Camping & Survival

Best Practices for Stockpiling Food

Food Storage on Shelves

I don’t know about you, but when I get hungry, I turn into a real grump.

That problem is generally easy to solve — cook something, microwave something, run out for a burger, order pizza — there are tons of quick options to fill an empty stomach.

What about falling on financial hard times or during an emergency or a disaster? Do you have a plan?

Hurricanes and bad weather can shut down shops and restaurants for days, weeks and even months.

After 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, some South Florida residents went without power for six months. For those reasons, building a year’s supply of food is a good idea.

Despite not wanting to be grumpy, I don’t really feel like starving to death either.

Why Should I Stockpile Food?

MREs and other goods for a food supply
Stock your food supply well. It does not have to be gourmet grade, only nutritious and edible.

Building a year’s supply of food is not as hard or as expensive as you may think.

You aren’t required to buy a year’s supply of food at one time and if you don’t even have a week’s supply right now, like a lot of us, you can start building your supply the next time you go to the grocery store.

Instead of buying just what is on your list, buy a few extra cans or boxed foods of what you are already getting. It is also good to take advantage of sales.

Stock up on items when you can get a good deal. Mac and cheese at 50 cents a box? Time to buy more than just two boxes!

You can also choose to shop at warehouse/bulk stores.

Where Do I Store It?

Before you run out and buy a ton of food to be stored, you need a place to store it. Your long-term food storage area needs to be cool, dry and dark.

Never put boxes or cans on the floor. You can buy pre-assembled shelving such as metal, wood or plastic, or you can build your own shelves.

Bulk foods, such as flour and sugar, and boxed items need to be protected from mice and bugs, so when you purchase these items, put them in different containers with tight lids.

You can use plastic trashcans, barrels or food-grade plastic buckets. Try going to restaurants (sandwich shops are a good place to check) and ask them for their buckets.

Canned foods can be stored as they are.

What Should I Store?

Picture shows a shelf stocked full of long-term food cans
Freeze-dried foods will last up to 30 years.

How much food is enough? The Canned Food Alliance says that the minimum amount of food you need is two cans of food per person, per day, and one gallon of water per person, per day.

Dr. Judy Harrison and Dr. Elizabeth L. Andress, in “Preparing an Emergency Food Supply: Long Term Food Storage” write that we need to eat at least one balanced meal a day.

There are many resources on the web that will help you decide how many pounds of essential bulk items you will need per person for a year.

Your food storage supply should consist of non-perishable food items, pre-made complete meal boxed foods, canned goods, rice, beans, whole grains, flour, salt, seasonings, peanut butter, nuts, evaporated milk, sugar and storable fats, such as olive oil and vegetable oils.

Choose a variety of foods and pick ones that you and your family already like. You would be surprised at all the different varieties of rice, beans and noodles you can find.

Storing Water

Hidden H2O: WaterBob
Use WaterBob to store drinking water.

You will need to store plenty of water, too, not only for drinking, but for cooking, washing, food prep, dishwashing, laundry, teeth cleaning and other wash-up needs.

Tap water is fine to use for long-term storage. 14 gallons of water per person will give you a two-week supply, or another suggestion is to buy 55-gallon plastic food-grade water drums.

You may also purchase commercially bottled water. If you go this route, make sure you use the water by its use-by date.

A cheap way of storing water is reusing two-liter plastic soda bottles. Once you are done with the soda, give the bottle a good cleaning and sanitizing and then fill with tap water.

Tap water will need to be disinfected using household bleach, a water purification tablet or a water filtration system. You can also get water from your hot water heater or the toilet tank.

Replace your stored water every six months. For more details on water purification, please see our articles on preparedness and water purification.

How Long Will My Food Storage Stay Good?

FEMA has an excellent list of how long each type of food will last.

