Nutrition Column – be Prepared with Food for Emergency Situations

It’s always wise to be prepared. Food storage is one part of being prepared for emergencies and natural disasters. How much and which foods to store will depend on members of your household, your preferences, special health conditions, ability to use the food in an emergency and space available for storage.

Planning for short-term emergency food needs may be as simple as increasing the quantities of some staple foods and non-perishable foods that you regularly keep and use. However, to make sure you haven’t forgotten some of the essentials, experts recommend thinking through and keeping a three-day supply of food and water on hand.

What constitutes a three-day emergency supply of food? A well-stocked pantry is a good start. Since you may not have power during an emergency situation, your food supply should not require refrigeration to remain safe. It’s also wise to choose foods that you like and normally eat. A crisis is not the best time to learn to eat new foods. The types of food recommended for storage include the following.

  • Water. One gallon per person per day is recommended for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene.
  • Ready-to-eat canned goods. You can find a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, meats, fish, chicken, meat mixtures and pasta in the canned goods section of your supermarket. It’s best to choose can sizes that provide the number of servings you and your household will consume at one time if the power is off, refrigerating leftovers is not an option. Be sure to keep a manual can opener and eating utensils on hand.
  • Instant and dried foods. These are good options if you have sufficient water and an alternative way to boil food if the power is off. Instant potatoes, rice, cereals and soups are all quick and easy to prepare.
  • Bottled, canned, boxed and dried juices. These help provide fluids as well as energy, vitamins and minerals.
  • Powdered, canned or evaporated milk or formula (if needed). These also provide fluids as well as calcium and protein.
  • Staples and condiments. Make sure your cupboard is stocked with the condiments you use, such as salt, sugar, pepper, coffee, tea and cocoa mix.
  • Ready-to-eat and instant cereals, crackers and hard taco shells. Choose crackers lower in fat for longer storage life.
  • High-energy foods. Examples include peanut butter, jelly, nuts, trail mix, granola bars, cookies, hard candy, chocolate bars, soft drinks and other snacks. Be sure to store high-fat products in a cool place as they are prone to becoming rancid.

Once assembled, your emergency food supply can be stored with all your other food supplies in a cupboard or closet. If space is at a premium, you can store supplies under a bed, in a back closet or in the basement, attic or heated garage. Canned goods should not be stored where they might freeze. If frozen, cans often are damaged, causing food spoilage. Also, be sure to store dry goods in tight-fitting metal or plastic containers to help protect them from insects, rodents or possible damage from flooding.

Finally, if you are putting your emergency food supply away where it’s out of sight and mind, be sure to date all cans, bags and boxes, then check the supply every six months, rotating out foods that are near or past their "use by or "best used by" dates and adding replacements. Even if products don’t have a "best used by" date, rotating and replacing them within two years is a good idea.

For more information on safe food storage, visit Colorado State University Cooperative Extension’s home page at: