Author: Finan Adamson

Last Updated: 03//2022


This guide goes into detail on food storage, how much food people need, how to know if your food has gone bad, and how to keep your cold food cold. This is meant to give you a tool to reason about how to prepare for and act in emergencies that disrupt your food supply. Ultimately the decision of how much food to store comes down to your own estimation of risk and how prepared you want to be. 

Food Storage

How much food should I store? recommends you store at least a 3 day supply of non-perishable food. Finan thinks you should have more like two weeks. If it’s easy, it’s totally ok to have more, but for most disasters you won’t be without access to some way of buying food for extended periods of time. We’ve seen in the Covid pandemic that grocery ordering has continued and people can still go into grocery stores relatively safely with sealed N95s or P100s. If things like earthquake or fire disrupted supply chains that could make food much more expensive/scarce, but you’d probably be able to get food or get to food within a month. Something like a nuclear attack could disrupt food supplies for much longer, but you probably have bigger immediate problems at that point and are likely evacuating elsewhere. Food is also not as limiting as water. You can survive much longer without food than without water. 

  • Many online sources agree you need about 2,000-2,500 cal per day. Closer to 2,000 if female and closer to 2,500 if male. Need will also vary with exercise.

What kinds of food should I store?

  • Store things that you like to eat.
    • If you don’t like the food you store, having to eat it will really suck. Morale is important in a disaster. Get good food. 
    • Remember to get food in line with your dietary restrictions. 
      • If gluten makes you feel ill. Stock foods without gluten. 
  • Store things that last a long time. 
    • You don’t want to constantly be restocking your supply or get into a disaster and realize all your food has gone bad. 
    • Premade emergency food supplies are an option; Or you could get a bunch of canned foods you like and can eat. A bag of rice and lots of canned beans can go a long way. 
  • Get some spices. Salt is important for your health and spices will make your food taste better. You don’t want to be stuck eating the same bland rice and beans. 

Where should I store my food?

  • Obviously refrigerated things go in the fridge, but for dry storage it’s generally good to keep things somewhere cool and dry. This doesn’t matter a huge amount, it just makes your food last longer. Some food can go bad if the temperature fluctuates a lot. 
  • You don’t want your stored food crowding up your living room so see if there is a spare closet or a few cupboards.
  • Another option is under your house if it has an unfinished basement area. If you do this you’ll want to put the food in sealed plastic containers so the wildlife can’t get into it. 

How do I know when food has gone bad?

  • Don’t eat food from cans that are swollen, dented or corroded.
  • Does it smell bad?
    • You have a nose that has evolved to smell a bunch of the things that can make you sick. Don’t eat the smelly food (unless it’s supposed to be smelly).
  • Does it taste bad?
    • Same as with smell.
  • Is it moldy?
    • Is there something growing on your food that wasn’t there before? That’s bad. Don’t eat it. 


Food Strategies in an Emergency

How do I keep my fridge cold if the power goes out?

  • Keep it closed. 
    • The more you open the fridge the more heat will get in. This will make your food spoil faster. Only open the fridge when you are ready to take something out to cook/eat.
  • Buy dry ice. 
    • Dry ice can often be found at grocery stores and sometimes gas stations. If the power goes out you could go pick some up to keep your food cold for longer. 
    • You could also use regular ice, but this will melt fairly quickly and not keep your fridge cool for as long. 
      • If using regular ice be sure to put it in something that will hold the water so you don’t soak your fridge when it melts.
  • If you have a generator, you could consider if it’s worth the gas and opportunity cost (of not using your generator for other things) to run your fridge. 

What do I take for food if I’m evacuating?

  • If you’re driving: whatever food you had stored for emergencies is great. It’s already food you like to eat with a long shelf life. 
  • It gets a bit harder if you have to walk a long way with your food. If you have to do this pack . . . 
    • Light, calorie dense food. 
      • Things like jerky, protein bars, nuts, etc. 
    • Stuff you can cook with a camp stove.
      • Instant mashed potatoes, oatmeal, premade backpacking meals, mac and cheese.
  • More on camp stoves:
    • If you’re driving, getting a bigger camp stove is great.
      • Don’t forget to buy gas canisters for it. 
      • You’ll also want cookware and something to eat out of. 
    • If you have to hike you’ll want something lighter.
      • A jetboil is great if you never cook in it and just add boiling water to stuff(oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, etc). It’s also useful for boiling your water to make it safer. 
    • Otherwise just get any small/light camp stove with gas canisters.
      • Don’t forget something to cook in and something to eat out of. 

How else can I preserve calories?

  • If you’ve run out of food or you know you’re going to run out of food. You can reduce your need for calories by  . . . 
    • Exercising less - exercise causes you to burn calories
    • Staying at a reasonable temperature - if you are too cold or too hot your body has to use energy to thermoregulate. 

Should I forage when I run out of food?

  • Only if you know what you’re doing. Many plants and mushrooms are poisonous or toxic, so unless you know it’s safe, don’t eat it. 
  • If you don’t clean and cook meat properly it could make you sick so the same goes for trapping/hunting. Only do it if you know what you’re doing. 


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2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:05 PM

How do I keep my fridge cold if the power goes out?

If your freezer is not full, fill any empty space with water jugs while the power is still on. Fill the water jugs only about 80% of the way full, and keep their lids on loosely until they're frozen solid, because water expands when it freezes. This improves the efficiency of your freezer all the time, and the ice containers can be moved to the fridge to keep it cool longer in a power outage.

If you have a cooler, consider moving perishables from the fridge into the cooler. Put the most perishable stuff (meats) on the bottom, the least perishable stuff you'll eat (veggies etc) in the middle, and your ice bottles on top. Stuff usually stays cold longer in a cooler than in a non-working fridge, because the cold air stays in the cooler when you open the top, whereas when you open the door of the fridge all the cold air falls out. Remember that cooler air sinks below warmer air, so storing your cooler in a basement will also extend the time it stays cold for.

If you're going out and buying a cooler for preparedness, look for the kind meant for boating or long camping trips. Some good coolers can keep stuff at a safe temperature for over a week if you add enough ice.

Be careful when using dry ice indoors, especially if your house is not very drafty. Dry ice turns directly into carbon dioxide when it sublimes, and carbon dioxide is heavier than air. This means that the CO2 from the dry ice may displace the air enough to cause danger, if you're using large quantities of it in a small and well sealed room.

If you filled your water containers with potable water, it will also be a bit of extra drinking water once they thaw.

Only [forage] if you know what you’re doing

Learn about the universal edibility test. It's best to bring food with you, and second-best to eat only things you recognize as definitely edible. But if you're faced with a choice between eating something unknown or starving, approaching the unknown food in a rational manner can save your life.

When choosing food for emergencies, make sure to pay attention to what, if any, preparation it needs. Bags of dry beans can be attractive cost-wise, for instance, but have fun preparing them without prep time, a heat source, and excess water.

If you do this you’ll want to put the food in sealed plastic containers so the wildlife can’t get into it. 

And be aware that there are critters that will quite happily chew through plastic, assuming they think that there's something inside.