Creating an Emergency Food Pantry: Part 2

by heather

So today I’m going to cover food planning and rotation when it comes to setting up an emergency food pantry. This is a big issue for me because I’m always toeing the line here. Part of me wants to have a well-stocked, well organized food pantry so that if an emergency does happen, I’m completely prepared and don’t have to go fishing in nearby Thompson Lake.

The minimalist in me, however, balks at this.

But, prudence wins in this case. And I’m sure many of you are on the same boat. Whether you want to prepare for an ice-storm or blizzard this winter or the potential “end of the world” coming in 2012 (kidding!) knowing how to effectively stock and rotate food is vital to making sure it’s not wasted or goes bad when you need it.

Why Prepare?

Think of all the reasons we have for putting food back:

  • Natural disasters like earthquakes, ice storms, blizzards, flooding, tsunamis, landslides
  • Terrorist attack
  • Long-term emergencies (like power-grid failure or other emergencies)
  • Riots
  • Pandemics
  • Job loss
  • Illness
  • Investment (with food prices rising consistently, stocking food is a way to invest money in a roundabout way)

Again, knowing how long you want to be able to survive on your own is the essential question here. Most experts recommend having at least a 3-day supply of food. If you’re truly worried about a major catastrophe like economic collapse, major riots or an asteroid, then having at least a 6-month supply of food is necessary.

Keep in mind that our entire society depends on timely deliveries to keep our stores stocked. Any disaster or interruption of this service would prove disastrous to our food supply. Most communities have stores that will supply the local population with food for three days. After that time, if there are no deliveries to restock, the stores will be out of food. It’s this simple fact that has convinced me to start creating a longer food supply for myself and my family.

Setting up an emergency food pantry can get expensive. So do it slowly; keep an eye out for deals at Costco and the grocery store; when things go on sale, by an extra and stock it downstairs.

Consideration #1: Food to Store

There are tons of food we can store to make sure we have a balanced menu in the event of an emergency.

Here are some ideas:

  • Peanut butter
  • Dried beans
  • Coffee
  • Dried grains (rice, quinoa, wheat germ, barley)
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Canned fish and meat
  • Dried fruits and vegetables
  • Dried jerky (beef, turkey, tofu)
  • Whole grain crackers (great substitute for bread)
  • Nuts
  • Pickles
  • Jam
  • Dried seaweeds
  • Dessert mixes (cake, brownies, cookies)
  • Instant rice and potatoes
  • Processed cheese (like Velveeta, which needs no refrigeration)
  • Dry cereals and oatmeal
  • Raw ingredients (like sugar, flour, cornmeal, yeast, honey, molasses, maple syrup)
  • Ready-to-eat Meals (like Mountain House)
  • Dried pasta and canned sauce (like Hunts)
  • Electrolyte drinks and fruit juices
  • Powdered milk
  • Other mixed drinks (powdered lemonade, gatorade, tea)
  • Granola bars
  • Oils and vinegars
  • Dried and canned soups
  • Plenty of food for pets

We also need to make sure we have other supplies on hand, such as:

  • Manual can opener
  • Toilet paper
  • Candles
  • Plenty of foil (for cooking foods in the fireplace or on a fire outside)
  • Feminine products (Diva Cup and/or extra pads/tampons)
  • Medications
  • Baby supplies (diapers, formula)
  • Multivitamins
  • Hand crank radio
  • Flashlights and plenty of batteries
  • Cooking stove and fuel
  • First-aid kit
  • Ax and hatchet
  • Matches
  • Disposable tableware (This is the only case where I’d advocate using disposables; if water is short, you don’t want to waste it washing dishes)
  • Bleach (for disinfecting water)
  • Backpacks (in case you need to leave the house for evacuations or other emergencies)
  • Blankets and/or sleeping bags

So, I know that’s a pretty big list. How do you know what the heck to buy?

Well, a good rule of thumb is to look at what your family is already eating. If your kids love Mac N’Cheese, then buy this. If you all love eating burrito bowls, then stock up on canned black beans, canned tomatoes, jars of jalapenos, etc.

Buying food your family is already eating also helps with rotation, which I’ll cover in just a minute.

Take a look at your pantry right now; what’s in there? This can help you determine what to buy more of.

It’s great to have food in an emergency. But if you can backstock food your family already loves, then it will make whatever emergency you have to survive through that much easier to bear.

Consideration #2: Rotation

Once you start creating your emergency pantry you’re going to have to stay on top of it, otherwise all that food is going to go bad and your money (and time) will be wasted.

There are several different tips and strategies you can use to effectively rotate food.

1. Date Everything

Every time you buy something for your emergency pantry, put its expiration date on the outside with a black Sharpie. This way you can easily see when something is about to expire.

2. Stock Like a Grocery Store

Grocery stores put new stock at the back of the shelf and old stock at the front so it gets used first. Whenever you buy something new, put it in the back.

3. Cook From Your Pantry

Mark you calender every two weeks so you remember to check your pantry. If something is about to expire, then bring it out of the basement and cook with it that week. Make sure you put that item on your shopping list so you replace it next time you’re at the store.

4. Repackage

Ensuring that your food stays fresh and usable also depends on how you store it. Make sure that no moisture can get to your food supply. Put flour and sugar into air-tight bins. You can put other supplies in large glass jars. Remember: heat, light and oxygen destroys food. Keep those things out of the equation! Most grocery store foods are not packaged for long-term storage (with the exception of canned food). So transfer items to air-tight bins whenever possible.

Additional Resources:

There is TONS of information online about how to survive any emergency. Here are some great articles where you can learn more:

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Allyson Gormley February 3, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Don’t forget to keep a current copy of your personal phone book with your emergency supplies. In this day and age it is far too easy to rely on cell phone storage and when the battery goes dead you are stuck!

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