Use in six months:

  • Boxed powdered milk
  • Dried fruit
  • Dry crisp crackers
  • Potatoes

Use within a year:

  • Canned condensed meat
  • Vegetable soups
  • Canned fruits
  • Fruit/vegetable juices
  • Ready to eat cereals
  • Uncooked instant cereal
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Hard candy
  • Canned nuts
  • Vitamins

Can be stored forever (in the proper container):

  • Wheat
  • Vegetable oil
  • Dried corn
  • Baking powder
  • Soybeans
  • Instant coffee
  • Tea
  • Cocoa
  • Salt
  • Non-carbonated drinks
  • White rice
  • Dried pasta
  • Powered milk stored in nitrogen-packed cans

What Else Do I Need to Consider?

Food Storage in Jars
Certain foods can be stored longer than others.
  • It is important to remember that you might be without power. Even though commercially canned foods can be eaten without being heated up, you will need to have some type of heat source, such as charcoal for a grill, a camping stove and fuel, or Sterno cans. Also, get a manual can opener, utensils and cookware to keep with your food supply.
  • You will also need to take into account special dietary needs, such as diabetic needs and food allergies. Babies, nursing mothers and the elderly may all have special dietary needs.
  • To supplement your food storage, keep 365 multivitamins per person.
  • Do not eat foods from a can that has become swollen, dented, rusted or corroded.
  • Once you have a good stockpile of food, you can use it in everyday cooking. Just remember the golden rule  rotate your supply by using the oldest foods first and replace what you use.

How much food storage do you keep? What foods do you store? Let us know in the comments section below!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2010. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (22)

  1. As a landscaper by trade, I have a 5000 gallon pond/ water feature in the back yard. When it hits the fan the fish will get evicted. Aesthetically pleasing and a true reservoir in time of need!

  2. For water storage, try using your old clorox bleach plastic bottles. Most families go thru a gallon or two a year. When they’re empty, rinse them out a few times & fill them with tap water. I tear the paper label off, get a sharpie & write “Earthquake Water” and the date on the side. Every 6-12 months, pour them out, rinse & refill, and update the date. You would be surprised how quickly you start accumulating these. These bottles are also easier to handle & carry around than a larger 5 gallon. (Although I have several 5 gallons & one 55 gallon as well.)
    IMHO, tap water can last 12 months or more, I’ve tried it. What you want to avoid is leaving air in the top of the bottle. When you fill it, tip it this way & that, & fill again to get all the air out. It’s the air that tends to limit how long it lasts.
    I’ve also read that you want to avoid clear plastic bottles that let light in. Hence the thicker white clorox bottles are great. You can add water preservation pills, or a very very small amount of bleach. That’s up to you, but I’ve found they will last a year on their own.

  3. Good article and comments but you missed something major. MEDICINE stockpile! Aside from the stuff that is keeping many of us older folks alive you should have aspirin (fever relief and pain relief and cholesterol), Decongestants and allergy med’s to prevent sinus infections. Cough syrup with expectorant (aka Tussin DM) to clear out junk in lungs with a respiratory infection. Wound care (alcohol, antibiotic salve, oxygen peroxide, bandages, coagulants). A minor surgical kit (needle nose pliers and a sewing kit do not cut it, don’t ask…). Look into antibiotics (I don’t want to get flamed so I won’t mention the obvious). Hit some preper sites for the long, long list. Personal hint – if you are on sustaining med’s like me. They normally allow refills a few days before you run out. If you time it right you can manage 13 months worth per year. After 12 years you have a year supply of prescription med’s in reserve. Just make sure to do first in first out inventory control.

  4. FYI Water storage:
    “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the bottled water industry, does not require a shelf life for bottled water. Bottled water can be used indefinitely if stored properly, but we recommend no more than two years for non-carbonated water, and one year for sparkling water.”

  5. Expiration dates are usually bogus. How do I know? Example: I bought himilayan pink salt which has been sitting in the earth for millions of years. Somehow, magically once it’s bagged up, the manufacturer claims it has a two year shelf life. Incidentally, baking powder does not last. Stock baking soda and cream of tartar instead and make your own when needed.

