Technically you can survive for weeks without food, but that would
make you miserable and weak.
That's not the state you want to be in after a disaster, when you
need to be able to think clearly and work efficiently.
Here are a few options for storing food that will make things
at least tolerable if the grocery stores are empty for a little while.
"Taste fatigue" can be a real problem when you're under stress,
so I recommend that you mix-and-match by storing food items from
more than one of these categories.
This page is an overview of the different types of food.
For far more extensive information about specific brands and packages,
please refer to the following pages:
- Food Products describes specific brands
in much more detail.
- Food Tasting Results gives the results of
extensive taste-testing of many different items from various manufacturers.
- Food Items supplies nutritional
information on individual items.
- Food Packages supplies nutritional and
cost information on packages you can purchase.
- Food Plans supplies nutritional and cost
information on some example "plans" (combinations of packages) that
you can assemble.
Regular grocery-store food
The simplest way to have extra food in the event of an earthquake is
to buy a few extra non-perishable items each time you do your usual
shopping at the grocery-store, supermarket, or warehouse club.
- Really simple (in principle), and doesn't require any large blocks of time.
- You are dealing with familiar items, and you know your family
will eat them because they already do.
- You'll need a bit of extra pantry space.
- You need the self-discipline to maintain the surplus instead of
using it up and forgetting to restock.
- You must remember to rotate your supply.
Cans and boxes will hit the end of a 1 or 2-year shelf life before you know it.
Remember that "energy bars" also fall into this category and can be very
convenient, but watch the expiration dates carefully.
There is no need to buy them from a specialty or camping store, because your
supermarket probably has them cheaper.
Note the date labels, lower right.
A note on rotation: You don't need some fancy system for this. If you
just make a habit of putting new boxes and cans at the back of the shelf,
and using the ones at the front, that should be fine.
For anything that you don't expect to use up within 6 months, I suggest
slapping a piece of masking tape on the package as you first put it away
and using a marker to label it with the year and month of purchase.
This is a great job for kids to help with.
If you include canned goods, remember to store a manual can opener
with the cans.
Be honest with yourself about whether you are really going to be diligent
about keeping the extra stock and rotating. If you can do that, this is a
great method. If not, there's no shame in that; we all lead busy lives
and need to find a method that actually works for us. Although this is
the method that the Red Cross and the government agencies most often
recommend, let's be frank: I don't personally know a single person who actually
does this; while simple in principle it's too complicated in practice
for even my own family to pull off successfully.
There is a wide variety of freeze-dried and dehydrated food available
that is intended for camping. Personally I prefer the Mountain
House brand, but you should do your own taste-test before buying
very much of this.
Each packet feeds 2 — if you're not very hungry.
- Tastes good.
- A wide variety of nutritious dishes and vegetables is available.
- Long shelf-life.
- Requires boiling water to prepare.
- More expensive than grocery-store food.
- After 5-7 years it still requires rotation.
If you can afford the cost, camping food can be a good addition to your
preparations. One thing I like is that when it comes time to rotate
in about year 6, you can bring the packets to work and use them for lunches.
It's probably almost as cheap as buying food in the company cafeteria,
and depending on where you work it might actually taste better.
It's easy to find this sort of food at any camping store or on the
Internet. I've had good luck purchasing Mountain House packets at:
Canned storage food
The same freeze-dried and dehydrated
food that comes in single-serving packets for camping can also
be purchased specifically packed for long-term emergency use.
Number ten cans.
- Longer shelf-life. Since these are packed in metal #10 cans instead
of mylar-plastic envelopes,
they'll last for 20-30 years when stored in a cool dry place.
- The price per meal is better with cans.
- A #10 can is big.
Once you open a can of turkey tetrazzini,
you're going to be eating it for a while. With a big family that might
not be a problem, but it's a factor to consider.
- Limited variety. Because of the larger size, on a given budget you'll
get more total food but fewer types of food than with the camping-style
packets. For example, if your budget is $50, you
can typically get about 7 large packets but only 2 cans.
- Rapid spoilage. Freeze-dried food "wants" to rehydrate so badly that
it will happily suck water right out of the air. For a family of typical
size it's pretty hard to use up a whole #10 can at once, and the left-overs
can spoil very quickly if you don't reseal them perfectly. Transferring the
remaining contents into a 1-gallon ziplock bag definitely helps, as does
being very careful to (1) re-seat the cover properly on the can and (2) not
bump the lid loose by banging the can around.
If you choose to go this route, it is absolutely essential to taste-test
first because the brands really do differ a lot, and I've tried some
that we ended up feeding to the dog.
For most people, the cans are just too big to be practical as the main component
of short-term earthquake supplies.
Pouched storage food
A number of companies now manufacture prepared meals which are
dehydrated or freeze-dried, then packed for long-term storage in special
These look a lot like the camping pouches but are intended for long-term storage.
- The claimed storage life is longer (up to 20 years if kept cool),
so the required rotation is much less frequent.
- Very convenient and easy to prepare in a stressful emergency
situation: just add boiling water.
