Emergency Food Buyers Guide
Introduction Emergencies are real
It's easy to forget what a fragile way of life we live and how dependent we are on the technological conveniences of modern life. Most of us have free-flowing water at our fingertips, electricity and power that feed directly into our homes, and grocery stores around the corner with shelves filled with row after row of fresh food to be had 24 hours a day. But take one look at the news--the natural disasters that are occurring with increasing frequency and severity, the political unrest that constantly rages in countries across the globe, the economies failing all around us--and we are reminded that our system is not infallible. Indeed, it is a fragile system on which we rely, a little like an elaborate structure made out of dominoes--one single domino's shift will send the whole thing crashing down.
It's no surprise, then, that more and more people are getting educated on emergency preparedness. These people know that in an emergency situation, we cannot rely on governments or other people to provide for the needs of our families. The only way to be sure that we and our loved ones will be taken care of in an emergency is to get prepared on our own.
If we want to be able to meet our own and our families' needs in a crisis, having a sufficient store of emergency food is a crucial first step. But anyone who has begun to store emergency food knows that there is an overwhelming amount of conflicting and confusing information on the web about what to store, how much to store, and how to store it. In this book, we hope to provide some basic knowledge that will allow you to make the best choices for you and your family when building up a storage of emergency food. Specifically, we will discuss common questions about how much food to store, the importance of storing healthy and tasty food, the benefits and risks of different types of food storage, and how best to store what you've bought.
How much food to store...One size does NOT fit all.
One of the most common questions people have when getting started on their emergency food storage is How much food do I need? There are a few considerations to make when deciding on amounts.
How much food is enough?
When choosing an emergency food to store, the most important rule to remember is to go by calories, not by "serving." Emergency food companies have different definitions for what constitutes a serving, and emergency food kits are not one-size-fits-all, even though they may be advertised that way. The first step in establishing a good food storage supply is to figure out how many calories you and your family need to survive for the length of time you would like to be supplied for.
Each person's body has a base amount of calories it requires just to perform basic functions, like pumping blood, breathing, and performing cellular work. Nutrition experts call the amount of calories a body needs to maintain its current condition the basal metabolic rate. Even if you are not performing any physical activity, your body requires this amount of calories to maintain its current state.
There are many different factors that affect a person's basal metabolic rate, so it would require a lot of time and testing to determine an exact amount of calories that an individual person would need to survive. The American Council on Exercise gives a simple formula to calculate roughly how much an average person needs to survive: Adult males should multiply their weight by 12; Adult females should multiply their weight by 11(1). So if you are an adult female and weigh 140 pounds, your bmr would be roughly 1540 calories per day.
Keep in mind that this formula calculates the amount of calories a person would need just to survive in his/her current state while performing no physical labor. In a true emergency situation, you may have a much greater need for calories because of the extreme physical exertion and high stress that may be involved. The bmr is only a starting point. It is a good idea to gather at least that many calories for the people in your family and then work up from there. A good goal is to shoot for 2000-2500 calories per person.
Once you figure out how many calories your family will need in a day, you then need to decide how many months' worth of food you will stock up on. To some extent this time period is dictated by personal preference. Obviously, the longer period of time you are supplied for, the better, but most people can't afford to go out and buy a year's worth of food right now. The best recommendation is to start where you can. Build up a three- month supply first. Once you have this, work up to a six-month supply, then a year. Keep your food storage supply as big as you want it to be to feel safe and able to provide for your own in a disaster.
Watch out for serving size
When you are choosing an emergency food supplier, it is vital to look at how many calories are in what the supplier calls a serving. One of the big marketing ploys that some food storage companies use is to advertise that they have the cheapest prices on a cost-per-serving basis without mentioning what their serving sizes are. When you take a look at their serving sizes, they are not enough to live on. For example, a company might advertise that it only charges $1.25 per serving, but the serving sizes are only
220 calories. There aren't too many people who would consider 220 calories a complete serving.
Similarly, a food storage company might offer what they label a six-month food supply that supposedly offers three servings a day. If you look closer, though, these servings are, again, often only 200 calories or so apiece, making that somewhere around 600 calories a day that you are supposed to be able to live on for six months. This is not even enough caloric intake for a child, so basically you and your family would be starving for six months. This is not how you want to be living in an emergency situation. Check the amount of calories in a serving size and buy according to your caloric needs.
Make sure the calories are good calories
Once you've established that there are enough calories for your family in an emergency food, the next step is to make sure that the calories are good calories and not just fillers. Some readymade food storage packages are advertised as having 400 calories per serving, but then the majority of the calories come from things like drinks and desserts packed with sugar, or filler foods like shortening and butter. Cheap fillers like these will not sustain a person or family in an emergency situation. It's better to look for calories that are made from real food that is nutritious and calorie-dense all on its own.
Let's review. First, decide how many calories you and your family need per day at the very least to survive. Then do some research and find out how many calories come in a serving or in a package of different brands of emergency food. Find the best prices you can on a per-calorie basis, rather than a per-serving basis. Last, make sure the calories you are storing come from nutritious, real food rather than filler ingredients that do not provide real sustenance.
What to store...Ingredients matter.
Some "experts" in emergency preparedness will tell you that the quality of the food you store doesn't matter, as long as you have food stored and it is food that will last for a long time without spoiling. The logic is something along the lines of you'll eat anything if you're hungry enough. It is probably true that it's better to have something stored than to have nothing; however, in an emergency more than any other time, it's crucial to be
filling your body with nourishing ingredients that will keep you in top form rather than ingredients that could leave you susceptible to sickness and less-than-ideal mental and physical health. If your motive in building up food storage is to protect your family, then truly protect your family--from starvation and also from sickness and disease that can be caused by harmful ingredients in food.
