Readers’ questions answered on emergency food and other reserves


After publishing two articles over the past two weeks on the unfolding worldwide food crisis and the need to build up our emergency food reserves, I’ve been fielding questions from several readers about what they should do in their particular situations.  I thought the answers I gave them might be of wider interest.

One reader complained that my earlier article on storing water for emergencies wasn’t much help when she wanted to store a week’s supply of water right now, starting from scratch and not having to wait to build up supplies.  There’s one very cost-effective solution available right now.  Sams Club offers at many of its stores 4-gallon containers of water to fit most dispensers.  At my local store they’re currently for sale, container and water, for $4.99 apiece.  That’s an absolute steal in anyone’s language.  Allowing 2 gallons per person per day, a week’s emergency water supply for a family of 4, including the reusable containers, will cost you less than $60.  Add a few accessories such as a dispensing bottle stand, a water dispenser valve, some replacement bottle caps, and a carrying handle, and you’re good to go.  It would cost a lot more than that to buy empty water containers and fill them yourself!

(In case of a prolonged water shortage or outage, I suggest having plenty of paper plates, bowls and cups on hand.  It’s easier to throw them away than to consume precious water washing dishes.)

Several readers appeared to have focused on freeze-dried and dehydrated foods for their emergency reserve.  That’s fine, and I do recommend having some of them if you can afford that:  but they’re a lot more expensive than regular canned food.  Most cans have a “best buy” date a couple of years in the future, and often are good for years beyond that.  (I’ve eaten beef stew from a ten-year-old can, eight years past its expiry date, and it was still entirely edible.)  Cans have the disadvantage of being bulky and heavy, but their lower cost makes them very worthwhile.  I’ve compiled a spreadsheet of our canned goods, including their “best by” date.  We go through it once a quarter, and note all the cans that are within four or five months of that date;  then we either use them, or donate them to a local food pantry and replace them with fresher goods.  In future, if food is hard to come by, I won’t cry if we keep them on hand and use them after their “best by” date.  Needs must, etc.

The most economical way to buy canned foods, in my experience, is either at Aldi, which tends to be the lowest-priced of all supermarket chains for canned goods (their house brands are fine), or to buy them in bulk from big-box stores.  I order from Walmart and Sams Club and have them shipped right to my door, saving me a lot of time and effort.  For the cheapest goods, I find the Walmart house brands aren’t always the best, but IMHO the Sams Club “Member’s Mark” house brand offers good value for money.  That’s not an advertisement for them:  it’s just my experience.  In recent weeks I’ve ordered their Mandarin oranges, green beans, sweet corn, chicken breast and diced tomatoes, amongst other things.  Compare their price (and quality) per can to elsewhere.  They’ve helped to top up our food reserves very nicely.

Don’t neglect what you need to prepare food.  If you fry a lot, you use oil, butter, lard, etc.;  do you have enough in reserve to cover however long you expect the problem to last?  What about seasonings, spices, herbs, and so on?  My wife and I use Cajun seasoning quite often, so we’ve made sure to have more of that in reserve, in case of need.  If you have young children, they’ll need food they can digest easily, and that tastes good to them.  If some are bottle-fed, you’ll need spares for that.  Dish-washing and sanitizing utensils mean that you’ll need to store dish soap, and a few sponges or cloths, for manual cleaning – your dishwasher won’t work well if the power is out.  (The same goes for laundry and clothes-washing.)  If you expect to have to cook on an outdoor grill or gas stove, be aware that some of your pots and pans (particularly aluminum pressure-cookers) may not be well suited to that environment.  All these considerations need to be taken into account.

