Be Prepared with a 3-day Emergency Food Supply (WO1029)

Be Prepared with a 3-day Emergency Food Supply

What is an emergency food supply?

Having an emergency food supply means you will not go hungry when transportation, weather, health power outage or other problems prevent you from getting your usual supplies of groceries or meals.

What is the difference between an emergency food supply and my regular groceries?

An emergency food supply is stored separate from your usual groceries. Keep it in a convenient location so it will be handy when the unexpected happens.

What types of foods should I buy?

Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking, and little or no water. Store foods that keep well from each of the food groups, to provide a variety of nutrients you need.

How long can the emergency food supply be stored in my cupboard?

Emergency foods should be stored in a cool, dry place away from any direct source of heat. Date the foods as you buy them. If they haven’t been needed by their use-by date, prepare them for your regular meals and replace them with new groceries. Look for dates on the packages that give the date by which the food should be used or expiration dates. Lowacid canned goods (meat, poultry, fish, gravy, stew, soups, beans, carrots, corn, pasta, peas, potatoes, spinach) will last 2 to 5 years unopened. High-acid canned goods (fruit, juices, pickles, sauerkraut, tomato soup and foods in vinegar-based sauce) will last 12 to 18 months unopened. Never use food from cans that are leaking, rusting, bulging, badly dented or have a foul odor; cracked jars or jars with loose or bulging lids; or any container that spurts liquid when you open it. NEVER TASTE such foods. Throw out any food you suspect is spoiled. In general, most canned foods have a long shelf life and when properly stored, can be kept for several years. (Source: The Food Keeper, Food Marketing Institute.)

To keep these foods at their best quality, store them in clean, dry; cool (below 85 degrees) cabinets away from the stove or the refrigerator’s exhaust. Extremely hot (over 100 degrees) and freezing temperatures are harmful to canned goods. (The Food Keeper, Food Marketing Institute.)

Alternative cooking methods if there is no electricity or gas:

Fireplace — Many foods can be skewered, grilled or wrapped in foil and cooked in the fireplace. Be sure the damper is open.

Candle warmers — Devices using candle warmers such as fondue pots may be used if no other heat sources are available.

Camp stoves and charcoal burners — These may be used outside your home. Never use fuel-burning camp stoves or charcoal burners inside your home, even in a fireplace. Fumes from these stoves can be deadly.

Wood stove — Make sure the stove pipe has not been damaged. If you build a fire outside, build it away from buildings, never in a carport, sparks can easily start a house fire. Never use gasoline to get a wood or charcoal fire started. Make sure any fire is well-contained. A metal drum or stones around the fire are good precautions. A charcoal grill is a recommended place in which to build a wood fire. Be sure to put out the fire when you are done with it.

Never operate a gas or charcoal grill in a confined space such as a garage. Even with the garage door open, carbon monoxide fumes can kill.

When cooking is not possible, many canned foods can be eaten cold. Be prepared with small cans of fruit, fruit or vegetable juice boxes, cans of tuna and other canned meat products such as deviled ham, pudding cups, peanut butter, cereals, crackers, nonfat dry milk, canned evaporated milk and UHT or aseptic-packaged milk. Make sure you have a manual can opener, eating utensils and disposable dishes.

For more information about safe food handling and preparation:

FDA’s Food Information Hotline

1-888-SAFEFOOD (1-888-723-3366)

USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline


FDA’s Food Information and Seafood Hotline


United States Food Safety Web Site

The Food Domain. Michigan State University

Extension Disaster Education Network

Federal Emergency Management Agency

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