Emergency Food and Water Supplies
If an earthquake, hurricane, winter storm or other disaster ever strikes your community, you might not have access to food, water and electricity for days, or even weeks. By taking a little time now to store emergency food and water supplies, you can provide for your entire family.
This information was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Community and Family Preparedness Programs which provides information to help families prepare for all types of disasters.
WATER: THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY
Stocking water reserves and learning how to purify contaminated water should be among your top priorities in preparing for an emergency. You should store at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. Everyone's needs will differ, depending upon age, physical condition, activity, diet and climate. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers and ill people will need more. You will need additional water for food preparation and hygiene. Store a total of at least one gallon per person, per day.
If your supplies begin to run low, remember: Never ration water. Drink the amount you need today, and try to find more for tomorrow. You can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool.
You can store your water in thoroughly washed plastic, glass, fiberglass or enamel-lined metal containers. Never use a container that has held toxic substances, because tiny amounts may remain in the container's pores. Sound plastic containers, such as soft drink bottles, are best. You can also purchase food-grade plastic buckets or drums.
Before storing your water, treat it with a preservative, such as chlorine bleach, to prevent the growth of microorganisms. Use liquid bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite and no soap. Some containers warn, "Not For Personal Use." You can disregard these warnings if the label states sodium hypochlorite is the only active ingredient and if you use only the small quantities in these instructions.
Add four drops of bleach per quart of water (or two scant teaspoons per 10 gallons), and stir. Seal your water containers tightly, label them and store them in a cool, dark place.
If a disaster catches you without a stored supply of clean water, you can use water in your hot-water tank, in your plumbing and in ice cubes. As a last resort, you can use water in the reservoir tank of your toilet (not the bowl), but purify it first (described later).
In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. You should therefore purify all water of uncertain purity before using it for drinking, food preparation or hygiene.
There are many ways to purify water. None are perfect. Often the best solution is a combination of methods. Before purifying, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom, or strain them through layers of paper towel or clean cloth. Three easy purification methods are outlined below. These measures will kill microbes but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts, most other chemicals and radioactive fallout.
More Rigorous Purification Methods
While the three methods described above will remove only microbes from water, the following two purification methods will remove other contaminants. Distillation will remove microbes, heavy metals, salts, most other chemicals, and radioactive dust and dirt, called radioactive fallout. Filtering will also remove radioactive fallout. (Water itself cannot become radioactive, but it can be contaminated by radioactive fallout. It is unsafe to drink water that contains radioactive fallout.)
If activity is reduced, healthy people can survive on half their usual food intake for an extended period and without any food for many days. Food, unlike water, may be rationed safely, except for children and pregnant women.
If your water supply is limited, try to avoid foods that are high in fat and protein, and don't stock salty foods, since they will make you thirsty. Try to eat salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content.
You don't need to go out and buy unfamiliar foods to prepare an emergency food supply. You can use the canned foods, dry mixes and other staples on your cupboard shelves. In fact, familiar foods are important. They can lift morale and give a feeling of security in time of stress. Also, canned foods won't require cooking, water or special preparation. The following are recommended short-term and long-term food storage plans.
Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supply for two weeks, you should prepare a supply that will last that long. A two-week supply can relieve a great deal of inconvenience and uncertainty until services are restored. The easiest way to develop a two-week stockpile is to increase the amount of basic foods you normally keep on your shelves. Remember to compensate for the amount you eat from other sources (such as restaurants) during an average two-week period. You may already have a two-week supply of food on hand. Keeping it fresh is simple. Just rotate your supply once or twice a year.
Special Considerations to Keep in Mind
As you stock food, take into account your family's unique needs and tastes. Try to include foods that they will enjoy and that are also high in calories and nutrition. Foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking are best.
Individuals with special diets and allergies will need particular attention, as will babies, toddlers and the elderly. Nursing mothers may need liquid formula, in case they are unable to nurse. Canned dietetic foods, juices and soups may be helpful for the ill or elderly.
Make sure you have a can opener and disposable utensils. And don't forget nonperishable foods for your pets.
HOW TO STORE YOUR SHORT-TERM STOCKPILE
For emergency cooking you can use a fireplace, or a charcoal grill or camp stove outdoors only. You can also heat food with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots. Canned food can be eaten right out of the can. If you heat it in the can, be sure to open the can and remove the label first.
In the unlikely event of a military attack or some other national disaster, you may need long-term emergency food supplies. The best approach is to store large amounts of staples along with a variety of canned and dried foods. Bulk quantities of wheat, corn, beans and salt are inexpensive and have nearly unlimited shelf life. If necessary, you could survive for years on small daily amounts of these staples. Stock the following amounts per person, per month:
* Buy in nitrogen-packed cans
Store wheat, corn and beans in sealed cans or plastic buckets. Buy powdered milk in nitrogen-packed cans. And leave salt and vitamin C in their original packages.
If these staples comprise your entire menu, you must eat all of them together to stay healthy. To avoid serious digestive problems, you'll need to grind the corn and wheat into flour and cook them, as well as boil the beans, before eating. Many health food stores sell hand-cranked grain mills or can tell you where you can get one. Make sure you buy one that can grind corn. If you are caught without a mill, you can grind your grain by filling a large can with whole grain one inch deep, holding the can on the ground between your feet and pounding the grain with a pipe.
In a crisis, it will be vital that you maintain your strength. So remember:
Here are some general guidelines for rotating common emergency foods.
Use within six months:
Use within one year:
May be stored indefinitely (in proper containers and conditions):
WAYS TO SUPPLEMENT YOUR LONG-TERM STOCKPILE
The above staples offer a limited menu, but you can supplement them with commercially packed air-dried or freeze-dried foods and supermarket goods. Rice, popcorn and varieties of beans are nutritious and long-lasting. The more supplements you include, the more expensive your stockpile will be.
The following is an easy approach to long-term food storage:
FIRST, use perishable food and foods from the refrigerator. THEN use the foods from the freezer. To minimize the number of times you open the freezer door, post a list of freezer contents on it. In a well-filled, well-insulated freezer, foods will usually still have ice crystals in their centers (meaning foods are safe to eat) for at least three days. FINALLY, begin to use non-perishable foods and staples.