An Aero Methow Rescue Service Program


Hayley Riach

Food Storage in Times of Disaster

When a disaster strikes, we focus our attention on our most basic needs. After water, the next most important item to have on hand is food. 

It is possible to survive for weeks without food, but who would want to? During a prolonged emergency there will be a lot of work to do. Everyone will be better able to perform their chores if they are well-nourished and satisfied.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of creating long term food stores. Many important questions come up:

How much food should I store?
How do I keep my food stores fresh?
What kind of food should I store?  
How can I afford to create an extra food stash?

Read on to find out answers to these important questions, and more!


It’s recommended that each person in a household have at least enough food and water stored to last three days. But that’s the bare minimum. A week would be better, and two weeks or more is the ideal to aim for.


The Golden Rule of Food Storage: Store what you use, and use what you store.

Given that most foods have a limited shelf-life, no matter how they are stored or preserved, how does one manage to maintain a one- or two- week’s supply of food that is always fresh when the disaster hits? Some people think you are supposed to keep your food stores locked away, then replace them every two years. That’s both expensive and wasteful.

The best way is to regularly rotate your food stash to keep it fresh. This means that you should regularly eat your way through your supplies, replacing what you eat as you go. Even if the food in your stash doesn't spoil easily, over time it will lose much of its nutritional value and flavor. This method ensures that it’s always nutritious and tasty when you need it most.

Always put the newest item at the very back, moving every other item forward so that you will use the oldest first. That way, as long as you are storing what you use, and using what you store, your stock will always remain fresh and your food will never go bad.


As you stock food, take into account your family’s unique needs and tastes. Familiar foods are important. They lift morale and give a feeling of security in times of stress. Try to include foods that they will enjoy and that are also high in calories and nutrition. Foods that require no refrigeration, water, special preparation, or cooking are best. A few MRE's, or Meals Ready to Eat (invented by the military for survival situations) in your grab bag is okay. But they are expensive and not always that tasty. They are definitely not ideal as the foundation of your main food stores if you are preparing for a prolonged emergency. 

Consider these other options:

Canned Foods
(Make sure you have a manual can opener on hand!)

Canned foods, whether commercially prepared or canned at home, should make up the bulk of your food storage program. They are by far the least expensive option when it comes to food storage. They do not have to be refrigerated and they require minimal preparation before serving. Most can be eaten right from the can. Canned foods also contain a fair amount of water, which can come in handy in meeting your daily water needs. Due to their water content, canned foods are heavy when compared to dehydrated foods, but you probably won't be hauling your home stash around anyway. Canned foods come in convenient sizes, so an opened can will probably be consumed without leaving leftovers, which would require refrigeration. They also stack well making it easy for you to rotate your stores. You can gradually and economically build your home food storage stash by purchasing a few extra canned goods each time you buy your groceries.

Properly canned foods will keep almost indefinitely, but their quality begins to deteriorate after about a year or two, so buy or prepare canned foods that you use regularly and keep them in constant rotation.

Dried Foods
Drying or dehydration is an excellent way to preserve food.  Properly dehydrated foods do not require refrigeration. They can be stored in airtight containers or plastic bags and will keep for a year or longer—the drier the food, the longer it will store. Dehydrated foods retain most of their nutritional value. Since water is responsible for much of the bulk and most of the weight of any food, dehydrated foods are lighter and more compact, making them also ideal for your go-bag. If you want you can restore dehydrated foods by soaking them in water for a few hours before eating them. Dehydrated vegetables are great to use in soups and stews.

Dried foods can be are stored in airtight containers made out of metal, plastic or glass. Glass doesn’t leach but it can be easily broken during a disaster such as an earthquake. Glass containers should be protected from breakage and light. You can put them in a brown paper bag to protect from light.

Dehydrated food can be purchased, dehydrated in a food dehydrator or in your oven.
Dried goods that you might consider storing include:
Dried fruits (raisins, apples, bananas, pears) 

Dried vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, corn, green beans, peas, peppers).

Frozen Foods

Frozen foods are helpful to have on hand in case of an emergency. Freezing is an easy and convenient method of food preservation that is good at retaining the nutritional value of your food. There is one huge and obvious disadvantage to freezing: What happens when the electricity goes off? You can invest in a gasoline or propane-powered generator to keep your freezer running during power outages. But eventually you are going to run out of fuel for your generator. For that reason you should not rely on your freezer for your primary method of food storage. If you are a hunter or have a garden and prefer freezing to canning, that is fine. If you have a generator, you might be able to consume your frozen foods before you run out of fuel. But you should also have a stash of foods that do not require freezing for those longer emergencies.

Commercially Prepared Dried Goods
This category includes just about every food on your grocery store's shelves other than canned goods, fresh foods and refrigerated items. They are prepackaged and generally ready to go directly from the store's shelves to the shelves of your home stash. Obviously shelf life is an important consideration, and some foods will keep much better than others.

