A comprehensive emergency food storage plan for the thorough prepper

Good food is a critical part of morale, especially with people who are under a great deal of stress. Nobody understands this better than the United States Navy. United States submarine crews are under relentless stress while on duty, and they are the best fed soldiers in the world because morale is so vital.

To sensibly start a food storage plan, take notice of what your family likes to eat now. Make a list and keep track of everything you use in a two-month period.

The next time you go grocery shopping, simply buy a little extra of those items. You should not buy things for your storage plan that you wish your family would eat, because of its nutritional value for example.

[Tweet “Nutritional food is important, but only buy things that you family will actually eat. #Shtf”]

Be realistic in your buying habits. Food storage is a wise investment, but only if you eat what you store.

When storing groceries, buy only things that you know your family likes and will eat. The rule is ‘store foods that you eat and eat the foods that you store.’

During a crisis is not the time to crack open a five gallon bucket of hard grain and start feeding your family pearled barley mush if they are not used to it.

All your preparation will be worthless if your family would rather starve to death than eat the austere survival food that you have stored.

If you want to start stockpiling particular foods that are not in your diet at this time, start serving them occasionally now and get everybody used to them.

Find creative ways to cook items such as rice and beans, for example.

In stressful times people want foods they are familiar with and that they like. Rather than eat food that they don’t like or are not used to, people under stress will prefer to not eat at all, which ushers in new problems such as severe depression and sickness.

  1. Beverage items such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate packs, and Kool-Aid are a must for morale, and should last for several years if stored properly.
  2. Bouillon cubes are great seasonings for dishes such as soups and rice. They come in a variety of flavors such as chicken and beef and should keep for about three years.
  3. Granola bars and fruit bars will provide variety and should have a shelf life of about one year. The food will still be edible past this time frame, but the nutritional value may suffer.
  4. chocolate is important part of food storage and is of the most commonly overlooked parts of a well-stocked pantry is the comfort food section. Comfort food is something such as hard candy or chocolate whose main purpose is to be a morale-booster. This may not seem important to you now, but in very stressful times the psychological effect of these foods is hard to overestimate, especially with children. Chocolate has a shelf life of about two years.
  5. Canned fruits are a must, not only for morale but for quick energy.
  6. Another good suggestion is pop-tarts. They are very well sealed, can be heated easily, are tasty cold, and are handy on the go. They have a shelf life of well over a year if stored in a cool environment.
  7. Be sure to also include a wide variety of spices, especially salt and pepper. Granulated sugar has a shelf life of several years if you can prevent infestation. Jellies and jams only have a shelf life of one year because the sugar content breaks down over time. The food may still be edible past this time frame, but the nutritional value may suffer.

How to cook your stored food during a crisis is covered here.

Avoiding appetite fatigue

Most people don’t have enough variety in their stored foods. Some even feel that people will eat anything if they get hungry enough, and that variety is unnecessary.

That myopic view will doom a food storage plan to failure. It is a sure invitation to appetite fatigue, which is the preference to not eat at all rather than eat the same thing over and over again.

This malady is similar to the problem suffered by people under stress who will not eat food that they are unaccustomed to.

Children are especially susceptible to this problem, and will often rather starve than eat repetitive foods. This can all be avoided by simply storing a variety of basic foods and some comfort foods. A simple variety of flavorings and spices can make a crucial difference and should figure prominently in your planning.


Dietary protein is essential because it contains amino acids which are used in the function of every cell in your body.

Canned tuna and salmon are perhaps the ultimate sources of protein in a home food storage program because of their protein concentration, long shelf life, widespread familiarity, good taste, and affordability.

Beef stew, canned hams, and Spam are also rich in protein. Spam has a nearly indefinite shelf life if properly stored. Canned meats and fish can have a shelf life of more than five years if stored at cool constant temperatures. The food may still be edible past this time frame, but the nutritional value will suffer.

Another excellent source of fat and protein is peanut butter. Creamy peanut butter will keep about three years if unopened and stored properly, while crunchy style has a shelf life of less than two years.

Once opened, peanut butter should be consumed in about four months. Peanut butter is a good comfort food to store because kids love it and it is very nutritious if you buy the leading brands.

Don’t buy the cheap brands of peanut butter because they sometimes process out the peanut oil and replace it with hydrogenated oils.

Forget powdered peanut butter because it is too grainy and it doesn’t taste good.

Nuts in general are good to store because they are high in fat and protein. Due to their high fat content, they must be protected from oxygen and heat like cooking oil. Unshelled nuts store better and have a longer shelf life than shelled nuts. They can theoretically be stored about five years, if you can provide an oxygen-free storage environment.

Survival garden

Another way to avoid appetite fatigue is to have a small garden.

A garden provides fresh nutritious vegetables and variety to your food storage plan. It also makes your food stash last longer, which can be critical.

There is something special about having your own garden, even if it is only a few vegetable plants in a flower bed.

Tomatoes, for example, that you have personally nurtured and raised will taste better than any you will buy in a store.

Be sure to use non-hybrid seeds, so the plants will produce seeds which you can use next year. Store the seeds in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life, which varies but is generally limited to two or three years if stored properly.

Best plants to grow in your survival garden ware tomatoes, onions, green beans, corn, cabbage, peas, carrots, squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

If possible, it is a good idea to raise your own fresh supply of meat, eggs and milk too.

Rabbits, chickens, and goats are the least amount of trouble, and require less space and food than larger animals. This will need to be a family decision, because in recruiting labor for the daily care of these animals you may meet stiff resistance which could quickly turn into open rebellion.

A more peaceful solution may be to store and rotate more canned meat. The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery, is a good book on self-sufficient living.

No meat? No problem

TVP, or textured vegetable protein, is a meat substitute that has become more popular in recent years. It is made from soybeans after the oil is extracted, and resembles ground meat in taste and texture when cooked.

It is easier to store long-term than ground beef. TVP is cheaper to buy than hamburger and is easier to prepare. It comes in flavors such as beef, chicken, barbeque, taco, sausage, pepperoni, etc.

You just simmer it in water for ten minutes, or simply add it to a recipe instead of meat. Bacon bits used in fresh salads are made of TVP. It has fiber and protein and can be eaten by vegetarians, thanks to its soybean origin.

Textured vegetable proteins make a great food storage item, but try it on your family in a few recipes before you buy up a basement full of it. While it does have protein, the quality is still not as good as that found in animal flesh. The taste is not very good and it is full of additives, which may affect the digestive tract. Under the right conditions it can have a shelf life of five years.

Cooking oil

During the shortages of World War II, two of the most valuable and most sought after items were chocolate and cooking oil.

Oil is worth the trouble to store, because cooking oil provides more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, and in a crisis you may need all the calories you can get due to increased activity.

Cooking oil also makes food much easier to cook and easier to eat. The problem with storing cooking oil is that is goes rancid fairly quickly, being susceptible to light, heat, and air ruination. The most storage life you can expect to get out of cooking oil is about two and a half years, and that is only if you store it in a very cool place, preferably below 60 degrees.

The exception to this is hydrogenated shortening in metal cans, which may have a shelf life of fifteen years. Once opened, it will last about six months. Once it begins to darken it should no longer be used.

Olive oil also stores well. Cooking oil, like many other items, does much better when stored in a refrigerator.


If you already grind your own wheat, you are far ahead of the curve and you have a big advantage. Wheat is the backbone for most food storage plans because it is very nutritious and affordable, it provides freshness and variety, and it has a staggering number of uses.

  1. The gluten found in wheat is a valuable protein.
  2. Wheat’s most common cooking form, flour, is used to make bread, pie crusts, crackers, pasta, pancakes, and a whole host of other items.
  3. Baking with wheat can be a very rewarding pastime, and there is no arguing that whole wheat bread is far more nutritious than the white bleached flour foods in our diet. White flour is stripped of its bran, germ, and nutrients, unlike unprocessed wheat flour. In fact, we would be healthier if we could dispense with vitamin-leached white flour products and use whole wheat instead in our normal daily routine.

But this is not about the normal daily routine. This is about emergency situations that are fraught with stress and tension. Very few people in a crisis will realistically learn to use a grain mill to crack wheat for cereal.

Even fewer will learn to grind their own flour, and learn to bake their own bread and pies if they are not doing so already.

Can you set up a grain mill right now with the proper settings to produce suitable flour textures for cooking, or for cereal? Can you prevent a grinder from gumming up and becoming useless?

