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.