Food Storage: The Basics, by Pete Thorsen

More and more people are seeing the common sense in having some stored food on hand in case of emergencies. Many of these people are not preppers but just want to have the peace of mind knowing they have some extra food on hand for “just in case.”

The only problem for some is the question of “Where to start?” With food it is an easy start. Well, then again, maybe not so easy after all. If you decide to have food on hand for an emergency then you should think just that one line through some. What kind of an emergency? Does it even matter? If the emergency is the power being out and you live in an all-electric house you would either need food that could be eaten without cooking or you would have to have an alternate way to cook the food instead of your microwave or electric range.

Most canned goods can be eaten right from the can with no heating. They might not be as tasty that way but they would be safe to eat and would provide the same nutrition whether hot or cold. Or you could use your gas or charcoal grill to heat up or cook your food as long as you had the fuel on hand for the grill. Or you could use your fire pit for cooking as long as you had fuel on hand for that too. The fire pit might require some pre-emergency test runs so you learn how to cook over that open fire. And maybe buy some cast iron fry pans and cooking pots.

Or a very easy method of cooking your food in a power down situation is to use a camp stove. If you buy a propane model using common one pound tanks, it can be safely used inside your house on your kitchen counter to cook your meals. It would be almost as easy as cooking on your normal range. Many say using a propane camp stove is unsafe inside a home. But with a window cracked open, the propane camp stove is safe. It is the same as the gas ranges found in half the homes in America (and nearly every restaurant).

The camp stove while being an expense would allow to you to use your normal kitchen pans and be quick and easy to cook on in the safety and security of your home. The cost of such stoves start at around thirty dollars and the small propane bottles are about three dollars each. If you do decide to get such a stove then use it a couple times so you have some experience and so you also know for sure that it does indeed work. And don’t forget to buy extra fuel for the stove!

What to Buy and Store

So now you know how you are going to cook your food but what food to buy? And how much food? Obviously the answers to those two questions will be different for each family. First you can look at a meal that your family enjoys. Let’s say everyone likes spaghetti night so you could buy a few extra jars of spaghetti sauce and a corresponding amount of spaghetti noodles. Both of those items will safely store in your cupboard for more than a year.

Then look at other quick meals that your family eats at home. You might say hamburgers but that is a little difficult to store. The meat does keep a long while in the freezer but the buns have a very short shelf life. Maybe something like chicken and rice. A few cans of chicken meat along with a box of Minute Rice and maybe some chicken bouillon and you have quick simple meal that will store for a year or more in the cupboard.

Keep track of easy to prepare food items that you normally buy and that your family likes to eat. Then choose some of those items that can be stored on the shelf for long periods that are easy to cook and just buy extra of those items to store at home.

Some Good Storage Food Options

There are many items that most people don’t know about that make excellent food storage items and taste great too. Like scrambled eggs for breakfast? Many Wal-Mart stores sell dried eggs in one gallon cans that have a very long shelf life. The dried eggs or dried Scrambled eggs taste just like regular eggs that you have in your refrigerator now. The only difference is the dried eggs last for years in the sealed can.

Like something besides eggs for breakfast? Most every grocery store has dried hash brown potatoes that come in a box. Add hot water and ten minutes later you have fresh hash browns ready for your fry pan. The dried hash brown potatoes can be stored in the cupboard for a very long time. (Many years.)

What about milk for the kids? Did you know there are shelf stable milks that you can store in your cupboard for a year or more? Available in quart size or single serving sizes and available at most grocery stores in regular or even in chocolate flavor. I always keep some of the quarts at my house in case I run out of regular milk and don’t want to run to the store. The shelf stable milk is just plain regular milk that goes through a more intense pasteurization process. So it tastes just like “regular” milk, at least to me.

A careful walk through your grocery will show you many items that can be stored in the cupboard for a year or more and be both tasty and easy to cook in any emergency. At least you could get some cans of soup, stew, or other canned items to keep on hand if you think your family would eat them. There are also many packaged rice or pasta side dishes that are easy to cook and store.

Don’t want to feed your family processed food, even in an emergency? No problem at all, it just requires a little more work and a little more expense. If you buy two household appliances you can store many of the fresh organic foods that you currently buy for your family.


A dehydrator will dry many common vegetables and fruits so you can keep them in the cupboard for a long time. To keep them fresher you can buy a vacuum sealer and seal your dried vegetables or fruits in either sealed bags or vacuum seal them in standard glass canning jars. The canning jars can be reused forever and the items stored inside them will last a very long time inside your cupboard. You can even combine the dried goods into a single sealed jar so you can have a “meal-in-a-jar.”

Jerky will keep a long time and can be added to your vacuum sealed veggies to make a great homemade soup or stew in any emergency or more likely for a regular meal when the only emergency is a lack of time to make dinner. And yes you can make your own jerky so you have total control over exactly what goes into the finished product. To make the jerky you can use your new dehydrator or just your current oven. There are countless recipes online or you can easily make up your own recipe to suit your family’s tastes. The homemade jerky can then be vacuum sealed in sealed bags or in jars to store even longer.

Some key things to keep in mind about emergency food are to:

1.) Make sure it is shelf stable for maybe six months or more.

2.) Be foods your family can and will eat whether it is an emergency or not, and

3.) Easy to make on your new propane camp stove (or your regular range).

Then stockpile enough of that food until you are happy with the total quantity. Whether that quantity is enough for three days or for six months does not matter, only that you are satisfied that you have your family’s food needs covered in case of an emergency.

Rotate, Rotate, Rotate

Once you have the stored food you should use some on a regular basis so you can keep it rotated so none of it gets too old. That is why you should only store foods your family would like to eat. The added benefit is the stored food should all be easy to fix so you would like to make for them too and whenever you have a time crunch that stored emergency food would be a good answer for dinner. Just remember to replace the food you use.