In the middle of a crisis is no time to learn. If you are going to store buckets of whole wheat, you had better learn to use that grinder today, not tomorrow.

You will find that working a hand-cranked grain mill is a lot of work, and you may have to re-grind the same flour more than once. This can also get tiring, hot, and frustrating, since it may take over twenty minutes of hard work to hand-grind a pound of flour. Electric mills will be useless if the power is out.

Additionally, in a crisis situation cooking fuel may be a very prized commodity, and cooking these wheat products will require a lot of it.

You may also be sitting in a shelter or home that is sweltering hot, and a cooking fire would make it that much worse.


Though they are slightly less nutritious than fresh wheat products, regular canned goods are already cooked. They can be eaten slightly warmed or cold, right out of the can.

A large amount of stored canned goods in your pantry can also give you time to gradually change over to wheat-based food in a more protracted event. This could be important, because unprocessed grains are likely to be one of the more common foods available in an actual famine. Slowly adding wheat products to your diet gives your digestive system time to acclimate to their harsh colonic effects.

Whole-grain products such as barley, buckwheat and rye are fine healthy products but you have to start using them now, not after the SHTF.

It is better to learn from your cooking mistakes now, when food is abundant and cheap. In a crisis, the learning curve is apt to be much steeper and much more critical.

Get a grinder today and try baking several dishes before spending your hard-earned money on a dozen buckets of wheat.

You also need to know if your family will eat the food, can tolerate the gluten, and if they will notice any calamitous digestive consequences.

Suddenly switching to a high-fiber diet can cause acute abdominal pain and severe diarrhea. Start slowly, until everyone’s systems get used to it.

Before incorporating stored wheat into your plan, you must firmly establish that your family can and will eat it. If that is the case, then buy a bunch of it, but store it in the whole-berry form and rotate it through your food system like everything else.

Some people love to bake using whole wheat and we salute them. They will reap the many benefits that wheat has to offer.

Don’t forget to stock a bunch of toilet paper. With a brand new whole-grain diet, you are going to need it.

Dairy products

There is also little mention of dairy products in this emergency food storage plan. Dairy products provide calcium, protein, and vitamins in our daily diet, but in the end you will probably throw out the cans of evaporated milk, the boxes of nonfat powdered milk, and the powdered eggs because they will most likely spoil long before they are used.

  • If you are going to include dried dairy products in your storage plan, you should be willing to rotate them and use them on a daily basis now, not just in a crisis.
  • If you insist on storing powdered milk because your kids are used to having milk daily, you had better start them on it now. The taste of powdered milk takes some getting used to.

The numbers on estimated shelf lives for dairy products vary considerably from source to source. Canned milk products have a shelf life of maybe one year if stored in a consistently cool room, but the cans must be turned frequently.

Some say that non-fat powdered milk will only last one year before losing all its nutritional value. Others say it will last for ten years if properly stored.

Under normal circumstances, it has been our experience that non-fat powdered milk will last about three years if stored under optimal conditions, and the taste even when it is fresh off the shelf is chalky at best.

That taste does not improve with time.

Fresh eggs are perhaps the best source of protein. Dehydrated eggs are also a good source of protein, but the chances of your actually using this product are slim as well. The shelf life of dehydrated eggs is about three years, and then they get thrown out with the powdered milk. Spend your money on something else, something that you will actually use instead of throwing it out.

Dietary supplements

A body that is under stress will have greater nutritional requirements, so vitamins are mandatory in a smart food storage plan.

The nutritional supplements should be stored in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life and rotated to keep them current.

Shelf life will vary according to ingredients, brand, and type. Hard tablets have the longest shelf life because they are least affected by moisture. Moisture and heat are a vitamin’s greatest threats to longevity. Most vitamins have expiration dates, so rotate them and use them daily now.

Vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin deficiency is not something that is likely to be a problem unless the crisis lasts more than a month or so.

Usually the first to appear is scurvy, which is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Vitamin C is an antioxidant and is therefore thought to play a role in cancer prevention. It is essential for collagen formation, thus promoting wound healing.

Vitamin C builds the immune system and performs a wide variety of functions in the body. Typical symptoms of scurvy are swollen and bleeding gums and loose teeth. This is soon followed by weakness and large bruises that will not heal.

Cabbage, sour kraut, and citrus fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C. The best way to store vitamin C is in its crystalline form, as pure ascorbic acid.

Vitamin A

It is unusual for a person to have a vitamin A deficiency because of the large amount stored in the liver of a normally healthy person.

However, in case it happens infants and children are generally affected first, usually after a period of several months.

The classic symptom of vitamin A deficiency is temporary night blindness, which can lead to permanent blindness if the deficiency is not corrected. The best sources for vitamin A include liver, eggs, milk, butter, carrots, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin D

A vitamin D deficiency interferes with calcium absorption and causes a disease known as rickets. This affects children and causes inadequate mineralization in developing cartilage and newly formed bone, resulting in abnormalities in shape and structure of bones, especially the long bones.

Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include soreness and tenderness, pallor, slight diarrhoea, enlargement of liver and spleen, and badly formed teeth.

The best sources for vitamin D are fish liver oils, eggs, fortified milk, and sunlight. The body uses the ultraviolet rays of the sun to synthesize vitamin D.


Pellagra is a disease caused by a deficiency of niacin. Symptoms include dermatitis, ulcers, nausea, diarrhoea, memory loss, confusion, and delirium.

Sources for niacin include yeast, liver, organ meats, peanuts, and wheat germ.

Vitamin B1

Beriberi is a deficiency of vitamin B1, or thiamine. Symptoms include peripheral neuritis (pain) and heart disease. Thiamine sources include meat, nuts, eggs, beans, and vegetables.

Pernicious anemia is not likely to affect most people, because healthy individuals tend to have approximately a three year supply in their liver. It is also readily available in meat. Although there are others, these are the most likely vitamin deficiencies to be encountered by most people in a disaster.

  1. Have an ample store of multivitamins, vitamin C tablets, and children’s multivitamins on your shelf.
  2. Vitamins should be taken with meals on a daily basis.
  3. Breast-fed infants need vitamins D and A, and may require vitamin C supplements. For children and infants, simply crush half a multivitamin tablet into a fine powder and stir it into their food or drink. This is very important, because infants could begin to show vitamin A, C, and D deficiencies after only one month.
  4. Brief daily exposure to sunlight will assist in vitamin D production, but no more than ten minutes is recommended. Children’s vitamins may also be stored and administered in liquid or chewable form.
  5. Plan to store about seven pounds of table salt per person for a year’s supply. Not only is it important for flavor, but salt is critical for cell function, muscle function, maintenance of water balance, blood coagulation, and regulation of blood volume. If stored in a plastic or glass container, salt will store indefinitely and is unaffected by oxygen, heat, or light.


Sugar and honey are important sources of energy in an emergency. We are not going to engage here in the debate over whether or not these items are healthy. Our goal is to survive a disaster which may require a lot of stamina and energy. Sugar and honey can be very important for this.

White sugar is a concentrate which comes from processed cane or sugar beets. When stored properly it keeps indefinitely, although it may take on a yellow hue. This will not affect the taste or nutritional value.

Honey is sweeter than sugar and is markedly more expensive. Nectar gathered from different flowers accounts for different flavors and colors in honey.

The darker the honey, the stronger the flavor.

Sometimes commercial honey has water added to it and this hurts shelf life by allowing fermentation and mold. Pure honey still has some water in it but can be stored indefinitely in a cold environment. With time it will crystallize and darken, but properly stored honey will resume its original form when warmed up.

Glass jars of honey should be zealously covered from light which will change the color and the taste. Since honey is not sterile, it can cause botulism in infants less than one year old.

The Center For Disease Control web site says that “because honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum and this has been a source of infection for infants, children less than 12 months old should not be fed honey. Honey is safe for persons one year of age or older.”

Symptoms of botulism in infants include lethargy, constipation, a weak cry, and they feed poorly. Infant botulism is not usually fatal. We recommend that you store granulated sugar for infants instead of honey.

Sweet foods such as canned fruits are also a great source of energy, as well as pre-sweetened drink mix packets such as Kool-Aid or Tang.

Tang is a particularly good drink mix to store because it also has a lot of vitamin C. Children and infants have higher metabolisms and require higher energy foods, and in a crisis sugar can fill that niche.

Allergies and intolerances

A crisis would be a bad time to learn that a member of your group is intolerant to gluten or lactose, especially a child or a small infant.

