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How to stock an emergency food supply
April 06, 2006
Suzanne Havala Hobbs

With bird flu in the news and hurricane season approaching, readers have asked me about stocking their homes with emergency food supplies. In fact, some federal officials are encouraging us to do just that.

Their rationale: An in-home food stash could help families ride out a flu epidemic that forces us to stay in our homes or get by for a week or two should a storm or other emergency make it hard to get to the grocery store.

The chance such an emergency will occur is slim, but it’s easy to build a short-term food supply. All you really have to do is buy more of the staples you already use.

In some settings, this is routine.

For example, earlier in my career, I consulted for nursing homes and group homes, which are required to maintain a designated, short-term emergency food supply. I’d inspect their supplies to ensure foods were fresh and amounts were adequate.

Using that experience as a guide, here are some tips for setting up your own food stash. Choose foods that are:

• Nonperishable. Foods should keep for several months without refrigeration.

• Easy to prepare. Unless you have a small camp stove or outdoor grill, you may not be able to cook. Packaged or canned foods should be “ready to eat.”

• Nutritious. Foods should supply the basic nutrients you need to support health. Cheetos and Oreos don’t make the cut.

What to stock:

• Peanut butter and nuts in cans or bottles.

• Canned vegetables, fruit, baked beans, soup, and other foods you wouldn’t mind eating at room temp.

• Canned and bottled fruit and vegetable juices.

• Bottled water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends one gallon of water per person per day for drinking and other uses.

• Dried fruit and trail mix.

• Crackers and granola or energy bars.

• Soymilk or rice milk in shelf-stable containers. Powdered milk stores well, too, but it requires water to rehydrate.

• Food for your dog or cat.

• Bottles of baby food if there’s a little one in the house.

• Instant coffee and tea.

• Dry cereals and instant soup and cereal cups, if you have a way to heat water.

Buy foods you like and would ordinarily use, and consider the number of people and animals in your household. Foods in boxes and bags should be kept in airtight plastic or metal containers to help keep bugs out.

You may already have the equivalent of a short-term food supply in your pantry and cupboards. It’s hard to keep track, though, if it isn’t stored in one place and earmarked as an emergency supply.

A small, short-term supply of food can be stored in a large plastic storage box in a closet or pantry. A larger supply can be kept in a dedicated cabinet. If you store food in the basement or garage, keep it cool and dry. Don’t let foods freeze, and don’t store them where the temperature may exceed 70 degrees.

Once you have the food, there’s one more step you need to take. Every item should be labeled with the date it was purchased. Use a permanent marker or write on stick-on labels.

Then, once you’ve set the food aside, don’t forget about it.

Rotate the stock, just like they do in grocery stores. Every few months, pull older items out and use them first. Replace them with freshly-purchased foods, and label and store those items in the back of the shelf or container. Continuously refresh the stock, using older items first.

For information on planning longer-term supplies see and

Then sit back and relax, knowing you won’t have to fight the crowds in the checkout line the next time a tropical storm heads our way.

The contents of this website are not intended to provide personal medical advice.Individual medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.
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