So now every so often you just go and open your pantry just to get the satisfaction of looking at your stored emergency food and know that your family will not go hungry. But wait, you did plan for water to go with that food, right? You should also store some water in case you lose your regular water supply in an emergency.

The water can be stored in the form of a few cases of standard water bottles and/or some larger sizes like gallon or five-gallon size water bottles. Plus you do remember that you have that forty gallons of fresh clean water stored in your water heater too. You might want to get a short hose and drain some water out of water heater occasionally just so you know how and to flush out any sediment that might be on the bottom of your water heater now. Doing that occasional drain down will also increase the life span of your water heater.

Now that you have both food and water for your family in case of emergency, you are way ahead of your neighbors on that score. It might be a good idea not to brag about your emergency preparations to your neighbors unless you plan on sharing that food and water with them. Because if there is an emergency they will remember what you told them you have and they will come to your house and ask, beg, or demand that you share your food and water with them. And sharing is fine if that is your plan so go ahead and share your food and water, especially if the emergency is going to be of short duration. But also keep in mind that whatever you give away will mean less for you and your family. Just always remember that simple fact.

Now that you have all the food and water stored in case of an emergency it is time for me to talk to you about really being prepared. But that is another whole article.


  1. reminder, propane camp stoves if used in an enclosed area Have to have a vent or an open window to get rid of the fumes, even the regular propane cook stoves all have a vent above them, if you try to use the camp stove in an enclosed area without a fresh air exhaust or open window YOU WILL DIE.

    1. I think those of us who have a range hood above our regular stoves could use that as a way to rid ourselves of toxic gasses from propane camp stoves. We do it every day with our gas stoves. Remember, though, some range hoods are not vented to the outdoors. You can determine if your is pretty easily. Those that recirculate vapors but are not outside vented tend to have one or two grilles on their face. All they do is filter the grease out before they send it back into the house.

    2. “reminder, propane camp stoves if used in an enclosed area Have to have a vent or an open window to get rid of the fumes, even the regular propane cook stoves all have a vent above them, if you try to use the camp stove in an enclosed area without a fresh air exhaust or open window YOU WILL DIE.

      A propane camp stove is exactly the same as a propane kitchen range. The kitchen ranges are not vented. The difference is the kitchen range has 4 burners plus the much larger burner in the oven and sometimes cooks use all of them at the same time.
      Use the camp stove – -you certainly will not die.

  2. Pete, thanks for the very professional article. It’s basic and I intend to share with my grown kids to get into the game, get started with their own stocking and provisioning. From a cost perspective, we started with a few Mountain House assorted meal buckets (typically from Costco Online and they go on sale several times a year) and then added tubs of peanut butter and jelly and hard crackers, along with the items you mentioned.

  3. Absolutely, rotate rotate rotate. I cannot tell you how many people I have moved and have food storage in canned goods 10 15 20 years old. I’m sure it still edible but it doesn’t take much effort to rotate.
    Also, store what your family will eat. It makes no sense both in dollars and unsatisfied family members to store something that they will not eat in a grid down situation. Or even between jobs or some emergency.

    1. bagman501,
      Right on with the rotation of all food stocks . When we rotate, we prepare a meal or two out of those rotated foods to make sure we like what we have saved and that it has stored well.

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  4. I am curious why you suggested minute rice rather than regular rice? Uncooked rice seems to cook well when added to boiling water, covered, and left to set. It uses no more fuel than minute rice. Just a bit more time. Don’t try this with brown or wild rice.

    1. “I am curious why you suggested minute rice rather than regular rice?”

      The premise was for easy to cook meals and what could be easier than Minute Rice?
      I do agree that regular rice cooks easy too but I just chose Minute Rice for the article.

  5. One problem with cans is freezing. In severe weather, if you do not have some source of heat for the house, some of your cans may freeze and burst.

    This happened to a friend of mine. She stored her cans in an unheated porch.

    Earth sheltering may buffer this, but do a test with a container of water first to see if it freezes.

  6. Regarding the propane cook stove: One can buy an adapter hose that connects a 20-pound propane bottle to the stove’s 1-pound bottle connector. We have one, and it does not require a regulator. Our hose came from Tractor Supply.

  7. Look into making your own Rocket Stove. It is fairly easy to do- Metal shears, gloves, marker, vermiculite, and some cursing can get it done. I made mine out of #10 cans and soup cans. Although they can be made out of cinder blocks, welded steel or other means. I know every school cafeteria gets rid of multiple big cans everyday. Simply ask- I did at my elementary school. They just recycle em anyway. These stoves use small sticks where anyone can find anywhere. Inner city folk would be wise to have one on hand if it all goes down.

  8. Yes I agree with rotate rotate rotate just moving houses …sorry not to Idaho …had to throw out several stores food items …stock what you eat …rotate so you have fresh …

  9. I’d like to recommend a cookbook called “Cooking with Stored Foods” by Carlene Tejada and Carroll Latham. It not only has recipes, but comprehensive sections on setting up a storage system as well as methods for storing food. I believe it’s out of print but pretty easy to find on Amazon or ebay. The publisher is HPBooks who put out a lot of useful cookbooks. “Make a Mix Cookery” and “More Make a MIx Cookery” are two of their other cookbooks that might be of interest to preppers as well.

  10. Just as an FYI: the dollar tree sells irradiated shelf stable milk (low-fat & whole) for a dollar a quart. I’m currently rotating mine & using some that I bought in 2/2015. Other than the cream separating/solidifying & not mixing back in (I got the whole milk) it has worked just fine in cooking & coffee.

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