As for reserve supplies of gasoline, I recommend you store at least enough for one tank of fuel for each of your family’s vehicles.  If you have an emergency generator to power your home, I suggest at least one week’s fuel for it.  That can add up.  If you have two vehicles with tank capacities totaling, say, 30 gallons, and you need 5 gallons a day to run a small generator intermittently (to keep your freezers frozen, etc.), that means you’re looking at storing 65 gallons!  I suggest 5-gallon jerry cans as the best storage containers, because they’re pretty much leakproof and odor-proof;  but they’re also very expensive, typically over $50 apiece at current prices.  (The most highly recommended on the market at present, at least among my circle of friends and acquaintances, appear to be those from Deutsche Optik, made in Poland to NATO standards.)  Plastic fuel containers are a lot cheaper, but also more flimsy and easier to puncture, requiring greater care in storage and handling;  and if you travel with them in your vehicle, the smell of gasoline or diesel from them can become overpowering.

When it comes to storing your reserve fuel supplies and things like tanks of propane, obviously – NOT IN YOUR HOME!!!  The fire hazard is too great.  The same goes for storing them in an attached garage.  I strongly suggest having a garden shed, or something like that, where you can store them a safe distance from your family home.  (Don’t keep them in a storage facility – that’s usually a violation of the contract you sign to rent it, and if there’s a fire and they go up in flames, you’re likely to find the owner[s] and/or their insurer[s] demanding that you pay for the entire cost of the fire, because your fuel stash started it and/or made it worse!  If a firefighter is injured or killed fighting the blaze, you’ll have the fire department on your back, too, and probably face charges of manslaughter.)

I’ve covered these and other questions in more detail in my “Emergency Preparations” series (see sidebar) and other articles.  However, it’s never a bad idea to remind ourselves of the basics, and brush up on the details.



  1. You might consider getting a dual fuel generator that accepts gasoline or propane. Propane is safer to store, and does not need to be replaced periodically like gasoline does in order to stay fresh.

  2. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stores. 25-year storage life and a case of #10 cans is approximately 30 pounds and almost equal to a 5-gallon bucket for far less cost. Amazon 5-gallon bucket of wheat berries is >$110; case of #10 cans at LDS is $30. For $600 one can put up enough canned foods (rice, beans, wheat berries) to provide 1600 calories per day for one person for a year. Yes, you will need to invest in a grain mill. I also recommend a solar oven. YMMV.

  3. Interesting, The headquarters of Azure Standard, the nation's premier independent distributor of organic and healthy food, was destroyed by fire overnight. This is the second or third food company that has had a fire in the last month or so.

  4. Another very important thing: know how to use your reserves. Cooking with dehydrated food has a very steep learning curve, even something as 'simple' as dried beans. Yes, your failures may be edible within the meaning of the term; but, the toll on your family's psyche as you learn? Huge. Canned food isn't as bad, but there are still definite challenges. Food is huge for moral; bad food can sometimes be worse than little/no food.

  5. has over a thousand articles with detailed information on specific topics pertaining to food and medical preparedness. Type a keyword in the search box on the right to learn about water purification, long term food storage, how to use oxygen absorbers and mylar bags, how to obtain antibiotics, and so much more.

  6. Check the Country of Origin on those canned goods. Many canned fruits and such come from China. Don’t touch that stuff with a 10 foot fork.

  7. Canned goods have two important advantages, maybe three, in a disaster.

    The food in them is cooked and can be eaten cold if needed.

    They are ALREADY hydrated, so no need for additional water (and you can cook in the liquid or drink it for additional nutrition.)

    The cans are pretty sturdy vs. glass jars. I've started stocking fruit in cans, because of the glass breakage issues.

    I've got boxes (variety packs) of freeze dried pouches for something lightweight to grab and go with if we had to abandon our home. I've got bulk cans of critical freezed dried ingredients like whole eggs to get thru shortages or collapse. But the bulk of my ready to eat food is in cans.

    IF the cans are undamaged, there is no reason to get rid of them based on the date. I'm eating and feeding my family from stocks put up in 2014 for ebola and there is no discernible difference from newer cans.

