Nutrition Column – be Prepared with Food and Water for Emergency Situations

September is National Preparedness Month. Whether you’re caught in a hurricane, tornado, bad winter storm or terrorist attack, it pays to be prepared when the power goes out.

Food storage is one part of being prepared for emergencies and natural disasters. How much and which foods to store will depend on the members of your household, your preferences, special  health conditions, ability to use the food in an emergency and space 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 does a three-day emergency supply of food look like? A well-stocked pantry is a good start. Since you may not have power during an emergency situation, your three-day 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 foods recommended for storage include the following.

– Water. One gallon per person per day is recommended for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene. If you have a freezer that’s not full, store additional water in clean milk jugs in your freezer. This will help keep the foods in your freezer cold longer and provide you with back-up liquids.

– 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 just the number of servings you and your household will consume at one time. If your 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.

– High-energy foods. Examples include peanut butter, jelly, nuts, trail mix, granola bars, protein bars, dried fruits, cookies, hard candy, chocolate bars, soft drinks and other snacks. Be sure to include your favorite comfort foods. If possible, store products high in fat in a cool place as they are prone to rancidity.

– Ready-to-eat cereals, crackers and hard taco shells. Choose low-fat crackers for longer storage life.

– Staples and condiments. Make sure your cupboard is stocked with the condiments you use, such as salt, sugar, pepper, coffee, tea and cocoa mix.

Once assembled, your emergency food supply can be stored with all your other food supplies in a cupboard or closet. If space is a premium, it can also be stored under a bed, in a back closet, or in the basement, attic or heated garage. Just make sure it’s in a place that is easily accessible in case time is short. Canned goods should not be stored where they could freeze. Cans are often damaged if they become frozen, 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 those 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 out for use within two years is a good idea.

For more information on safe food storage, visit Colorado State University Cooperative Extension’s SafeFood home page at or the government’s site at

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension