Tips for Stocking an Emergency Food Pantry

Why Keep Foods for an Emergency?

Tree down on power line can cause an emergency power outage.
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Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, major earthquakes, extreme blizzards and other disasters could leave you trapped without electricity for several days.

The food in your refrigerator and freezer will keep cold for a day or two, but unless you have your own generator, you'll need food that doesn't require electricity for storage or preparation.

Keep an emergency food pantry stocked with healthy foods to help you get by until the disaster has passed.

Jerky and Dehydrated Meat

Beef Jerky is good for emergency food pantries.
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Beef jerky or beef sticks are good sources of protein that don't need any special storage conditions as long as they're packaged correctly. Other types of meats are available as well, including ham and turkey jerky.

You can find dehydrated meats in grocery stores, convenience stores, and just about everywhere. They're an excellent source of protein and low in fat, but they're also high in sodium. You can find fancier (and maybe healthier) jerky, such as Krave Jerky in health food stores, specialty shops and online.

Canned Fruits and Vegetables

Canned fruits and vegetables are good for emergency food pantries.
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Peaches, pears, berries and applesauce are good sources of vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals. You can stock up on canned fruits when they're on sale, or preserve fresh fruits at home.

Vegetables, such as beans, peas, and carrots provide plenty of vitamin A, potassium, fiber, and more. Canned legumes, such as black beans, navy beans, and white beans are also good to have on hand.

Canned Soups, Stews and Meals

Cans of pasta and sauce are good for emergency food pantries.
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Canned soups and stews can be quite nutritious, and they're easy to store. Buy soups that are ready to heat as they are and don't require additional milk or water, especially if you don't have access to much clean water. 

Canned pasta meals can be stored for a long time. Unfortunately, they're often high in fat and calories. But, you can find better brands (preferably made with whole grains) in the natural foods section of the grocery store or at a health food store -- something like Annie's.

Dehydrated Fruits

Dried fruits are good for emergency food pantries.
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Dried fruits, such as raisins, craisins, and apricots are another good way to get the goodness of fruit into your emergency food pantry. They lose a lot of the vitamin C, but they retain all the other nutrients. And they last for a long time as long as you keep the containers sealed.

You can dehydrate almost any kind of fruit at home if you have a dehydrator. Or you can use the fruit to make fruit leather roll ups.

Whole Grain Crackers

Crackers are good for emergency food pantries.
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Packaged whole-grain crackers, pretzels, and snack chips last longer than bread so they're good for an emergency food stash. Look for crackers that are packed in smaller amounts and don't open the packages until you need them. As long as the packaging stays intact, crackers should be good for at least six months.

Canned Fish and Meat

Canned spam is good for emergency food pantries.
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Canned tuna and salmon are excellent sources of protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. They're available in cans or foil pouches -- buy some single servings so you don't waste any fish. And stock up on sardines, which are also rich in those essential omega-3's.

Fish can get a little boring and there are other options. Canned clams, oysters, and crab meat are all rich in protein and zinc and can be stored for a long time.

Other meats are available in cans, so you can take a break from all the fish. Canned ham, chicken, SPAM, and canned sandwich spreads can be eaten with crackers as a quick meal. 

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts are good for emergency food pantries.
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Nuts and seeds should also be included in your emergency food pantry. Almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans have protein, fiber, and healthful fats. Nuts and seeds that are still in the shell last the longest. Packaged nuts and seeds are fine -- keep an eye on the expiration dates and keep the containers sealed.

Another option is to store some peanut butter or other nut butter in your emergency stash -- to serve with crackers or dried fruit.

Granola Bars and Cereal

Breakfast cereal is good for emergency food pantries.
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Granola bars and breakfast bars make tasty sweet treats, and they're more nutritious than typical candy bars. Prepackaged protein bars are similar, with some extra grams of protein. These bars are usually individually wrapped, which is nice, so they stay fresh after the box is opened.

Dry breakfast cereals are also good to have on hand because they're fortified with extra vitamins and minerals. They can be eaten dry, as a snack, or with milk (if you have shelf-stable milk on hand).

Shelf Stable Milk and Juice

Bottles of juice are good for emergency food pantries.
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Shelf-stable milk has been packaged so it doesn't need to be refrigerated until it's opened. Canned or boxed milk may not have the flavor you're used to, so it may be better to choose plant milk, such as rice, almond or soy milk. Look for containers that are just single servings.

The same thing applies to juice. It's more economical to buy large bottles, and they do last for quite awhile, but without refrigeration, you'll have a problem after you open the bottles. Choose small juice bottles, boxes, and pouches instead.

Water and Electrolyte Drinks

Water bottles are good for emergency food pantries.
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You can live a few weeks without food, but only a few days without water. You want your water to be clean, safe and free from germs and parasites.

Safe Water Tips

  • Keep several clean bottles filled with water and sealed tightly or stock up on bottled water from the grocery store.
  • If you are unsure if your water source is safe, the American Red Cross suggests treating the water with chlorine.
  • Consider purchasing a water purifier made for hikers and campers. Make sure you buy a water purifier and not just a water filter.

Bottles of electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade can be added to your emergency food pantry, as well.


Supplements in bottles are good for emergency food pantries.
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If your emergency situation only lasts a few days, vitamin and mineral deficiencies aren't going to be much of an issue. But if you're concerned about a longer lasting problem, then daily multivitamins can help supply any missing nutrients until the situation passes.

Can Openers and Kitchen Tools

Can openers are good for emergency food pantries.
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All this emergency food is preserved and sealed and some if it requires a can opener at the very least. You need to have a non-electric can opener or church key opener that stays in your emergency food pantry.

You'll need some containers, too. Keep bags, backpacks or other large containers nearby. In the event you have to get out of your house in a hurry, you don't want to have to hunt for a bag to carry your food.

And don't forget about a stash of utensils -- knives, forks, and spoons, as well as bowls, plates, and cups. And, if you have a way to heat your foods, you'll need some cookware. A camping stove or small portable grill with small propane tanks can be used in a safe outdoor area to heat foods. Don't forget the matches.

Food Safety When Electricity Goes Out

Frozen food in full freezer with open door
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Be ready in the case of weather-related or other emergencies. Here's what to do if your electricity goes out:

  • Leave the freezer door shut. Your food will remain safe for up to 48 hours. The more frozen food in your freezer, the longer it will stay frozen, or, at least, cold.
  • Keep your refrigerator door shut too. Food in the fridge will be safe for at least two hours if you don't open and close the doors. After that, it will have to be moved to a cooler with ice.
  • Store coolers where you can easily find them. Make sure you have two or three, so you have plenty of room for food and ice.
  • Stash bags of ice cubes in your freezer. If the electricity is out for more than three or four hours, transfer your refrigerated food into the coolers and pack them with lots of ice.
  • Keep different size plastic containers with tight-fitting lids on hand. You don't want to put your uncooked meats next to your cooked foods or raw produce in the coolers. Keep them separated with individual containers.

Perishable food shouldn't be kept above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. Otherwise, the food may begin to spoil, and bacterial growth will start. Throw out any perishable foods that have gone without refrigeration for too long so you don't risk any food-borne illness.

If weather-related power outages are common where you live, think about investing in a gas-powered generator so you can, at least, keep the refrigerator and freezer going, as well as other necessary electronic devices.

More Emergency Food Pantry Tips

Canned goods for an emergency food pantry.
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  • Buy single-serving sizes whenever possible, because you can't depend on refrigeration after the containers have been opened.
  • Keep your emergency foods stocked in a cool place.
  • Check the foods in your emergency food pantry periodically, so that you don't keep foods that have expired.
  • Rotate foods from your emergency stock to your regular pantry so your emergency foods don't go past their usable dates.
  • If you live in the northern latitudes, pack a separate emergency food container and keep it in your car during the winter. Choose nuts, crackers, dried beef, dried fruit and a container to melt snow for water.
  • Keep flashlights, fresh batteries, candles, matches, blankets, first aid kits and any other emergency supplies you may need.
  • If you lose power, keep your refrigerator and freezer shut. Your food will be okay for about two hours.


American Red Cross. "Food Safety Guidelines."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Prepare Your Emergency Food Supply."

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