    Where there has been significant degradation is in box mixes. The powdered flavor packs get "old" tasting, or the color changes, or the anti-caking agents fail. High fat flavorings are particularly susceptible, but with that said, under really bad storage conditions, I'm still finding most things like Hamburger Helper to be fine up to a year past "best by".

    I stock peanut oil in lieu of other fats like butter, although I've got a couple of tins of Red Feather, a few jars of Ghee, and several pounds of saved bacon fat (and store bought lard.) The peanut oil is stabilized with vitamin E and lasts years under poor storage conditions (I'm in Houston and most of my stored food is in the garage or on the sheltered patio. It freezes and it gets very hot. I accept that I'm going to have wastage. Better than going hungry.)


  8. Canned chili & beef stew, canned vegies & canned fruit can be eaten right from the can, they store well too. Canned chicken, tuna and soups can be heated in the same pot for something different.
    Rice will keep & you don't need a lot of water to cook it.
    Stash it away just in case or rotate it into your pantry and replenish it as it gets used (I stashed it away, I spent less than $100 on it all).

  9. Always eat what you store (AND REPLACE) and store what you eat.

    Always test eat new foods before loading up your pantry with them. Yes you *might* have to eat stuff you don't like under duress (Gates' Bug meat, eh?) BUT WHY inflict more issues when things are already SHTF?

    Always look at calories. The Readywise 120 serving veggie bucket (somebody asked me to look it over) has 3000 calories of varous veggies in it for 169.99

    You could replace it with 24 15 ounce cans @ 1.50 each of various veggies and have the same calories (actually a bit more) for around 36 dollars.

    Is the 25 year storage worth the difference?

    I've bought and tested some canned "Beef Stew" that even with rice and spices wasn't worth eating full of veins and gristle.

    Tempus fugit or as that song goes "Does anybody know what time it is"?

  10. There's another area that preppers tend to overlook: personal hygiene. Poor oral health opens the door to all sorts of problems. Toothbrushes should be changed every 3-4 months, so stock up on those and antiseptic pastes. Having a few bottles of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol on hand wouldn't hurt either should there be water shortages.

  11. I have started canning my own food. It tastes so much better and is usually cheaper. I can beef, chicken and beans in many ways. My brother and I garden together (our spouses don’t like to garden) and can peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. o also dehydrate some garden foods. Dehydrated foods are harder for me to find tasty ways to use them though. I need to work on that. I love opening the cans and tasting summer again. Home canned foods last longer than commercial varieties because the foods don’t come in contact with metal and so don’t have that metallic taste. I also purchase foods from the LDS store and faithfully read Prepschool Daily blog.

  12. I agree about Aldi and Sams Club for csnned foods, but their prices have skyrocketed lately and Aldi is having rotating shortages of popular stuff. I got the 1lb canned ham from Aldi and stored a bunch of it, but none of the stores in my area have had any for months. Their Spam analog is good but the price currently is up 30%.
    The canned chicken breast at Sams is also good stuff, but the price has gone from $9.98 to $15.98 here. I realize if you haven't prepared these prices are unavoidable and will be higher still soon enough. Glad I bought stuff earlier.
    Just bought some more canning supplies from Walmart, jars plus extra lids. They currently have the best prices I can find and they deliver free if the total is over $35.00.

  13. Good tips one and all.

    For gas storage, if you don't need it to be mobile (as in pick it up and carry it,) the 25+ gallon tanks are a good bet. Had one on our homestead, used it mostly for the garden tractor, and other yard implements. Fill with the 5 gallon tank when needed.

    @tonerboy is right, first I've heard of it too…

    March 13 – Walmart fulfillment center, IN
    March 22 – Shearer’s Foods, OR
    March 28 – Maricopa Food Pantry, AZ
    March 31 – Rio Fresh, TX
    April 11 – East Conway Beef and Pork, NH
    April 13 – Gem State Processing, ID
    April 13 – Taylor Farms, CA
    April 18 – Azure Standard, OR

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