  6. You neglected to emphasize checking expiration dates. On anything I purchase ahead I always check the date to be sure it has sufficient time before its use by date comes. Also some canned goods including meats have dating over a year in the future so they do not need to be eaten as fast as stated in the article. I have some Vienna’s that expire in April of 2023 and Deviled Ham that expires in 2024. We will use them well before those dates simply because they are something we eat regularly if not frequently.

    If your situation permits you can purchase used 300 gallon food grade tanks to store rain water or tap water in for future use. I have several that I use to hold water for the garden but with filtration/purifying it will be acceptable for personal use also.

  7. You can buy alternatives to expensive vacuum bags on line. The ONLY problem I ran into with them is that some dried goods are brittle and sharp enough to puncture the bags. You can double bag them, place them in paper or use other means to shield the bag from punctures and still save a lot of money on bags.

  8. If you’re a hobbyist woodworker, you can build small racks that have angled ramps, with openings on the ends, to store and rotate your canned goods.

    You place the newest purchases on the top and they roll down the [very slight] incline to the former last can in line. Eventually, the cans drop off the ends of the ramps and to the next, lower ramp.

    This places the oldest cans on the bottom, where they can be easily grabbed, which leaves room for all the cans above to roll down.

    Ideally, you have an even number of ramps so the cans come out on the same side they’re put in.

    Even renters could take advantage of what, essentially, are portable closets dedicated to these purposes.

    All the above could be made as utilitarian or as fancy as one’s needs and wants called for.

  9. A good Suggestion for everyone to purchase a Regional “Field Guide” for your own state. One of the best things to have during any natural or man made disaster. It can be a lifesaver providing you with a wealth of information about lands, rivers, where to look for edible foods and wildlife. How to Identify dangerous plants, bugs and even pith vipers. One of the best for beginners is the “Boy Scout Field Book” It’s an excellent resource and you can find them used on Amazon.com, You can also buy or download many military survival training documents.
    Which can provide you with long trusted skill sets like Trapping, trot line fishing and other wildlife skills.

  10. My father told of a friend he was going to go do something with. The friend was a Mormon and by the guidelines of his church he was required to keep a two year supply of food for his family. He and Dad went to a business that supplied Dry Ice. They took 3 chunks of Dry Ice (5 pounds each) back to the friends house. In the basement, sitting on blocks were three industrial garbage cans. One can of dried beans, one of dried corn and one of rice. The man put a cake of Dry Ice in each of the cans. He said the cold and the carbon dioxide given off by the dry ice would kill pests and help preserve the food. I think my father said he did this once a month. This is probably the cheapest way to keep a substantial supply of food on hand. Remember, the food doesn’t even have to stay perfect. It has to remain edible and supply enough calories each day to keep you alive.

    Gun control is unconstitutional, This is a fact, So no one is entitled to an opinion.

  11. There are several excellent videos on YouTube for long term storage of food. Sootch00 does a good one on using mylar bags and food grade pails, and dehydrate2store has a really excellent series on dehydrating.

  12. Another alternative to storing water: A year ago I purchased a new 50 gallon water heater. Nothing was wrong with the old one, the new one was more efficient. Space permitting, leave the old one inline, just not connected to electricity. Cold water in —cold water out then to the cold water in of the new heater. The water in the ‘old’ tank is constantly refreshed every time I use hot water. To draw water, once the pressure in the plumbing is zero, open the drain valve on the bottom of the tank. If it is slow, temporarily open the ‘relief valve’. Every month or so I drain about a gallon or so off the bottom to remove rust or sediment.

    I have 50 gallons of fresh water when I need it. I dont even have to think about it, look for expiration dates, rotate the stock, its ready!!!

  13. bottled water only has an expiration date because ny lawmakers required it so the bottling companies just date all water as its easier for them to do that. … packaged water never NEVER goes bad..
    much cheaper than buying 55 gal. food safe water drums is look up companies who sell plastic water safe tanks…which you can install in or on top of the ground .

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