When an emergency strikes, you’re often left to your own skills and preparation to provide for you and your family. Food is one of the major necessities of life that you want to have on hand when an emergency hits, whether a natural disaster, an economic crisis, or health issues. If you haven’t thought to prepare before a disaster yet, now is the time to start because once it strikes, the time to prepare is over.
As you work to build your food storage supply, consider these 12 Dos and Don’ts of Food Storage:
1. DO carefully plan your food storage supply. Keep a record of what you and your family like to eat and then build those items into your food storage supply. Budget carefully and buy food items when they’re on sale. It’s a good idea to build a short-term supply quickly, but one of the perks of building a long-term supply is that you can build over time, giving yourself time to plan and wait for all the good deals.
2. DO build a menu. Building a two-week, one-month, or even three-month food storage supply can be pretty simple and stress free. To decide how much food you need, build a menu and then multiply it.
For example, if you want to build a food supply to last your family for 3 months, then you'll need 12 weeks of food. Build a menu for one week, two weeks, or even a month.
Once you build your menu, build a list of the food you need, and then multiply it. For example, multiply a one-week menu by 12 (weeks), a two-week menu by six, or a one-month menu by three. Pretty easy, no?
3. DO store basic ingredients first. Adding staple ingredients into your supply will help provide you with the necessary ingredients that help create a variety of homemade meals. Add food staples such as wheat, flour, grains/legumes, rice, cornmeal, oatmeal, honey, sugar, powdered milk, dried whole eggs, baking powder, salt, spices, pasta, etc.
The old saying goes, “You can’t live by bread alone,” but according to Peggy Layton, author of Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook, “you can live on bread and soup.” In her book, Peggy describes the endless combinations and variations you can make with bread and soup…which would not only be delicious but would also help you survive in an emergency.
Another food item that can help you survive is storing the basic ingredients for bread. With these staples, you can bake quick breads (banana bread, zucchini bread, lemon poppy seed bread), yeast breads (white or wheat, bread sticks, and scones), dessert breads (cake, pie crusts, and cookies), and breakfast breads (pancakes, waffles, muffins, cornbread). [ii]
Match those breads with variations of hearty soups and stews using different soup mixes and an addition of your favorite vegetables and meat, for endless possibilities.
4. DO eat what you store and store what you eat. Make sure you only buy food to store that your family will actually eat. If they won’t eat lentils before an emergency, they won’t be happy about eating them during one, either. So get food that your family likes to eat on a regular basis…and then eat it.
Rotating through your food storage will help your family get used to it and will minimize losing nutrition and flavor (which can happen when you wait too long for an emergency before you break it open). If you rotate through your food storage, then you’ll always have the freshest foods available to you.
As you use your food, keep a food inventory list handy and mark the items off of the list as you use them so you know what you need to replace.
Learn more with our Insight Articles, “Eat What You Store” and “Rotating Your Food Storage”
5. DO store food based on special needs for family members. Make sure that you have a variety of food stored to satisfy each member of your family and that’s appropriate for all ages. Include baby foods and consider any food allergies family members may have when planning what to store.
6. DO store your food storage in a cool (70° or lower), dry, and dark place—like a basement. There are four factors that contribute to how long your food storage items will last: light, temperature, moisture, and oxygen. The less interaction your food has with these four factors, the longer it will last.
Learn more about proper storage conditions with our Insight Article, “Shelf Life”
7. DON’T let yourself get overwhelmed. Often when building a food storage supply, the task can seem daunting from a distance. All you have to do, though, is start small.
Begin adding items to your emergency supply to help your family survive for three days, then a week, then a month, and so on. You can also include food storage items into your weekly grocery shopping. By doing this, you’ll gradually build your supply (which is easier on your pocketbook) and before you know it you’ll have enough to help you survive for your chosen amount of time.
8. DON’T think you have too little space to store food. Whether you live in a 3-story home or the tiniest apartment in the world, you can find a place for your food storage. It may not meet the ideal storage conditions, but it’s better than no storage at all! Check out some of these tips for where you can store your food if you’re tight on space:
- Under the bed (you can even hide your storage with a dust ruffle)
- Use them to create bookcases/shelving to hold more cans by laying a wooden board across four cans (two on each end) and stacking more cans and boards until your shelf is the size you’d like.
- Build your own food storage shelf that slides into the wasted space between your refrigerator and wall.
- Use larger bins, such as SuperPails, as end tables or coffee tables. Simply disguise it as furniture by covering them with tablecloths.
- Stack them behind your couch where there is wasted space between the couch and wall.
- Fill the dead space in your coat closet. Typically there is quite a bit of vertical space underneath your coats in the closet. It’s a great, accessible place to store your food.
9. DON’T store your food near chemicals or cleaning products. You don’t want to risk contaminating your food storage supply if any dangerous products were to leak—especially if you don’t find the contamination until you need your food in an emergency.
10. DON’T use non-food-grade plastic containers to store food. If you plan to dehydrate, can, or store your own food, make sure to keep it in a non-toxic, food-grade container such as glass, ceramic, or stainless steel. Non-food-grade plastic containers are not good for long-term storage as they can leach chemicals into your food. Keep your food in double-enameled, stainless steel cans (or metallized bags) with an oxygen absorber to help them last longer. You can also store large quantities of food in Superpails lined with metallized bags, which use food-grade plastic, making them safe for long-term storage.
11. DON’T wait until an emergency to learn to cook with freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. Although cooking with food storage ingredients isn’t difficult, it is a little different than cooking with fresh ingredients. As you rotate through your food storage, try out different [recipes] that can help you make home-cooked meals so delicious that your family would never guess they’re from food storage.
Check out some of our favorites:
12. DON’T forget to store food for your pets. If you are a pet owner, make sure you include enough pet food for them to be able to survive during an emergency, too.
Make all the prepping and planning involved in building your supply, just a little easier by using our pre-made worksheets, menu calendars, and inventory sheets to help you stay organized.
For more tips, check out some of our Insight Articles:
[i] Food Storage For the Health of It by Azrcka Bedgood
[ii] Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook by Peggy Layton. Pg. 59-64; 75-77; 88;