Best Practices for Stockpiling Food

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I don’t know about you, but when I get hungry, I turn into a real grump.

That problem is generally easy to solve — cook something, microwave something, run out for a burger, order pizza — there are tons of quick options to fill an empty stomach.

What about falling on financial hard times or during an emergency or a disaster? Do you have a plan?

Hurricanes and bad weather can shut down shops and restaurants for days, weeks and even months.

After 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, some South Florida residents went without power for six months. For those reasons, building a year’s supply of food is a good idea.

Despite not wanting to be grumpy, I don’t really feel like starving to death either.

Why Should I Stockpile Food?

MREs and other goods for a food supply
Stock your food supply well. It does not have to be gourmet grade, only nutritious and edible.

Building a year’s supply of food is not as hard or as expensive as you may think.

You aren’t required to buy a year’s supply of food at one time and if you don’t even have a week’s supply right now, like a lot of us, you can start building your supply the next time you go to the grocery store.

Instead of buying just what is on your list, buy a few extra cans or boxed foods of what you are already getting. It is also good to take advantage of sales.

Stock up on items when you can get a good deal. Mac and cheese at .50 cents a box? Time to buy more than just two boxes!

You can also choose to shop at warehouse/bulk stores.

Where Do I Store It?

Before you run out and buy a ton of food to be stored, you need a place to store it. Your long-term food storage area needs to be cool, dry and dark.

Never put boxes or cans on the floor. You can buy pre-assembled shelving such as metal, wood or plastic, or you can build your own shelves.

Bulk foods, such as flour and sugar, and boxed items need to be protected from mice and bugs, so when you purchase these items, put them in different containers with tight lids.

You can use plastic trashcans, barrels or food-grade plastic buckets. Try going to restaurants (sandwich shops are a good place to check) and ask them for their buckets.

Canned foods can be stored as they are.

What Should I Store?

Picture shows a shelf stocked full of long-term food cans
Freeze-dried foods will last up to 30 years.

How much food is enough? The Canned Food Alliance says that the minimum amount of food you need is two cans of food per person, per day, and one gallon of water per person, per day.

Dr. Judy Harrison and Dr. Elizabeth L. Andress, in “Preparing an Emergency Food Supply: Long Term Food Storage” write that we need to eat at least one balanced meal a day.

There are many resources on the web that will help you decide how many pounds of essential bulk items you will need per person for a year.

Your food storage supply should consist of non-perishable food items, pre-made complete meal boxed foods, canned goods, rice, beans, whole grains, flour, salt, seasonings, peanut butter, nuts, evaporated milk, sugar and storable fats, such as olive oil and vegetable oils.

Choose a variety of foods and pick ones that you and your family already like. You would be surprised at all the different varieties of rice, beans and noodles you can find.

Storing Water

Hidden H2O: WaterBob
Use WaterBob to store drinking water.

You will need to store plenty of water, too, not only for drinking, but for cooking, washing, food prep, dishwashing, laundry, teeth cleaning and other wash-up needs.

Tap water is fine to use for long-term storage. 14 gallons of water per person will give you a two-week supply, or another suggestion is to buy 55-gallon plastic food-grade water drums.

You may also purchase commercially bottled water. If you go this route, make sure you use the water by its use-by date.

A cheap way of storing water is reusing two-liter plastic soda bottles. Once you are done with the soda, give the bottle a good cleaning and sanitizing and then fill with tap water.

Tap water will need to be disinfected using household bleach, a water purification tablet or a water filtration system. You can also get water from your hot water heater or the toilet tank.

Replace your stored water every six months. For more details on water purification, please see our articles on preparedness and water purification.

How Long Will My Food Storage Stay Good?

FEMA has an excellent list of how long each type of food will last.

Use in six months:

  • Boxed powdered milk
  • Dried fruit
  • Dry crisp crackers
  • Potatoes

Use within a year:

  • Canned condensed meat
  • Vegetable soups
  • Canned fruits
  • Fruit/vegetable juices
  • Ready to eat cereals
  • Uncooked instant cereal
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Hard candy
  • Canned nuts
  • Vitamins

Can be stored forever (in the proper container):

  • Wheat
  • Vegetable oil
  • Dried corn
  • Baking powder
  • Soybeans
  • Instant coffee
  • Tea
  • Cocoa
  • Salt
  • Non-carbonated drinks
  • White rice
  • Dried pasta
  • Powered milk stored in nitrogen-packed cans

What Else Do I Need to Consider?

Food Storage in Jars
Certain foods can be stored longer than others.
  • It is important to remember that you might be without power. Even though commercially canned foods can be eaten without being heated up, you will need to have some type of heat source, such as charcoal for a grill, a camping stove and fuel, or Sterno cans. Also, get a manual can opener, utensils and cookware to keep with your food supply.
  • You will also need to take into account special dietary needs, such as diabetic needs and food allergies. Babies, nursing mothers and the elderly may all have special dietary needs.
  • To supplement your food storage, keep 365 multivitamins per person.
  • Do not eat foods from a can that has become swollen, dented, rusted or corroded.
  • Once you have a good stockpile of food, you can use it in everyday cooking. Just remember the golden rule  rotate your supply by using the oldest foods first and replace what you use.

How much food storage do you keep? What foods do you store? Let us know in the comments section below!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2010. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.



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