- Packed in smallish pouches that you can use up in a single meal,
which minimizes spoilage.
- A good selection is available.
On balance, I think these are one of the best options available
if you can afford them. I wouldn't want to live on them for 6 months,
but for a couple weeks they're better than most of the available alternatives.
- You pay a bit more for convenience.
An MRE is the standard U.S. Military field ration, and the acronym stands for
Although some pundits claim this is 3-lies-in-one,
I have to say that I'd feel really guilty turning up my nose at what we feed
our men and women in uniform when they are in harm's way.
Teriyaki and cheese
Crackers from Costco.
- I find the taste OK, but nothing to write home about. I do like the desserts.
- No preparation or water required, although they taste better heated.
- Nutrient and calorie-dense (to keep the troops going in rough conditions).
- Decent storage life.
- My family does not find the taste acceptable, so you need to try a couple
and decide for yourself.
- Cost similar to camping food.
- Low-fiber (so the troops don't spend all their time in the restroom).
- Need to be rotated after 5-10 years, depending on storage conditions.
If you like these they can be really convenient, but not everybody likes them.
A couple of established Internet suppliers are:
Be careful when comparing prices; Long Life Food Depot prices include
shipping but Emergency Essentials prices do not.
Also be careful to distinguish "entree only" (about $3-$4) from
a "full meal" (about $7-$8) which includes entree, side dish,
dessert, cracker, accessory packet, and sometimes even a single-use
You can get special food-bars packed for use in lifeboats. You wouldn't
want to base your whole program on these, but they do have a place.
- Very long shelf-life, even under less-than-ideal storage conditions.
(They are designed to be stored in a lifeboat that sits out in the hot sun.)
- Zero preparation — just open the package and eat.
- Very compact.
- Don't require a lot of water to digest.
- I wouldn't call them tasty, but they are palatable.
- They come in a very limited number of rather bland flavors
so taste fatigue is a definite issue.
- Most are loaded with trans-fats, so if you're health-conscious you
definitely don't want a regular diet of these. Unfortunately
the presence of trans-fats seems to give them the necessary
chemical stability to have a long shelf-life, but
there is one brand (ERBar) which appears to have fixed this problem.
I heartily recommend getting a couple of these for use in car-packs,
but not for your home storage.
Our arteries are clogged with enough fat already.
Do be sure to pack a couple of empty ziplock bags with them,
because they're a bit crumbly and you may not want to eat the whole
thing at once.
The most popular brands, all of which are USCG-approved and
have a stated 5-year shelf life, are:
The best prices I can find on the Internet are $3-$4 per 2400-calorie
The same website also offers a 400-calorie "New Millennium Energy Bar" for
about $1 each. This is twice as expensive per calorie, but they come in
many more flavors and (unlike supermarket energy bars) have a 5-year
- MainStay (lemon), can be stored up to 300°F. The higher
maximum temperature is a consideration for anything stored in a car.
- Datrex (coconut), can be stored up to 149°F.
- MayDay (apple-cinnamon), can be stored up to 149°F.
Bulk grains and legumes
|Buckets of rice and beans.|
|Soak stored beans overnight.|
The Mormons have been practicing food storage for a long time, and
they've got it down to a fine art. The basic idea is to store 5-gallon
buckets of various grains, rice, legumes, and so on, plus some powdered
milk, salt, and honey.
- Very long shelf life.
In 2012 my family is still eating beans we packed pre-Y2K.
- Probably the cheapest per-meal cost you can get.
- Very healthy.
There are no additives of any kind, you can get all-organic if you choose,
and you will know exactly what is in your food.
- You need a grain mill, and it has to be a manual (not electric)
model. These start under $100, but it's one more thing to store and
keep track of, and it does take time to grind your grain.
- To be workable, you really have to eat from your supplies on a regular
basis, so that you know how to cook with it and your family is used to
- Really only practical if you want to store a lot.
Having your whole food supply consist of 30 pounds of unground
whole wheat is
going to put your family under major stress if you ever have to survive on it.
- You only get the super-long shelf life if you pack properly, which
involves plastic buckets, aluminum-coated mylar bags,
oxygen absorbers, and a few hours of work.
- This system stores ingredients, not meals.
You actually have to prepare and cook the food, which requires time and energy
you may not have in a stressful emergency situation.
I'd say storage of bulk grains is a great idea if you want
to do it anyway for health or environmental reasons, but it's not a great
approach if you're only planning for short-term emergencies like earthquakes.
It may seem frivolous to talk about treats in an emergency food supply,
but it's not. When you're under stress, anything that can give you
a psychological boost and make things seem a little more normal is worth
planning ahead for.
My own personal weakness is for Triscuits, but
include whatever you and your family like here: candy bars, hard candy,
chocolates, MRE cookies and cakes, potato chips, cheese curls, etc.
Just remember to rotate by eating and replacing — which
in this case should be no great sacrifice.
To get good prices on sweets, stock up on the morning after Halloween.
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This page was last updated on 2013-02-23.