14 Easy Ways to Create an Emergency Food Stockpile

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By Marilyn Lewis

Stockpiling food and water is like buying insurance. Your household may never face a devastating earthquake, a crippling storm, a flu pandemic or other disaster, but if it does, and you are cut off even for a week from food and services, your stored food and water may be priceless to you.

Beyond Paralysis

Many of us are paralyzed by the job of home emergency planning. We have good intentions, but it's hard to plan for the unknown in any case and even harder to imagine an extraordinary event. If your money is tight, it's understandably difficult to spend it on food you might not ever need. And where will you find room for all those emergency supplies, anyway?

Fortunately, none of these obstacles is insurmountable. You don't have to do it all at once. Here are 14 easy ways to jump-start your process and get going:

1. Set a goal. Begin by deciding how much you ultimately want to store. Should you aim for three days' worth of supplies? Or three weeks? Or three months? Advice varies, depending on the kind of emergency that might strike where you live and how long you anticipate being cut off from supplies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a flu pandemic is bound to hit eventually, and so it advises stockpiling a two-week supply of food and water:

Although the flu pandemic may last several months, buy and store at least two weeks' supply of food, water, medicine and face masks. (Food and supplies may be hard to get during a pandemic.) When you have to stay home, these supplies will support your family and pets.

On the website for Latah County, Idaho, a writer calling herself "Average Concerned Mom" describes her plan for a two-week stockpile (although a six-to-12-week supply is ideal, she says) for households on a limited budget and with limited space.

2. Start small. Make it cheap and easy to get started by setting your initial goal low. Just aim at first for enough food to keep your household going for three days, for instance. When you hit that goal, you can keep going, moving the goalposts to one or two weeks. Keep it up until you've reached your ultimate goal, whether it's two weeks, three months or three years.

3. Stockpile water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says a normally active person will drink two quarts of water a day. You'll need more than that, though. The CDC recommends storing one gallon a day for each person and each pet. Set a goal of stockpiling at least a two weeks' supply of water.

If you have to choose, it's better to stockpile water than food. Both are necessary, of course. However, humans can make it for three weeks without food but only for three days without water, says LiveScience.

4. Store your water safely. "Unopened commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable emergency water supply," says the CDC, which offers these storage tips:

  • If you use store-bought water, check expiration dates and replace regularly.
  • Replace water you've stored yourself every six months.
  • Keep a bottle of unscented liquid chlorine bleach with your water supply for cleaning and sanitizing and for disinfecting water.
  • Don't use scented bleach or types with color-safe or cleaning additives. Look for a bleach label that says the product is safe for disinfecting water.
5. Make a 72-hour emergency kit. Rebecca Mongrain, a news writer with Seattle's KOMO News, started on her stockpile by building a 72-hour emergency kit that fits easily in a compact space. She includes a useful list of nonfood supplies she put in the kit and points to the Red Cross' online store, which sells emergency kits and supplies.

6. Buy everything at once. If you have the money and space, one way to go is to purchase a large amount of commercially prepared emergency supplies. A few examples: 7. Invest in these foods. Eating from a stockpile can get boring. Real Simple lists great foods to include that are nutritionally dense, provide a lot of food value for the bulk, are tasty and need no cooking. The list includes: peanut butter, whole wheat crackers, nuts and trail mix, power bars and granola bars, dried fruit and canned meat, tuna, vegetables, chili and beans, sports drinks, sugar, pepper and salt, powdered milk and multivitamins.

8. Include seeds for sprouting. Seeds, beans and nuts for sprouting are a good addition to your stockpile. Snapguide tells how to sprout fresh greens in a Mason jar. Vegetarian Times lists seeds and nuts that make good sprouts. Noting that sprouts can become contaminated with dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, the article tells how to safely make and consume sprouts.

9. See trouble? Stock up on these items. If you see trouble coming and are able to buy fresh foods, Real Simple recommends these items that store well in a cool, dry, dark place: apples, citrus, winter squashes, unripe avocados, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams, unripe tomatoes and dry salami, which lasts up to six weeks without refrigeration.

10. Buy dried foods for the long haul. Cans and granola bars are fine for the short term. But stockpiling economically for weeks or months means you'll need to include dried grains, powdered milk and dehydrated vegetables and fruits.

Latah County's Concerned Mom's plan (on page 6 of her article) includes a list of ingredients to nutritiously feed two adults and two children for two weeks. The entire supply fits in a 66-gallon storage box, including these five groups of foods:
  • Starches. Rice, flour, cornmeal, pasta, dried potatoes and oatmeal, for example.
  • Proteins. Like beans, lentils, dried milk, canned fish and meat, seeds, nuts, dry cheese, boxed tofu, powdered eggs and powdered cheese.
  • Vitamin foods. Canned tomatoes and pumpkin, dried vegetables and fruit.
  • Vitamins.
  • Flavorings. Cooking oils, chocolate, jam, salsa, seasonings, yeast and spices, for instance.
Using this system, Concerned Mom suggests starting your stockpile by making one two-week box. As money and space permit, you can add identical boxes, building the stockpile two weeks at a time.

11. Economize by buying in bulk. To stockpile affordably, shop around, comparing costs. Food cooperatives, buying clubs and warehouse stores all are good sources for lower prices. Shop sales and learn where to get discounts for bulk purchases. Walmart sells bulk quantities of emergency foods like mixes for bread and pancakes, dehydrated onions, powdered honey and butter and dehydrated stews.

12. Stockpile protein bars. An odd but possibly practical approach is stockpiling protein bars. They cost around $2 each. U.S. News writes about a Baltimore couple who:

... eat a Quest protein bar from GNC every three hours from the time they wake up until they go to bed. They started this habit in April, and he's lost 78 pounds so far.

They also eat Power Pak pudding once a day, which contains 30 grams of protein per can and less than 200 calories. The protein bars have 20 grams of protein and less than 200 calories. They estimate that they spend less than $400 per month on food and drinks, saving money by buying in bulk during sales.

13. Economical supplies of dried foods. Dried foods may not be the tastiest items you'll eat in an emergency, but they provide concentrated nutrition and can be purchased less expensively in bulk. They are long-lasting when kept dry and consume less space than cans.

14. Rotate stored foods. To make sure your stored food is safe and nutritious when you need it, pay attention to the shelf life of each item. Rotate foods near the end of their shelf life by using them in your kitchen and adding fresh foods to the stockpile.

Properly prepared and stored, food can last a long time. Some examples:
  • Manufactured emergency supplies. Manufacturer Mountain House, for example, says its buckets and pouches of emergency food last 12 years when handled correctly and its #10 cans last 25 years.
  • Dry staples. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), on its site encouraging stockpiling food and food safety, says staples such as wheat, white rice, and beans last 30 years when packaged and stored correctly. Nonfat milk and dehydrated carrots have a 20-year shelf life. Other foods -- vegetable oil, for example -- should be rotated every year or two.
  • Cans. "Most expiration dates on foods in cans range from one to four years -- but keep the food in a cool, dark place and the cans undented and in good condition, and you can likely safely double that shelf life from three to up to six years," says Mens Health.
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