Good examples of foods that keep well are honey, sugar, salt, and rice. They should be stored in sufficient quantities. Honey, sugar and salt store indefinitely, as long as they are sealed from air and protected from moisture. White, wild, arborio, jasmine and basmati rice all have an indefinite shelf life, when kept free from contaminants. The exception: brown rice. Thanks to its higher oil content, it won’t keep nearly as long.

Some items, like wheat flour for bread making, are best purchased in a less processed form. Rather than storing flour, it is far better to store whole wheat berries. Flour has a shelf-life of only a few months, while whole wheat berries, when stored properly, have a shelf-life of a thousand years. (Viable wheat berries thousands of years old have been found in Egyptian tombs!) You will also need to stash away a hand-operated grinder to grind the wheat berries into whole wheat flour when it comes time for baking.

When considering which commercially prepared dried goods to store, and how much to store, remember our Golden Rule (repeated here because it is so important):

Store only what you use, and use what you store.

Does your family use milk? Instant milk has a shelf life of 20 years when stored properly, is an excellent survival food and doesn’t require refrigeration until reconstituted with water. You can easily reconstitute a little at a time, as it is needed, avoiding refrigeration entirely. Milk is high in nutrition, particularly protein, which may be in short supply during a prolonged emergency. Powdered milk is slightly different taste of instant milk, but some people think it tastes just as good.

You might be able to live without it, but others are hard pressed to do so. And you will be living with them! It is best to store whole roasted coffee beans rather than ground coffee. You will need a coffee grinder. (Don't use an electric one. What will you do when the electricity is off?)

You can grind your whole roasted coffee beans with a hand-operated coffee grinder, like the one shown above. Or you can use the same hand-operated grinder that you use to grind your wheat berries.


Here's a way to quickly and systematically build up a one-week (or longer) supply of emergency food: Each time you buy groceries, for one or two of the nonperishable items on your shopping list, buy twice as many as you need. Instead of buying one bottle of ketchup, for example, buy two. Put the extra bottle in your pantry. When you are running low on ketchup, rather than using the extra bottle, put ketchup on your grocery list as you normally would and buy another bottle. Just don't forget to rotate the older bottle of ketchup out of the pantry, using it first and putting the new bottle on the shelf behind it. If you will do this each time you buy groceries, for just one or two of the items on your list, in no time you will have accumulated a one-week stash of emergency survival food.

Just about every food that you purchase from the grocery store, other than refrigerated items, fresh produce, and fresh bakery goods, can also be stashed away in quantity, as long as you remember to store what you use and use what you store.

If there is ever an emergency, and the grocery store shelves are empty, or if you can't get to the store for a week, you and your family will not go hungry. When it comes to emergency preparedness you will already be way ahead of most people. You will also have taken the first step toward establishing your survival food stash. After your one-week storage goal is complete, you can work at increasing it to a two-week supply, or a one-month supply, or whatever your goal is for your home food stash. And while you are at it, you can use the same procedure to stock up on nonfood items like soap, toilet paper, personal items, etc.


Keep food in a dry, cool spot—a dark area if possible. Wrap perishable foods, such as cookies and crackers, in plastic bags and keep them in sealed containers.  Empty open packages of sugar, dried fruits, and nuts into screw-top jars or air tight canisters for protection from pests.  Inspect all food for signs of spoilage before use.  Throw out canned goods that become swollen, dented, or corroded.

Since your home-canned foods are stored in glass jars, it is particularly important to protect them from breakage. Whenever possible, your jars of food should be stored in the original boxes that the jars came it, along with the cardboard partitions inside which will keep them from banging against each other. The jars that are not in boxes should be wrapped with bubble wrap or separated with cardboard.

Make sure shelving units are secured in case of an earthquake. If you have doors on your shelving units, you can simply slide a small board through the handles to keep them closed. To keep the shelving units from toppling over, they should be securely fastened to the wall or to ceiling joists using metal strapping tape.

Metal shelves can also be assembled with the shelves upside down. This gives each shelf a lip around the edges to prevent the cans from sliding off the shelves during an earthquake. You can also use metal strapping tape to fasten the shelving unit to a wooden joist in the ceiling above, adding further stability and preventing it from toppling over.
Separate canned food by category so that it’s easy to find what you need. For example, start at the top with canned fruits and continuing down with soups, vegetables, beans, fish and nuts, meats and finally sauces on the bottom. That way, a quick glance reveals the types of canned foods you need to pick up on your next visit to the grocery store, helping you maintain a balance of each food type.

Make a "Get" and "Do" list for food. When you acquire an item or accomplish a task, check it off your list. That way it will be very easy to see your accomplishments and to monitor your progress. This will give you additional incentive and motivation, and you will accomplish your preparedness goals in a surprisingly short period of time, and in an efficient and almost effortless manner.

The material for Methow Ready’s articles on food storage and safety were excerpted from FEMA, the American Red Cross, the and 


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