Basic Emergency Food Storage Organization Tips

Published April 3, 2020
Young people sorting food

A few basic tips for emergency food storage can save you money and disappointment when you turn to your emergency reserves. A little planning will ensure your food security during an emergency. Prepare survival and emergency food for short-term and long-term storage to give you food versatility and variety.

Short-Term Emergency Food Storage of Six Months to One Year

You can create a food pantry or food closet to provide a six-month or one-year supply. Unlike long-term food supplies of 10 to 25 years, this food supply will be food that you eat on a regular basis.

Decide on Food Purchases

The first thing you need to do is make a list of all the foods you wish to include in your pantry. Don't add items you never eat, this is counterproductive. These should be your favorite foods and food items you use on a regular basis, since you will be eating out of the food pantry every day.

Woman holding shopping list while going through aisles

Calculate How Much Stored Food You Need

Once you know the foods you wish to include in your food pantry, you need to determine how much of each item you need to keep in stock. You can take a guess for your initial buy or you can monitor your food for a month, by writing down each item you use and how often. This is a tedious process and is time-consuming, but it will provide you with valuable information on the foods you use each month.

How to Organize Six-Month to One-Year Working Pantry

This type of pantry operates on a first in, first out rotating basis. This practice ensures you don't end up with product that has gone out of date before you can use it. For example, if you purchase three cans of tomato soup to set up your pantry, you'll place these items toward the front of the shelf.

Woman standing on ladder in pantry

Replace Food as It Is Used

As you use the soup, taking the first can on the shelf, you'll replace it with your next grocery order. You'll place the replacement can of tomato soup in the back of the other cans of tomato soups and so on. By actively rotating your pantry food according to when it was purchased, you'll ensure your food pantry is always fresh and hasn't expired its shelf-life.

Keep a Running Food Inventory Spreadsheet or List

You'll want to keep a running inventory of your food pantry. There are various ways to do this, such as a manual checklist that has each item and amount in a spreadsheet or list that you update each time you take a food item out of the pantry.

Things you can include:

  • Shelf where item is located
  • Expiration date of each item or group of items (include number of items in group)
  • Running tally of number of each item in storage
  • Number of item used and date

How to Use Your Food Inventory Spreadsheet or List

You'll use this food inventory list or spreadsheet to create a shopping list, so you can purchase replacement items. You'll add the replacement items to your pantry by placing them at the very back of the line or row of canned soup on the shelf. This rotation ensures the longevity of your food pantry to provide you with food security for six-months or one-year.

Ways to Organize Your Emergency Food Storage

There are many ways you can store your emergency food. The most popular way is to set cans and jars of food on shelving units. Smaller types of food that are in packets, such as biscuit mixes, gravy mixes and cookie mixes store easily in bins or small plastic containers. You can commandeer bins used to store loose tools for ease of access.

Organizing Shelving Units

There are various shelving units available if you don't have built-in shelving. Be sure that you secure the shelving units to the wall to prevent them from falling even if you don't live in an earthquake region.

  • Choose sturdy shelving units that will support the weight of cans, jars and bins.
  • Make sure you understand the weight capacity for the shelves in your storage unit or shelving rack.
  • Place the heaviest items on the bottom shelf or if there is space, underneath the bottom shelf.

Organization Options

Ways you can organize:

  • Group the same kind of foods and related foods on the same shelf, such as soup cans on one shelf, spaghetti and spaghetti sauces, packets of mixes and so one.
  • You may find that alphabetizing the items makes it easier to find what you need.
  • You can paint or paper the shelves with different colors for quicker recognition of types of food stored on that shelf. For example, you could use red for soups, blue for mixes, yellow for fruits, orange for prepackaged emergency foods, etc.

Long-Term Emergency Food Storage Organization Tips

Another part of your emergency food should be long-term storage items. There are many options for long-term emergency food storage. You can select from ready-to-eat packaged in #10 cans and MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) that are usually individual servings, hydrated, or freeze dried foods.

Shelf-Life for Long-Term Emergency Food Storage

The shelf-life for these products range from 12 to 30 years. The best products typically feature a shelf-life range, although a few merely state their products are for long-term storage. You may prefer to go with a company that states the range of years. Just because a product has a long shelf life it doesn't mean it will taste as good as it did when it was first packaged or still retain all the nutrients.

Storage Guidelines Determine Long Shelf Life

You must follow the easy to follow storage guidelines to ensure your products are long-lasting, such as expiration time once you open the product, and where and how you store the product. For example, you want to store packaged emergency foods between 55°F and 70°F temperatures with cooler being better.

A few examples of popular emergency food products and their expected shelf-life include:

Emergency Food Shelf-Life
Company Type of Foods Shelf Life
Mountain House Freeze-Dried Foods 30 years
Mountain House 10 Can of Pilot Crackers 30 years
Mountain House MCW (Meals, Cold Winter) 3 years
Mountain House Pro Pak (2 servings) 30 years
My Patriot Supply Dehydrated and Freeze Dried 25 years
Emergency Essentials Dehydrated and Freeze Dried 25 years
Wise Company Freeze Dried 12 to 15 years
Survival Cave Canned Heat and Eat 12 to 15 years
Augason Farms Dehydrated andFreeze-Dried 25 to 30 years

Factors That Determine Emergency Food Shelf Life

How your emergency food is prepared and stored determine the shelf life. Dehydrated or freeze-dried emergency foods have longer shelf life. Your DIY emergency foods, such as powdered milk, if stored in heat sealed Mylar bags with an oxygen absorbant pack, will last as much as five times or more than an unopened box (1.5 years). According to the Ready Store, the dehydration process will remove between 90% -95% of the food moisture. Freeze-dried foods will have between 98% to 99% of the moisture removed. The less moisture, the longer the shelf life.

