Creating an Emergency Food Pantry: Part 1

by heather

Do you have an emergency pantry?

Most people have one on some level or another. But I think the large majority of people, including myself, don’t give their emergency pantry much thought or planning.

I’m definitely not the type to be all “doom and gloom”, or give in to irrational fears that the economy is going to implode suddenly or that we’ll be under imminent attack from alien robots from outer space.


The rational side of me does admit that these situations, among others like an epidemic or natural disaster, are a real possibility. Having an organized, planned emergency pantry is only smart.

But how can we create one without going overboard and wasting food and money? What do we need to think about? What will we actually need?

These are questions that have been on my own mind lately, as I’ve begun to realize that I need to put some serious thought and organizational planning into my own emergency pantry.

Let’s dive in to planning this thing. Today’s post will cover the basics of how long to plan for, shelving to consider, and water. Tomorrow I’ll be covering food, and rotation, so we’re not wasting money.

Consideration #1: Timelines

First you need to ask yourself how long you want to be able to survive on your own. advises people that they need food and water to cover 72 hours (3 days). Most natural disasters like blizzards, ice storms, severe storms and hurricanes are short lived, which means we can usually count on assistance after that time frame is up.

Notice I said: usually.

We all remember Katrina. And we’ve all heard the news stories of towns, especially last year in the Northeast, that went weeks without power during the dead of winter.

How much time you want to be stocked up for is entirely up to you. Some people are fine with a 72-hour stock. Others, like hard-core survivalists, have enough food and supplies put up to last for a year or more on their own.

It all depends on where you live, and what level of emergency you want to be prepared for.

Consideration #2: Shelving

All your water, food and supplies will have to go somewhere. Ideally this will be in a cool, dark place that will minimize spoilage, like a basement.

You need to have some kind of shelving unit that will keep all these supplies organized.

On the right, as you can probably tell, is my own ill-organized, un-planned emergency pantry. Yes, I know it’s sad, which is in part why I’m writing this post! I mean, just look: my dogs have a bigger stash of food than I do; they’ve got Milkbones, wet food, and there’s actually 2, 50 lb. bags of food (you can’t see the other one).

So yeah, I’ve got some learning to do which is why I’m investigating this!

But take a look at the shelves my stuff is sitting on. These shelves are actually pretty awesome because you can change their height based on what you’re storing. And because they’re steel, they’ll hold around 350 lbs. per shelf.

Of course, any shelving is going to work. But it needs to be large enough for the food you’re storing, and in a place that’s easily accessible. You need to be able to reach your food so you can rotate it over time (using old food and replacing it with new so it doesn’t go to waste).

Consideration #3: Water

You need, on average, one gallon of water per person, per day. And don’t forget your pets!

You’re also going to need water for flushing toilets and cooking.

This can add up to a lot of water sitting in plastic jugs in your basement. And plastic eventually starts to erode, so it’s important you’re rotating your water every few months.

Personally, I don’t have any jugs of water in my basement because I’m relying on other methods.

For instance, I’ve invested in a Nutriteam Countertop Water Distiller . We use this thing every single day to steam distill our own water (you can see my review of this steam distiller here). It rocks, big time.

No matter how dirty the water is (even if you’re using water out of your rain barrel), a steam distiller will give you perfectly pure water in a matter of hours.

The downside, of course, is that it’s dependent on electricity to run. As a backup, I have water purification tablets, and a small portable stove and dozens of cans of fuel I can use to boil water.

So what happens if your water is cut off?

Well, it’s important to know where your closest natural water source is at. Is there a lake or stream nearby you could take water from? Any empty pools?

Spend time now figuring out how you’ll get water in an emergency if your public water supply is cut off. And don’t forget about rain barrels; in a pinch, these can be great sources of water. I have two barrels hooked up to my house, and they’re both full. Yes, I use them for watering my plants, but in an emergency I’m going to count on that water as well.

Image courtesy WaterBob

It’s also important to look for sources of water within your home. Your hot water heater, for instance, is a water source in an emergency.

Your bathtub is another source. Keep in mind that open water (like in a bathtub) can quickly harbor bacteria, especially if it’s not cleaned out beforehand (which can be hard to do if, like most emergencies, things happen suddenly).

Products like the WaterBob, which fits in your bathtub and is made of food-grade plastic, are popular because they help keep that contamination to a minimum. You don’t have to worry about cleaning out the tub at all. This plastic bladder fits in any sized tub and will hold 100 gallons of water.

And thanks to the spigot on the top, it’s really easy to get water out of the bladder. Because the water is 100% encased in food-grade plastic, you don’t have to worry about bacterial contamination from the tub or air. All you need to watch is light; the more light that hits the water, the likelier it is to harbor bacteria.

