango and dried cranberries)
- Canned Fruits
- Hard Candy
- Granola and Power Bars
- Crackers (Act like bread bread in emergencies)
- Water (you can’t have too much water)
- Favorite Drinks: soda, powdered drink mixes, fruit juice
10 Signs Shelf-stable Cans and Jars are Bad
Take a look at the list below so you know the signs that cans and boxes of shelf-stable food have gone wrong.
If you are storing Shelf-stable foods as part of your emergency food storage rotate them into your regular diet using FIFO or first in first out to ensure you always have a healthy supply of emergency food. Many preppers use the “best buy date” to keep track of food stores. A best buy date isn’t a safe to eat date but it works to keep bad food out of your pantry.Scott, Ready Squirrel
When shelf-stable foods show any of the following signs, throw them in the bin. It’s not worth taking the chance of getting food poisoning like botulism.
- Leaking or stained
- Swollen can
- Badly dented, crimped or pinched
- Container is cracked
- Foul odor
- Safety seals are broken or missing
- Lids are loose or missing
- Foods exhibit changed color or odor — never taste test questionable food
- When in doubt, throw it out.
Don’t Eat These Shelf-stable Boxes of Food
- The inner bag is torn or leaking
- If food is moldy
- If seals are ripped, and food is exposed to air
- If the box has insects or droppings inside
- If the packaging is stained, wet, or moldy
How to Store Shelf-stable Foods
Store cans and boxes up off the floor, on a shelf, and 18 inches away from the wall for air circulation
Store in a clean, dry, and cool area (below 75⁰F).
Don’t store shelf-stable foods in scorching temperatures (over 100⁰F) or cold temperatures (below 30⁰F). Both environments can damage cans & shorten shelf life.
Rotate your foods by using older products before newer ones. (FIFO First In First Out)
Tools for shelf-stable food
Have more than one manual can-opener on hand. (I’ve had can openers break on me).
It may not be an option, but I want some of my shelf-stable food warm. I also want to eat foods that require boiled water like ramen noodles, knorr noodle pouches, and instant mac and cheese. You’ll need some extra tools for this contingency.
- Camper’s stove and extra fuel for cooking outdoors
- Dedicated pan, lid, and spoon for heating soups and stews and boiling water
- Hot pad
- Contractor-grade trash bags for clean-up
- Dish soap, bucket, and extra water for clean-up
- Paper towels
- Plastic silverware, paper plates, and paper bowls
- Anti-bacterial hand soap
Federal Emergency Management Agency: Ready.gov, Build a Kit. “After an emergency, you may need to survive for several days. Being prepared means having your food, water, and other supplies to last for several days.”