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31 December, 2012

A Primer on General Basic Emergency Preparedness: Food Storage

Other articles in this series include Water Safety and Storage and Basic Survival Gear



Photo courtesy of The Urban Apocalypse Blog
With regard to food storage, there are, essentially, two ways to go, and once you've decided on which path you intend to take, then there are other options that will allow you to personalize your larder.  The two big choices one must decide between in the very beginning is whether to purchase foodstuffs that are more expensive, but have outrageously long shelf-lives; or, less expensive fair that won't last as long and will, therefore, have to be rotated through regular usage more quickly.

In my opinion, the first option is best, for the simple reason that the shelf-lives are so long that it allows you to fairly quickly build-up a decent supply without simply replacing what you and your family have eaten.

For this, of course, we're talking about either staple foods such as wheat, oats, beans, rice, etc. or entrees and sides that have been preserved by freeze-drying or dehydrating.  Regardless, all of it is packed in airtight, vacuum-sealed cans or food-grade plastic buckets.  Personally, I prefer a mixture of both.

I am an unabashed fan of storing oats as a primary staple food, along with a smattering of freeze-dried/dehydrated long-term storage foodsMountain House is a tried-and-true brand, but there are many other great ones out there.  Don't forget to add some odds 'n ends, such as peanut butter, salt, drink mixes, desserts, and sugar to round-out your pantry.

MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) are also an option.

Oh, and honey.  Honey stores for- damn near -ever and has many, many uses, not the least of which is to dress-up all the oatmeal you've stored, making it easier for finicky eaters to stomach for long periods.  Also, it can be used to make mead (honey wine).

If preparing on a restricted budget and/or your only worry is short-term emergencies, such as blizzards/power outages, etc., then you can probably get by on a lot less.  My advice, in this instance, would be for you to just get used to buying larger quantities of the items you already purchase at the grocery store.  Of course, you will need to keep shelf-stability without refrigeration in mind.  A freezer full of pork chops won't be doing you much good in an extended grid-down scenario like we here in the Appalachians experienced during the blizzard of 1993 or the derecho storms of last Summer.

Photo courtesy of TheSurvivalMom
If you know your family will willingly eat soup or chili or beef stew, get in the habit of buying several more cans each month then you know you'll use.  Buy them every month, even if you've already got a ton come grocery day, and don't stop buying them until you've got enough to feed your household for several weeks without leaving home.  Always be sure to clearly mark these cans, so that you can use them in a first-in-first-out approach, always ensuring that the oldest cans are being consumed first and replaced with newer, fresher ones.

Just for the record, though, canned foods will keep for a long, long time.

Spend a few days taking notice of the things you most frequently run out of, such as tea or coffee or even Kool-aid drink mix, and be sure to buy extras of those little odds 'n ends as well.  An old-style Percolator can be used to make great-tasting coffee without electricity (see off-grid stove options below).  Put a little money toward, at least, a small supply of canned or dehydrated milk and rotate it each month religiously; even if not for drinking, you may need it for cooking.  Never be caught at home without everyday items like sugar, salt and other spices, cooking oil, hot cocoa mix, zip-loc baggies, toilet paper, baby wipes, feminine hygiene products (these can double as wound dressings), tinfoil, shampoo, toothpaste, and soaps (personal and laundry).

If you have pets, don't forget about their needs.  They'll have to eat and drink as well.

And, for God's sake, make it your #1 priority to make sure you have a MANUAL CAN OPENER!

FEMAs preparedness guidelines make a very good point in that they advise that you should store foods that will give you proper balanced nutrition without making you thirsty.  They suggest things like salt-free crackers and canned foods with a high liquid content.  In my experience, a liquid-heavy diet can even reduce the amount of water you need to drink in a day, depending on how heavily salted the foods are (a lot of canned soups are heavily salted, for instance, in order to preserve them longer).  This can help in that it will help you ration your stored water for a longer period.

FEMA says that every American should have a 3-day supply of non-perishable food and a gallon of water stored for each member of the family, but I call that foolhardy.  You don't have to go all-out and stock enough food for months or years, like some of us more serious Preppers do, but 3 days isn't nearly enough.  My advice is to use that as your absolute minimum benchmark, then keep adding to it.  Three days might put you further ahead on the proverbial curve than some people, but that just means you'll start either starving or turn into a refugee a bit later than the rest.

In the derecho storms last Summer, me and mine fared pretty well, but there were those without power for weeks.  At least, it was Summer, though, and so they could get out to get assistance from aid organizations and local fire departments, etc. who trucked-in food and water.  In the Blizzard of '93, however, I remember being stranded on our mountain with snow above the windowsills and no power for more than 3 weeks.  We heated water on a kerosene heater that only kept running because my cousin was on leave from the Navy when the blizzard hit; he climbed out a window, dug a path around to the door so the dog could be let out, and walked a mile to purchase kerosene every few days.  Having only a 3-day supply of food would have been disastrous for us, so I urge you to take the FEMA recommendations as a base-point, not a definitive goal.

If you have a wood-burning stove, you can learn to cook on it very effectively will a little practice, and warming-up a pot of sour on one is idiot-proof.  Purchasing a Dutch Oven will allow for some great versatility in what you can make.  If you are without a woodstove, however, another option is to purchase a small camp stove and be sure to stockpile some fuel for it.  If you buy the kind that runs on propane, the small canisters they run off of will store indefinitely, so stock-up.  If you live in a wooded area, I would suggest a Solo Stove as the only fuel needed to run this unit is the tiny twig-sized wood that can be found all over the place with very little effort.

With all of that said, I further urge you to delve into starting your own vegetable garden and learning to can your own produce.

Also, it's not food but they do qualify as consumables, so I'm going to go ahead and mention them in this post: medications.  If anyone in your family is dependent on medications to survive, such as blood-pressure pills, insulin, or asthma inhalers, talk to the doctor and see if he/she would be willing to write you a prescription for more than the normal time-span.  That way, if caught unawares by a sudden storm or disaster, you'll be more likely to be good for a longer period.  Also, before doing this, you may need to check with your insurance carrier to see what they max is that they'll cover.

Don't forget OTC meds as well.  Painkillers such as Tylenol can come in very handy in stressful, headache-inducing situations as well as in easing achiness associated with illness or having to get off our collective fat arses to do things we're more accustomed to having fragile technology do for us.  Also, if you or a loved one falls ill at a point when getting to the ER isn't possible, a simple OTC anti-diarrhea medication could be the only thing that staves off serious dehydration and even death.  That's rare here in the West, but people die of dysentery in the Third World all the time.  Prepare accordingly.

As always, feel free to add to the discussion via the comments section.

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