Many of us are paralyzed by the job of home emergency planning. It’s hard to plan for the unknown.
But 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, a cache of stored food, water and other supplies may prove priceless.
So, if you have been procrastinating (while watching news of the ongoing hurricanes pummeling Southern states) you know it’s time to get on it.
Here are 10 easy ways to jump-start your process and get going:
1. Set a goal and get started
How much do you want to store? Should you aim for three days’ worth of supplies? Or enough for three months? Advice varies, depending on the kind of emergency that is most likely to strike where you live, and how long you anticipate being cut off from supplies.
At very least, the Department of Homeland Security recommends you have a basic emergency supply kit that includes enough food and water for each of your family members for 72 hours — that’s 1 gallon of water per day per person and canned or otherwise nonperishable food for three days. Other supplies on their list include a flashlight, battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and basic first-aid supplies. (You can take a shortcut by ordering three-day emergency supply kits and equipment from the American Red Cross store.)
But you can be much more secure in a crisis if you go beyond that bare minimum.
On the website for Latah County, Idaho, a writer calling herself “Average Concerned Mom” describes her plan for a two-week stockpile for households on a limited budget and with limited space. She adds that if you can afford it and have the room, a six- to 12-week supply is ideal.
If you’re just getting started, aim to meet your family’s requirements for three days. When you hit that goal, move the goalposts to one or two weeks. Keep it up until you’ve reached your ultimate goal, whether that’s two weeks, three months or three years.
2. Prioritize water and store it safely
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website recommends storing 1 gallon per day for each person and each pet. Set a goal of stockpiling at least two weeks’ worth of water.
If you have to choose, prioritize stockpiling water over 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.
“Unopened commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable emergency water supply,” according to the CDC.
Alternatively you can store tap water in your own containers. Either way, make sure to observe safety measures it recommends:
- 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.
3. Buy everything at once
If you have the money and space, consider purchasing a large amount of commercially prepared emergency supplies. A few examples:
- A three-day pack (five-year shelf life) of S.O.S. Rations Emergency 3600 Calorie Food Bars: about $10 on Amazon.
- An eight-day supply of “Survival Tabs” emergency food ration: less than $25 at Amazon.
- Augason Farms’ 30-day supply of meals for one person: around $100 at Sam’s Club.
- A one-year Thrive food supply for four people: about $4,000 at Costco.
4. 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. Remember to pack a can opener. The list includes:
- Peanut butter
- Whole wheat crackers (consider vacuum packing to prolong freshness)
- Nuts and trail mix
- Power bars and granola bars
- Dried fruit
- Canned meat such as tuna, salmon, chicken and turkey
- Canned vegetables such as beans, carrots and peas
- Canned soups and chili
- Sports drinks
- Sugar, salt and pepper
- Powdered milk
5. Include seeds for sprouting
Noting that sprouts can become contaminated with dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, the article tells how to safely make and consume sprouts.
6. See trouble coming? 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:
- Winter squashes
- Unripe avocados
- Sweet potatoes and yams
- Unripe tomatoes
- Dry salami, which lasts up to six weeks without refrigeration
7. 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.
The plan from Latah County’s Average Concerned Mom has 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 groups of foods:
- Starches: Rice, flour, sugar, cornmeal, pasta, popcorn, dried potatoes and oatmeal
- Proteins: 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 fruit and dried vegetable soup mix
- Flavorings: Cooking oils, chocolate, jam, salsa, seasonings, yeast, spices, salt and tea, for example
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.
8. Economize by buying in bulk
To stockpile affordably, shop around and compare 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 such as mixes for bread and pancakes, dehydrated onions, powdered honey and butter, and dehydrated stews.
An odd but possibly practical approach is to stockpile protein bars. They cost around $2 each. A couple of years ago, U.S. News & World Report wrote about a Baltimore couple who shopped at GNC and ate a protein bar every three hours from the time they woke until bed time. The husband quickly lost 78 pounds:
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.
9. 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.
10. 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 No. 10 cans last 30 years.
- Dry staples: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) 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 Men’s Health.
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