Food Storage 101

Stocking food for emergency situations is a cornerstone of preparedness. And with so many choices available to you, it can be quite daunting to know how to start your food storage program. This article will give you the information to understand your choices and to get started building a food storage program that works for you and your family.

Why Store Food?

Storing food seems so 19th century. It brings back visions of a pantry full of homemade canned goods and stacks of dry goods filling up the closet so that there was food on hand to last the long winter until the next trip to town which could be many, many miles away on horse and buggy.

But today, most of us live close to one or more supermarkets and super department stores with grocery stores built right into them. Where we live, there are seven supermarkets within four miles of our house. And they are always stocked – except for when they are not. Living in South Florida, we are all too aware of just how quickly a supermarket can be emptied out when a hurricane is making a beeline towards our area.

If you missed out and a hurricane actually made landfall in your area, you could be without access to any food for days or even weeks. During the busy hurricane seasons around 2005, there were many people lined up for FEMA food assistance because there was no gas and no supermarkets that could be reached due to power outages.

A little bit of preplanning and stocking of food would have avoided that awkward situation for many people. Unfortunately lots of folks choose not to do any advance preparation. Regrettably, they are the ones you always hear from in the news – the ones who say the government isn’t doing enough to help them.

Do you want to be a whiner or do you want to depend on yourself to be sure your family is fed during an emergency? To me, it just makes sense to be ready for such events and not live with the stress of wondering where my next meal is going to come from while I wait for the government to get to me (or more accurately me to their central location.)

How Much Food Should You Store?

The answer to this question depends on your belief of what might impact your life. In other words, there is no one size fits all answer.

For instance, if you live in a hurricane prone area like we do, the “experts” recommend a three day supply of food and water. The people who lived through hurricanes know that more than this recommended amount is a much smarter choice. If you lose your job, several month of food stored away would be very comforting. And if you believe that the supply chain will suffer a long term disruption, you might want to have a year supply of food stored away (and if you have some land, a variety of seed packets to supplement your stored food during growing season.)

So the answer really depends on what emergency situation you think you may experience. A few weeks supply will generally get you through most natural disasters. More is generally desirable for man-made disasters.

How Do You Start?

Here are a few simple rules to building a food storage program.

  1. Only buy what you can afford every week. If that means slowly growing your food storage cache, that is fine. (Of course, if you believe a major financial disaster is coming soon, perhaps buying a large quantity on a credit card is fine. We don’t recommend debt fueled purchases but if you truly believe an economic collapse is coming soon, perhaps this is the right option for you.)
  2. Only buy what you enjoy eating. It makes absolutely no sense to build a food storage program around foods you do not like. For instance, if you hate canned peas, don’t buy them for your food storage pantry. You may think you can eat anything in an emergency – and you certainly can – but why do so when you have the luxury of time to build a program around foods you enjoy?
  3. Pay attention to expiration dates and rotate the food. This means eat the older food and replace it with newer food to keep the same level in stock.
  4. Store the food in a cool part of your home. When  you store food in an environment that experiences temperature extremes, it can affect its quality. So storing food in a garage is not a real good idea. It is best to store it in your living space or in a cool basement if you have one.

If you follow these four simple rules, you will find that you will have quickly built a successful food storage and rotation program that will nourish you in times of emergency.

Supermarket Food VS Preparedness Food

You have two options when it comes to building your food storage program.

You can buy food at your local supermarket or you can buy a pre-designed food storage program from one of the many companies that sell them. Let’s look at both.
Supermarkets offer you a wide variety of foods with a very long shelf life (2+ years.) Building your food storage program from here is pretty easy as you already know the foods you like and you can try other foods (like canned meat products) relatively cheaply before investing in a quantity of a particular type of food/brand. The disadvantage of supermarkets is that many of the foods (particularly dry goods) are not packaged in a manner that is optimal for storage – i.e. they are not in bug proof containers. Vacuum sealers are a great tool to alleviate this issue.

Food storage programs offer the advantage of buy and forget it ease. For one payment, you can buy a year’s supply of freeze dried food, raw ingredients (like whole, unground grains, etc.), TVP (textured vegetable protein), MREs, etc. The food comes delivered in big cans that have a very long shelf life.

There are some problems though. First, you probably won’t know what the food tastes like until you actually open the containers. Second, once you open the containers, you often have a large quantity of food with a relatively short shelf life. Most people who buy such food programs buy them for the convenience figuring that if the world ends, they’ll eat whatever they have. But to me that is not too smart. (Note: Some companies sell small portions of their foods so you do have the opportunity to try them before committing to a large purchase.)

We practice a hybrid program ourselves – buying about 80% supermarket food and 20% freeze dried food/MREs. And we rotate the food to ensure that it is all unexpired. In other words, our food storage is also our regular meals. So for us, the impact on our lives is minimal – just an issue of some extra storage devoted to food products.

Get Started Today

The most important bit of wisdom on food storage we can offer is just get started. Unless you are in a huge hurry, just start buying extra food from the supermarket a little at a time. In a surprisingly short period of time, you will have a several week supply built up.

Another advantage of starting slowly is that it will give you time to create a food management system that works for you. After all, you need to store this extra food and figure out how to handle its rotation so you don’t find a can of food in the back of the closet that is ten years old.

By taking a slow, incremental approach, you will not get overwhelmed. And by building on it every week, you will soon find yourself pretty food secure.

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