General Guidelines

The chart below provides a general guideline of the maximum shelf life for specific foods prepared either through dehydration or freeze drying. Always go with product packaging since it can vary. Keep in mind, another determining shelf life factor is where and how the food is stored.

Types of Emergency Foods and Shelf Life
Food and Type of Storage Average Shelf Life
Dehydrated vegetables 25 -30 years
Dehydrated rice 30 years
Dehydrated beans 30 years
Dehydrated grains 30 years
Dehydrated oats 30 years
Dehydrated fruits 25 - 30 years
Dehydrated powdered milk 2 - 25 years
Dehydrated eggs 5-10 years
Dehydrated butter 3-5 years
Freeze-dried meats and poultry 30 years
Freeze-dried vegetables and fruit 30 years
Freeze-dried butter 15 years
Freeze-dried eggs 10 - 15 years
Freeze-dried cheese 5-10 years

Mountain House Meals, Cold Weather (MCW) demonstration:

DIY Bulk Buying for Storing Emergency Food

DIY emergency foods can be prepared by purchasing grains, beans, pasta, and other dry foods in bulk, breaking them down and repackaging. This type of emergency food storage is more economical than pre-packaged emergency food. If you opt to do your own emergency food, you should also have a mix of store-bought canned foods, home canned foods, divided repackaged bulk foods, and pre-packaged emergency foods. This versatility provides you with options and keeps you from rely on just one type of stored food. You can also freeze foods for shorter storage times.

Cafe, beans, almonds, oat bags sitting on barrels in warehouse

Mylar Bags and Food Grade Buckets for Food Storage

You can purchase different sizes of mylar bags to use in storing your dry foods. These can then be placed in plastic storage containers. Five gallon food-grade buckets are popular and you can also place mylar bags of food inside these as well.

Moisture and Dampness Threaten Emergency Food Storage

If your food storage area has a moisture problem or is highly damn, doesn't have temperature control or is in a flood zone, you need to address these issues before setting up your storage shelves and bins. If flooding is a possibility, prepare for it now by placing your food high off the floor. This may require additional shelving, but should a flood happen, you'll be glad you took the precaution. Mildew and mold are very unhealthy issues when storing food. Fix and/or seal any moisture or dampness issues in a basement or other storage room before committing to storing your food in that space.

Mice Are a Threat to Emergency Supplies

Mice are a huge threat to stored food and equipment. Mice can squeeze in between the smallest cracks and openings. They often chew through containers such as bags and boxes and even thin-walled plastic. You want thick-walled food grade containers for your food. Set mouse traps. It pays to keep a few traps set at all times to ensure you don't suddenly discover an infestation. If you have a cat, let the cat wander around your food storage area on a regular basis.

Bugs and Insects Are Threats to Emergency Food Supplies

Bugs and insects are a big threat to emergency foods. Most pre-packaged emergency kits take precautions to ensure the stored food is safe from bug and insect infestations. However, many people package and store their own dry foods. There are a few simple things you can do to ensure your food is safe from bugs or insect infestations. To double protect your grains, pastas, spices, powders, sugars, flours, dry dog food and any powders, you can seal them in Mylar bags with an oxygen absorber packet. Some people prefer to use resealable plastic bags with oxygen absorbers. The culprit in food storage is oxygen. Without oxygen, the insect and/or bug eggs won't hatch.

Vacuum Sealed Bags

The best practice to ensure there isn't enough oxygen in your storage bags is to vacuum seal mylar bags and heat-seal them. Vacuum sealers come with a built-in, heat-sealing element that is part of the process. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, you can seal the Mylar bags with a household iron.

Meat vacuum sealed on stone table

Add Oxygen Absorber Packets

In both types of food bag sealing, you want to include an oxygen absorber. Place the packet inside the bag with the The reaction of the oxygen absorber literally absorbs the oxygen in the sealed bag. The lack of oxygen will kill any bugs that may have hidden in your food and prevent them from multiplying and ruining your food.

Oxygen Absorber Packets

According to ScienceDirect, oxygen absorbers are packets of iron powder as the main ingredient. They may also contain smaller amounts of table salt and activated charcoal. The salt enables the iron to start the rusting process by using the oxygen in the food bag. The activated charcoal absorbs the gaseous odors. Of course, these packets are marked, Do Not Eat.

How Oxygen Absorbers Work

When you place an oxygen absorber in a bag, the oxygen in the bag is absorbed through the packet material. When the oxygen and iron meet, a chemical reaction occurs that causes the iron to rust. When all the iron has rusted, the packet will no longer be active. This oxygen/iron reaction produces a small amount of warmth or heat that is harmless, but proves the packet is working.

Learning About Basic Emergency Food Storage Organization and Practical Tips

With a few basic survival tips for storing emergency supplies like food, you can feel confident about your food reserves. Knowing that you have food security during times of job loss, health crisis or natural disaster will decrease your stress levels and ensure your family will have enough to eat.

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Basic Emergency Food Storage Organization Tips