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How to Stock an Emergency Food Supply

Are you ready in case of an emergency? Nutrition Diva breaks down what should (and shouldn't) be in your emergency food supply kit, including what to have on hand during a viral outbreak or pandemic.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #455
emergency food how to stock

This article was updated March 5, 2020 to add information about stocking food supplies during a viral outbreak or pandemic.

Niamh writes:

In light of several recent natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires), disaster preparedness is front of mind. What types of food would you recommend to have on hand as part of your personal disaster preparedness plan?

You are not the only one who wants info, Niamh! I got many emails from listeners asking for advice on putting together an emergency food supply. Emergency supplies are intended to get you through in the event that you temporarily lose power, water, and/or access to fresh food. Under those circumstances, aiming for a perfect balanced diet is probably unrealistic. But you don’t want to be relying entirely on leftover Halloween candy, either.

How much food do you need?

For a short-term disruption such as a severe weather event, experts recommend having a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water for each person in your household. Don’t forget to include in your tally others, such as elderly parents or neighbors or college-aged kids, that may rely on you in an emergency. Figure about 2000 calories per person per day.

You also want to have at least one liter of clean drinking water per person per day. This may be less water than you are used to drinking. For this reason, it’s good to avoid salty foods and other foods that may make you thirsty.

How to stock your emergency food kit

The ideal foods for an emergency kit do not require cooking. This rules out things like pasta and dried beans, even though they are both nutritious and non-perishable. If canned foods are in your kit, make sure to store a non-electric can-opener with your emergency supplies. Dehydrated foods such as dried fruits and vegetables are lighter and more portable than canned, which can be an advantage in the event that you need to decamp.

Here’s a list of good candidates for your emergency food supplies:

  • Canned fish, such as tuna, salmon, or sardines. Tuna and salmon are also available in shelf-stable pouches.
  • Beef or fish jerky
  • Dried or canned fruit
  • Dehydrated or canned vegetables
  • Canned beans
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Protein and/or energy bars
  • Milk or nondairy alternatives in shelf-stable packaging

Fortunately, many of the foods in your emergency preparedness kit are also on my list of the most nutritious foods for the money, which means that you won’t have to cash in your kids’ tuition fund to stock your pantry. But resist the temptation to save money by buying foods from open bulk containers. Manufacturer-sealed packages are better protected from air, moisture, and contamination and are less likely to spoil.

Resist the temptation to save money by buying foods from open bulk containers. Manufacturer-sealed packages are better protected from air, moisture, and contamination and are less likely to spoil.

Stocking emergency food for a viral outbreak or pandemic

With something like a major viral outbreak or pandemic, you may face longer isolation periods and find yourself unable to restock. When there's a significant threat of longer disruption, the US Government recommends that you keep a two-week supply of food on hand.

In the event of an outbreak, the biggest thing is minimizing unnecessary contact with others. Not having to go to the grocery store when you're sick—or even when you're well—can keep the disease from spreading.

In the event of an outbreak, the biggest thing is minimizing unnecessary contact with others.

The good news is that this type of situation is much less likely to cause disruptions in water or power. So, you don't have to worry about stocking drinking water or losing your ability to cook food or keep it cold. That means you can keep more fresh food on hand and not have to rely exclusively on dried and canned foods.

If I weren't able to go to the grocer for two weeks, I'd really be missing fresh greens for salads. So, you might want to add a few packets of sprouting seeds to your emergency food supply In a couple of days, you can grow a jar full of fresh micro-greens.  Here are some tips on how to get started with sprouting. (And there’s no need to wait for an emergency to try sprouting!)

I hope it will be a long time (or never) before you need to use these foods. But even non-perishable foods get old eventually. Every couple of years, rotate your emergency stock into your regular pantry and replace it. Store your emergency supplies in a cool, dry place and do what you can to prevent rodents and insects from raiding your stash.

Food storage tips

If the power goes out, you will not be able to keep foods refrigerated or frozen for long. But you will probably have a fair amount of food in the fridge and freezer. Before breaking into your dried and canned goods, eat your refrigerated first—but only as long as you can maintain them at food-safe temperatures. Keep a non-electric thermometer in your fridge and freezer to monitor temperatures.

Once your fridge or freezer climbs above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the clock is ticking, especially on highly perishable items like milk and meat.

Once your fridge or freezer climbs above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the clock is ticking, especially on highly perishable items like milk and meat. If you are able to heat foods, cook and eat raw meats before they spoil. Cook and eat frozen meat and vegetables as they thaw. Open your fridge and freezer as quickly and infrequently as possible to keep the food cold for as long as possible. It helps to have a mental picture of what’s in the fridge. Decide what you’re going to remove before you open the door.

I hope that none of you will ever be in a situation that requires it but having a plan for emergencies is an excellent policy. An emergency food supply is just one aspect of a disaster preparedness plan. It's also important to plan ahead for things like medications, pets, hygiene, communications, and much more. Please visit ready.gov for more information about putting together a comprehensive emergency plan. 

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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