Food Products

For those of you trying to decide what (if any) special storage food to buy, this page describes my experience with a few different types and brands of emergency food, gives a high-level description of each type and brand, and also gives pictures so you can see what things actually look like. For detailed nutritional and pricing information, see the other food pages on this site.

To make this page load quickly I've kept most of the images relatively small, but if you click on many of them it will show you a much larger version. This is useful if you want to read the fine print on the labels.

Serving sizes and prices

The definition of "one serving" is so arbitrary that I consider the term meaningless. Even when the manufacturers are honest and reputable (and most are), there is no common standard to guide them. This means that the "number of servings in a package" or "price per serving" are basically useless both for planning purposes and for comparison of different brands and packages.

The same can be said of manufacturer statements about how many "days" a given package of food will last, since they each have a different definition of how much food a person will eat in one day. I have less sympathy here because there actually is a standard used on the label of every package of food in your cupboard, but many companies choose to ignore it.

In an attempt to make some sense of this, I've tried to quote as much as possible in terms of "person-days" of food, where a person-day is 2000 calories of food. This is not a nutritional recommendation.

I use these amounts to provide a well-defined reference, however imperfect, for comparing the amounts and costs of different food brands and packages. Once you decide how many calories per day your family will need, this reference will also provide an easy way to compute how much food you'll need.

Emergency food bars

Image of emergency food bars.
Most brands appear pretty similar.
All the available brands share a few characteristics: The description of each brand focuses on the ways in which they differ. Remember that these are only intended for short-term emergencies. Because of their tolerance for high-temperature storage they are ideal for car-kits, but beyond the first 3 days or so you'll want to look for something with more taste and variety.

Datrex

flavor, texture, packaging, blah blah

ERBar

flavor, texture, packaging, blah blah

One point about ERBars is worth noting:


Mainstay

flavor, texture, packaging, blah blah

Mayday

flavor, texture, packaging, blah blah

SOS

flavor, texture, packaging, blah blah

Millennium

flavor, texture, packaging, blah blah

The Millennium bars are a bit different from all the others:


Canned and Pouched Storage Foods

If an emergency lasts longer than 2 or 3 days (and a large earthquake in the Bay Area is very likely to cause major disruption for a lot longer than that), you're going to get really tired of eating emergency bars. Assuming that you have access to your home storage area for earthquake supplies, you can set up a camp stove to boil water and transition to pre-made entrees which consist of some combination of dehydrated and freeze-dried food. These are packed in either pouches or cans, come in a variety of menu items, and require little or no cooking. I consider the "easy-to-prepare" requirement quite important, because if you had access to a decent place to cook you wouldn't still need emergency food.

The brands listed here are not the only ones available, but I had to limit what I cover because I don't have the resources to test them all. I selected these because:

Supply Volatility

As of June 2011, all manufacturers of freeze-dried food were running months behind on filling orders. As far as I can tell, the reason is that this is a niche market (very limited manufacturing capacity), and after all the recent earthquakes (e.g. in New Zealand) and the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear mess in Japan, a lot of people who were "on the fence" about stocking up with emergency food got out their credit cards and placed orders, swamping the system. The manufacturers do their best to increase capacity but that takes time, and they have to be very cautious about making capital investments for what will probably be a temporary spike in demand. In the meantime, all you can do is place your order with a well-established retailer and be patient. In a situation like this, if anyone tells you they can fill all their orders quickly then they're probably scamming you (or they might be selling something other than freeze-dried, which seems to be what people are focusing on).

As of June 2012, everything is back to normal. It took the factories many weeks to catch up, but they did catch up and everybody's orders got filled. Emergency preparedness is no longer in the headlines, so things will be normal until the next big news event spurs thousands of people to stock up and cause another supply shortage. The moral of course is to prepare now. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole cycle repeats in late 2012 as media coverage of all the 2012 "prophesies" and Mayan calendar foolishness increases.

Find out and specify N-flush, O2-absorber, or both.

Storage Life

Different manufacturers claim different shelf lives, but if you read the fine print it always depends on storage temperature. If your food will be kept in the house, I think 15 years is a good conservative estimate for any of the brands described here. The food will likely last longer, but the nutritional value will slowly degrade after that. If you're planning to keep your food in a hot garage or attic, I suggest you make a better plan because that will dramatically reduce the food's useful life.

AlpineAire

This is available in either pouches (branded as AlpineAire) or #10 cans (branded as Gourmet Reserves). I recommend the cans because they have a much longer shelf-life.

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

Note: AlpineAire only advertises around a 15-year shelf life for their cans, but Mountain House advertises 30-years. I honestly can't tell if Mountain House really lasts longer or if AlpineAire is simply being more cautious in their estimates. Shelf-life is not something you can measure precisely, and I'm sure both brands last a long time. I recommend rotating everything after 15 years just to be on the safe side.

Chef's Banquet

Image of Chef's Banquet bucket. Image of Chef's Banquet pouches.
Chef's Banquet bucket Chef's Banquet pouches

This is the "budget brand" in this category. Chef's Banquet is packed in the standard round bucket, but it costs significantly less than the nearest competitors, and there are good reasons why.

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

eFoods Direct

Image of eFoods Direct tote case. Image of eFoods Direct contents.

eFoodsDirect (also branded as Nutriversal) seems to be a much higher quality food, and you pay for that difference. ("Higher quality" does not mean "like a 5-star restaurant"; this is all relative).

Advantages:

Disadvantages:


Food for Health International

Food For Health International has a few selections, each of which comes in a plastic bucket and includes a predetermined selection of pouches.

Image of closed Costco bucket. Image of open Costco bucket and contents. Image of Costco bucket contents.

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

Over the last 5 years the manufacturer has completely updated the menu on this bucket, so the selection in the 2011 package is quite different from what was included in the bucket I purchased in 2006. (This is a good thing, because the older version was barely edible.) The pictures and information posted here refer to the 2011 offering.

GoFoods Global

blah blah

Mountain House

These come in both pouches and #10 cans, but I recommend the cans because they have a much longer shelf life. On the other hand, a #10 can holds quite a bit of food (enough for 2-3 meals for 4 people), so you can only get a decent variety of items if you are storing at least a couple weeks of food.

Many people consider Mountain House to be the "gold standard" of freeze-dried food; they have been around for decades and have a strong track record for quality. Most of their selections include real meat, but there are a few vegetarian options. Because of this, Mountain House has a lot of pricing power and you will never find any huge discounts (although you can find 20%-off sales, and I recommend that you wait for those).

Mountain House advertises a 25-year shelf life on most of their cans, and they can point to folks who have opened cases of their stuff after literally decades in storage and found it to still be fine.

Provident Pantry

blah blah

WISE Foods

Image of WISE Foods bucket. Image of WISE Foods pouches.
Wise Foods bucket Wise Foods pouches

These come in pouches packed in buckets. Everything is 100% vegetarian (but not vegan). They claim a 25-year shelf life.

You can only buy a whole bucket at a time, so there is a fixed selection of entrees and you don't get to choose which ones you want. However the smallest buckets are modest in size.