  • The gluten found in unprocessed wheat sometimes causes an allergic reaction in some individuals.
  • Lactose is milk sugar and infants, as well as adults, are sometimes unable to digest it.

Unfortunately, gluten and lactose allergies can suddenly develop without warning, or they can build up over time. These ailments can also grow more severe in a food program that is dominated by these foods because some people aren’t aware they have a gluten or lactose allergy until it becomes a large part of their diet.

These allergies are another reason why you should incorporate these foods into your diet now if you plan to store them. Gluten and lactose intolerances are another reason that powdered dairy products and raw grains are not stressed in this food storage program.

Factors of food storage

Three microorganisms that you must guard against in food storage are bacteria, yeast, and molds.

  • In unopened canned goods, this problem is pretty much solved since the heat kills most of the harmful microbes during processing.
  • Placing food in the freezer will kill insect larvae but will not kill microorganisms. The freezing doesn’t kill microbes, it just stops them from growing.

Four other important factors that can shorten the storage life of food are condensation, oxygen, light, and pH.

Condensation is a problem because it is a vehicle for mold and mildew which can ruin your food. To help thwart condensation, keep your containers off the floor, especially concrete, and out of contact with exterior walls to avoid temperature differences.

With concrete floors, place slats of lumber under the food to prevent condensation inside the containers. If your basement floods occasionally, store the containers on shelves above the water line and store the canned goods on wood slats on the floor. They have a better chance of weathering the dampness, but the labels may peel off.

Oxygen is used by microorganisms such as bacteria that cause food to spoil. Oxygen-related damage to foods in new sealed packages is usually kept to a minimum because moisture-proof containers also tend to be air-tight.

If you are buying in bulk and storing in smaller packaged portions, you have three basic options for keeping the oxygen to a minimum: vacuum sealing, flushing with inert gas and chemical oxygen absorbers.

  1. Vacuum sealing can be performed with a commercial food sealer.
  2. Flushing with gas displaces the oxygen in the package, discouraging the growth of microorganisms which need the oxygen to thrive.
  3. Placing oxygen absorbers in the package does essentially the same thing.

Light might seem harmless, but it saps the nutrition and vitamins out of your food. Any type of container that light can get through is a problem. If you can’t keep your containers and jars in a dark room, then keep them completely covered up or closed up in cardboard boxes.

The single most important factor affecting the shelf life of food is temperature.

The importance of cool temperatures for food storage cannot be overstated.

[Tweet “Food should be stored in the coolest, darkest environment that you can possibly provide for it. #PrepperTalk”]

Storage temperatures should be less than 60 degrees, and around 40 degrees would be ideal. Consistent temperatures are important because temperature swings can cut the shelf life of your food in half.

Generally, you can also figure that every 20 degree increase in temperature will cost you 50% in food shelf life. For this reason garages and attics are terrible places to store food. Basements and cellars are strongly preferred for food storage because not only are they cool, but the temperature remains relatively constant.

A dry crawl space works well for the same reasons.


homemade-rotating-can-rackYou should have a working system of rotation so that the food you purchase gets used before it expires.

One way to make the rotation of food much easier is to build self-feeding shelves in your pantry or closet. Self-feeding racks can be purchased online for reasonable prices.

Each shelf slants slightly toward the front, and has a small lip on it. Newly purchased cans of food are added to the back, gradually working their way forward as the food in front is used. This idea works better if you have easy access to the back of the shelves for stocking.

Perhaps you could design your own shelf that continuously feeds the cans, but fits up against the wall and does not require access to the back of the shelves.

With each trip to the store, simply add a few items to your reserve. If an item that you routinely buy is on sale at a great price, add a bunch of it to your inventory.

[Tweet “Develop a system of rotating your stock. It is easy, and it is one of the most important aspects of a food storage plan. #Prepping”]

Take a Sharpie marker and write the date of purchase on the top of the can or bag as you stock up. Always move the oldest items to the front of the shelf and use it first. Always put the new stuff toward the back.

Rotating your food is critical because it prevents throwing money away in the form of unused, expired goods

It also allows your family to get used to the types of foods you are storing, if you will incorporate them into your cooking.

Rotation is important not only to prevent food spoilage, but also to minimize the loss of nutritional value as the food ages.

Camping is a great time to introduce new foods that you are considering stockpiling, especially dehydrated foods because they don‘t require the hassle of a cooler and ice.



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