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Emergency Food

1. How long can you survive without food? It varies, depending on factors such as weight, health, genetics, and hydration. If activity is reduced, healthy people can survive on half their usual food intake for an extended period and without any food for many days. Food, unlike water, may be rationed safely, except for children and pregnant women. Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supply for two weeks, you should prepare an emergency food supply that will last that long.

2. Your emergency food stock should be as close as possible to what your household normally eats. You probably will have food left in your cupboards and items salvagable from your refrigerator (see paragraph 5 below). Whatever food might be tagged for an emergency should not require refrigeration and, unless you have the ability to heat it, could be prepared and consumed without heat.

"Cold-Soaking" is soaking room-temperature food in water until it softens. This can be done with oatmeal, cereals and anything with beans, potatoes, oats. Food prepared this way may not be as enjoyable as if it were heated, but it is edible.

3. A good tactic for building an emergency food stock is to buy doubles of some groceries you normally buy over a two-week period. This has the advantage of being food your household normally eats. After two weeks, cycle that extra stock into your household's normal consumption while, at the same time, replacing it in your next grocery run. Thus, you maintain that extra two week supply of emergency food. As you continue this cycle, you never concern yourself with food expiration dates, because your extra stock is always fairly recent. Just be sure this extra stock doesn't require refrigeration and, unless you have the ability to heat it, can be eaten as is. Some items to consider might be peanut butter and jelly, ready-to-eat canned meats, canned fruits, and canned vegetables (be sure to have a manual can opener). Think of cereals, dried fruits, nuts, and jerky. Think of granola bars, protein bars, and fruit bars. Think of canned juices and non-perishable pasteurized milk. Add comfort foods and candy and cookies. It should be food that your family normally eats. Of course, don't forget food for pets.

If your water supply is limited, try to avoid foods that are high in fat and protein, and don't stock salty foods, since they will make you thirsty. Try to eat salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content.

Every space where food is prepared absolutely must include a hand-washing station. See Hand-Washing Stations.

4. After the power goes out, items left in your refrigerator for more than four hours should be considered unsafe to eat. They should be discarded. Some perishable items might be kept longer by promptly packing them into coolers with ice/ice packs from the freezer. An ice cooler, however, must be keep below -40oF for preserving food. Once the temperature rises above that, your food has only three hours before you should discard it. If in doubt, discard it.


5. Items in your refrigerator that can be safely consumed long after refrigeration:

  • Hard cheeses like Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano
  • Processed cheeses
  • Grated parmesan or Romano
  • butter
  • Uncut fruit, fruit juice, canned fruit, dried fruit
  • Peanut butter, jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles
  • Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces and opened vinegar-based dressings
  • Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads and tortillas
  • Waffles, pancakes, bagels
  • Fruit pies
  • Uncut fresh vegetables
  • Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices


6. An alternative emergency food supply are commercially-produced, freeze-dried food kits, specifically meant for emergencies. These are packaged for long-term storage and don’t require refrigeration. Some can be stored for as long as 25 years. These are far from cheap, however. Most of, if not all, freeze-dried food will need to be re-hydrated and, in many cases, also need to be heated. On the plus side, if these food stocks were added to your earthquake kit, you won’t need to concern yourself with rotating stock and expiration dates for a very long time.

👉 Special Considerations to Keep in Mind

As you stock food, take into account your family's unique needs and tastes. Try to include foods that they will enjoy and that are also high in calories and nutrition. Foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking are best.

Make sure you have a manual can opener and disposable utensils.

Individuals with special diets and allergies will need particular attention, as will babies, toddlers and the elderly. Nursing mothers may need liquid formula, in case they are unable to nurse. Canned dietetic foods, juices and soups may be helpful for the ill or elderly.

Don't forget non-perishable foods for your pets.

Download: Food and Water in an Emergency - FEMA & American Red Cross

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