Food Storage Basics

One of the chief concerns when it comes to disaster readiness is being able to feed your family. Putting together a food pantry isn’t difficult, but doing it right involves a bit of planning. You do not need to order a pallet’s worth of specially packaged, and expensive, survival foods. Instead, you can amass a comprehensive supply of food just by buying things you normally get at the grocery store.


Store What You Eat

It makes very little sense to devote time, money, and energy into storing foods nobody in the house likes to eat. Not when you have a free and open choice as to what to purchase. When it comes to food, many people are reluctant to try new things when times are normal. Add in the stress and anxiety from the disaster at hand and most will much rather have something familiar on the dinner plate. It will provide a bit of normalcy in the crisis. In addition, sticking to foods you already consume will help you avoid allergic reactions if you have someone in your family who may be subject to them. You already know that XYZ brand of whatever is safe for everyone in the home.


Eat What You Store

The other half of the equation is that your food should be rotated on a regular basis. This means you’re regularly consuming and replacing items, rather than just sticking them on a shelf and forgetting about them. Doing so ensures that what you have stored is as fresh as can be at all times. Come up with a system that works for you, whether it is a computer spreadsheet or old-fashioned spiral notebook and a pen, to keep track of what goes in and out.


Forever Foods

There are many items that will last years, in some cases even decades, without going bad. The idea here is to have some of these things to form sort of a base layer of your food storage program. You obviously cannot rely on these items entirely. This list is by no means comprehensive, of course.

  • White rice: keep it dry and cool, in an airtight container, and it will be good almost indefinitely.
  • Honey: if it crystalizes, put it in the sun or apply gentle heat and it will liquify again.
  • Dry beans: the older they are, the more water they’ll require. Extremely old beans can be powdered and added to soups and stews as a thickener.
  • Instant coffee: not everybody’s favorite, but it’ll do if nothing else is available.
  • Sugar: an important ingredient in many baked goods, and generally inexpensive to purchase now.
  • Salt: look for plain salt, with nothing added to it, for longevity.



The bulk of your stored food should consist of things that will remain viable for a long time without the need for refrigeration or other special storage requirements. Fortunately, there is a wide range of items that fall into that category. Remember to stick to varieties that you and your family already enjoy eating. Foods that require nothing more than heating up or just the addition of boiling water are particularly welcome. Here are just a few examples to get you thinking.

  • Canned goods: vegetables, fruits, meat, soups, stews.
  • Pouched meat: these are great for saving space and weight in your storage area.
  • Peanut butter: great source of protein.
  • Dry pasta: boil it, add a jar of sauce and you’re good to go.
  • Soup mixes: dump them into boiling water and dinner is served shortly.
  • Baking mix: this will make biscuits, dumplings, pancakes, and more.


Home Preserved

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from learning how to preserve food yourself. Canning food at home is a great skill to have. While it does require a small investment in equipment and supplies, it will allow you to not only have less food go to waste, such as canning excess garden produce, but you can take better advantage of sales at the grocery store.

Let’s say they are running a great special on ground beef, but your freezer is packed full. You could still buy extra and can it, then store it on the shelf.


Don’t Overlook Fresh Food

Odds are that when a disaster hits, you’ll have food in your refrigerator and freezer. Rather than letting those things go to waste, do what you can to use them up before they go bad. Whatever you won’t be able to cook and eat should be preserved in some way, if at all possible.

Whatever can’t be preserved should be consumed. Doing so accomplishes two things at once. First, the food won’t just go to waste. Second, it extends the time you have before you need to dig into your food storage, at least in earnest.

Under more or less normal conditions, the food in your freezer should stay viable for at least 24 hours, provided you don’t open the door every ten minutes to gawk at what you have left inside. Bear in mind that a mostly empty freezer will warm up faster than a full one, all other things being equal. If you find your freezer is getting spacious from time to time, you can always fill the gaps with water bottles. This helps insulate the food, plus gives you a bit of extra water squirreled away. As a general rule, if the food is cold to the touch and still has some amount of ice crystals, it should be safe to either refreeze or thaw and cook.

With the food in the refrigerator, things are going to go downhill a lot quicker. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food kept in the refrigerator will stay cold for maybe four hours. They recommend that any meat, milk, eggs, and cooked pasta be tossed after two hours above 40°F. This is one reason why a refrigerator thermometer is handy.


Meal Planning

Another approach to food storage is to plan actual meals and then build your food storage around them. The way it works is you sit down and write out meals for two full weeks. This means breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks along the way. Concentrate on meals that won’t require fresh foods, like vegetables or fruit that might be difficult to store.

Break each meal all the way down to individual ingredients for each dish, including spices and seasonings. Once you have the rough amounts for each component, it is simple math to extrapolate it out to the number of weeks or months you want to be able to handle.

Once you have those figures, you can start stocking up a bit at a time until you reach your goal, rotating and restocking as you go along.


Take It Slow

Don’t plan to buy everything at once. That’s just asking for trouble. Instead, shop like you normally do, just add a little bit extra to the cart at each visit. Take advantage of sales and use coupons when they make sense to do so. Add to your food pantry a little at a time and you’ll be surprised at how quickly it builds up.

There is a LOT more involved with building a food storage program, of course. This is just hitting some of the high points. But it should be enough to get new folks moving in the right direction.

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