Last Word…

In my next post I’m going to cover the biggie: food planning and prep, and rotation.

I’d love to hear back from all of you on this. Do you have an emergency pantry? How have you gone about prepping it? How long are you stocked up for?

I suppose that last question is the one I’m most confused about. Should I plan for a small emergency (like ice-storm or blizzard) or start putting some serious supplies by for a larger, more extended emergency?

The word’s still out on that one for me, so I’d love to hear what you all are doing.


Gobankingrates August 19, 2010 at 1:44 pm

This seems to be a popular project as of late. It seems like people are anticipating a big natural disaster in their near future. Maybe because of the 2012 conspiracy? I haven’t set up an emergency disaster food pantry, but these posts are starting to scare me enough that I’ll probably start one soon.

Jenny Miller August 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm

We have enough stored for at least a month. We buy in bulk (the 50 lb bag) and put a small amount in glass jars (about the 1/2 gallon jar size) and the rest in 5 gallon buckets. We do this for flour, evaporated cane juice, brown rice and oatmeal and the rest is bought in smaller quantities. We just buy more than one at a time. We also have backups for the important things: water, heat and lights. When we lived in Asheville, some water lines broke and we were without water for several days. When we moved up here, a severe snow storm came last year and we were without power for at least 4 days. I’d be happy to share more, if you’d like. Thanks Heather for the great posts!

Bellen August 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm

We started stockpiling food before my husband was discharged from the Navy in 1970 because we didn’t know when and what type of employment either one of us would have.

We stayed with a 8-12 week storage system of food, mainly canned fruit, veggies, some meat, along with frozen beef, chicken & fish. Added to that was lots of flour, sugar, rice, oatmeal, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa, and other “from scratch’ supplies so I could make sweets, breads, pancakes & waffles. I’ve always cooked from scratch so it was no big deal for me.

We upped that amount to 3-6 months worth when we had 3 boys at home. Now with just the 2 of us, it’s 3 months worth of food and we keep 8 2L bottles of water at all times.
We live in hurricane prone FL and have 5 gallon water boxes that we’ll fill when a tropical storm or hurricane is 3 days out. We also have two 55 gal water barrels and five 5 gallon buckets that we use for extra run-off water that would be used for flushing.

We also have a good supply of personal care items, baby wipes (for a quick sponge bath), lots of toilet paper, lots of cotton rags and some paper towels, plastic eating utensils & dishes, bowls and cups – they can be wiped clean more easily than china or Corelle for some reason. We also keep some paper plates, cups, bowls but I don’t like to use them. I don’t use plastic coated or styrofoam dinnerware.

For cooking we have 2 propane powered grills, a sun-oven and we routinely grow sprouts and make sun tea.

To know what would be suitable for your family you have to practice – before something happens. Try one day, on the weekend, without electricity – that includes no water from the faucet because it uses electricity. It’s the time to figure out what & how you’d eat, drink, amuse yourself, wash, etc. It actually is easier than you may think – just practice.

Mrs W August 20, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Do not forget to stock up on toilet paper.

Mrs W August 20, 2010 at 8:27 pm

WHERE do I find acceptable water barrels to use to catch rain water?

Sherri H. August 22, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Its not something talked about much, but a box or 2 of your fav feminine products….not a great time to run out, but would be the EXACT time it visited that month.

or reusable ones.

heather August 23, 2010 at 9:19 am

Wow, all of you rock! You’ve all shared some really awesome suggestions, and I’m very much inspired to get my own measly emergency pantry in shape.

First, @Jenny, I love your ideas for putting things in glass jars. And it’s weird, I used to live in Asheville too! I remember when those lines broke (I think I was living in W. Asheville at the time) so we were probably there at the same time! Small world. 🙂

@Mrs. W, that’s an AWESOME tip about the TP. Thanks for bringing that up! As far as rain barrels, I made my first one out ofa medical-grade plastic bin I bought direct from a warehouse, and my second I bought from my city when they sold them early this summer. You can buy rain barrels off Amazon, but they’re pricey. Put a shout out over at Craigslist and/or Freecycle to see if anyone knows where you can get 55-80 gallon plastic drums.

@Sherri, this is also a great tip! I use the Diva Cup, which is a reusable menstrual cup, so having extra pads/tampons on hand didn’t even cross my mind. A product like the Diva Cup is perfect for emergency planning since it will last for years and can be reused each month. If you’d like to see my review of the Diva, click here:

Alan Eames September 21, 2010 at 2:57 am

I wrote a short story illustrating why one might want to stock emergency food. It’s at
All the best,

Marcie June 15, 2011 at 8:36 am

Just visited this site, and several others there is a cool breakdown or cost comparison on the website listed. There are so many products out there and several are very costly. Anyone having issues receiving orders?

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