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We will always have food available. Right?

You would not agree if you lived on Staten Island, New York in the days following Hurricane Sandy. The roads were closed, transportation trucks could not deliver food, and power outages led to the loss of all refrigerated food. Hurricane Katrina left approximately 100,000 people without food for several days because no one could reach them.

In other parts of the world, we get a glimpse of the food problems disasters can spark. The massive 2010 Haiti earthquake led to food riots, and the 2011 flooding in China displaced approximately
5 million people and destroyed vegetable crops.

Believing that living in a country like the U.S. means never going hungry is a mistake. You are as likely to experience a major natural disaster as anyone else in the world. Food shortages can result from:

  1. Natural area disasters that create power outages and blocks roads
  2. Crop destruction of essential food items as a result of flooding
  3. Food supply interruptions due to international natural disasters or economic and social crises
  4. Economic disasters that force food prices up and make food temporarily unaffordable
  5. Riots that make it impossible to leave the house
  6. Runs on grocery stores leading to empty shelves as people panic before storms arrive

Preparing for a food shortage is the key to surviving any kind of crisis, whether created by nature or people. The type of food stored should have certain characteristics

  1. Non-perishable
  2. Must include items that do not need cooking
  3. Does not have to be refrigerated
  4. Simple to prepare and eat
  5. Contains high amounts of nutrients that promote energy
  6. Rich in calories
  7. Meet dietary restrictions or special needs

The food you store can be a mixture of items that do and do not need cooking. Not all disasters lead to situations where you are unable to cook. Sometimes it is simply a case where emergency personnel tell you to remain in your home because roads are blocked by trees, the city is experiencing domestic turmoil, or weather events make driving impossible. You may still have power and water, but are virtually trapped in your own home, possibly for days.

The reigning king of emergency food is the freeze dried version. Food is flash frozen, and then placed in a vacuum chamber where all moisture is removed. The dried food is then sealed in packaging that serves as a barrier against oxygen, moisture, and light.

  1. Most can be stored for up to 25 years
  2. Maintains its nutritional value
  3. All food categories are available, including meats, dairy, vegetables, fruit and juices
  4. Compact and easy to store
  5. Does not need to be rotated out every few years
  6. Easy to prepare
  7. Can easily be purchased on the internet from reputable businesses
  8. Can purchase as individual entrées or items or buy in bulk

Of course, you can also buy canned, boxed and packaged foods at the grocery store.

Most of this food has a much shorter shelf life than freeze dried food. However, if you are willing to keep track of expiration dates and are willing to re-invest in food supplies, canned and boxed food are storable.

Some good options are canned foods with pull-top lids, so there is no need for a can opener. Remember that grocery store foods will require more storage space than freeze dried food. That is one reason you probably do not want to buy large meal-sized canned foods unless you know for a fact there is enough storage room.

Ultimately, the best plan is to mix up your food stock a bit. Freeze dried foods need water for reconstitution, so it is not good food for a crisis in which water supplies are limited or non-existent. For this reason, commercially dehydrated foods are also not a good option because they require a lot of water during preparation. Conversely, if you need a long-term plan, canned goods solve the water issue but require space and rotation. Thus, a mix will help you cover all your bases.

The foods chosen for storage should provide enough daily calories for all family members for the chosen time period.

A minimum 3-day supply of non-perishable food should be stored. For a 3-day food supply, the recommended foods generally do not need cooking but supply high energy.

They include:

  • Protein bars
  • Fruit bars
  • Ready-to-eat canned foods, including meats, vegetables and fruits
  • Dried fruits and nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Crackers
  • Dry cereal
  • Non-perishable pasteurized mil
  • Canned juices
  • Vitamins
  • Special needs foods for infants, elderly or those with medical conditions

The Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division offers simple to remember, practical guidelines for determining how much food to store MINIMUM 2 cans of food per person, per day

For a person a normal 2,000 calorie diet per day, food storage would include:

This chart represents absolute minimum amounts to stay healthy. The quantities of food are multiplied by the number of emergency days and the number of people to be fed. It is necessary to add items like formula for infants and foods for restricted diets.

These are just guidelines. Some people buy a basic three supply of food and then add to the supply as their budget permits. Just buying a couple of extra cans of food each time you go to the grocery store or ordering one box of freeze dried food each month will quickly create an adequate food supply.
As you add foods to your supply, mix it up a bit. No one wants to eat white rice and tuna every day for 3 weeks. Buy cans of chili, tuna fish, dried soups, a variety of cereals, accent foods like salt and pepper, and even some treats like cookies.

Finally, it is important to keep a food inventory that includes the month and date of purchase. Then write the same date on the food items with a marker. Before storing the food item, make sure you are satisfied with the packaging. Some items may need re-sealing if they are packaged in:

  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • Cardboard box
  • Oxygen permeable plastic containers

Before resealing, make sure as much air is removed as possible. If bulk items like rice or corn is stored, the storage container needs to be very tightly sealed.