With that said, emergency food is made to last a long time. In order to make their foods last, some emergency food companies cut corners and add a variety of artificial
preservatives, dyes, and flavors to their emergency foods. This is an important thing to watch out for when selecting your food storage. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you look around.
Avoid hydrolyzed yeast extract and similar flavorings
Hydrolysed yeast extract is a controversial ingredient found in many packaged foods and very commonly in food storage items. It is primarily used as a flavor-enhancer and is created by breaking down yeast cells. The FDA classifies yeast extract as a natural ingredient, but according to many health experts, yeast extract is a cheaper alternative to monosodium glutamate (MSG) and actually does contain some MSG.(2) Some health and consumer advocates go so far as to say that labeling something as containing yeast extract is just an underhand way food companies can get around saying that a product contains MSG.(3)
Most people have heard the negative press about MSG. Consumption of MSG has been linked to a variety of scary conditions, including headaches, numbness in the face and neck, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, weakness, appetite control problems, and a host of other negative symptoms.(2) It's not an ingredient to mess around with, especially not in food that is supposed to sustain you in an emergency.
Even if you don't believe all the negative press about yeast extract and MSG, added flavorings like yeast extract are simply unnecessary in food packaging, and consuming emergency foods that contain added flavorings and preservatives would only expose you to more risks in what would presumably already be a risky situation. To be safe, look for emergency foods that are free of hydrolysed yeast extract and other artificial additives.
For a good list of other additives that are linked to MSG, check out the following articles:
Look for GMO-free foods
An equally important consideration to make when looking for emergency food is to be sure it is free of genetically modified ingredients. Genetically modified foods are another controversial topic in the world of food and nutrition.
Genetically modified organisms are created by taking the genetic material of one organism and inserting it into the genetic code of another organism. This bold practice is becoming more and more widespread but is widely acknowledged as a risky and understudied process. Many experts opposed to genetically modified foods argue that despite the increasing insertion of GMO ingredients into mainstream foods, there has not been adequate testing on human subjects and there are still too many unknowns about the health effects these human-engineered foods could have. Some health groups, like the Center for Food Safety, have gone so far as to claim that genetically modified
foods can increase the likelihood of antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression, and even cancer.(4) Why put your family at risk with ingredients that are untested when you will have an abundance of other worries in a survival situation?
Because the use of genetically modified food is becoming such a widespread practice in manufactured foods, very few emergency foods are free of GMO ingredients. However, there are a few companies that produce emergency foods that are GMO-free. If this is an issue that is important to you, when choosing food, check to be sure that the emergency food is CERTIFIED GMO-free. Some companies may claim to be free of genetically- modified ingredients, but without the certification, there is no proof.
Other ingredients to be wary of
Other health considerations you may want to make are to check for amounts of cholesterol, trans fat, and sodium. Packaged foods often have high amounts of these three things, and emergency foods are no exception. Some high-quality emergency food brands are conscientious about their amounts of cholesterol, trans fat, and sodium, but you have to read the labels to be sure.
Make sure your food storage ingredients will stand the test of time
While still being healthy, emergency food, of course, needs to be able to last. As you look for the right emergency food for you, be aware that some food storage companies haven't done their research when it comes to ingredients that keep. As a result, they incorporate ingredients into their emergency food that go bad after a relatively short period of time. Canola oil, for example, will only last a year before it goes rancid, thus spoiling whatever food storage it is used in. Amateur food companies who don't know
better will use canola oil in their granola to make the clusters stick together. Uneducated food buyers end up with a worthless product after just a year.
Consider preparation requirements
Another important aspect of emergency food to take into consideration is the preparation of different types of food storage.
Many food storage options are based on the assumption that when you use them you will have power and a method of cooking. Some examples of these options are bulk dry
items like grains and legumes. It is possible that power will be available in an emergency situation, but often natural disasters involve the loss of power for periods of time. Think through what conditions might be like if you are forced to live off of your food storage and have no power or electricity. Baking bread and using your wheat may be difficult
to do. Unless you have alternative cooking methods, heating water and boiling anything will be impossible.
For these reasons, you may want to consider starting with easy-to-prepare meals as a foundation for your food storage. Meals that are ready to eat or meals that only require water to be ready are some examples. These options might be much more feasible in a crisis situation.
The bottom line is that it's important to know what goes into your food storage food. You are taking the time to buy emergency food; why not also take the time to do some research on the food you are buying to be sure it will contribute to the health and well- being of you and your family in a disaster.
What to store...Taste matters.
Emergency-preparedness gurus often publish lists of specific items you need to store for an emergency. One popular guideline goes something like this: For a year's worth of food storage, each person needs 350 pounds of grain, 75 lbs of milk, 65 lbs of sugar, and so on. These types of specific food guidelines can be a helpful starting point; however, if these are not the kinds of foods you eat regularly, these are not what you should store.
Store food you regularly eat
This principle cannot be overstated. Store food that your family enjoys together often. In times of disaster, when so many other adjustments in daily life are required, having food routines that carry over from life before will make hard situations easier to adjust to.
When you were a kid, do you remember ever going over to a friend's house to eat dinner? Even if it was a close friend, everything about the dinner seemed alien to you--the way they folded their napkins, the saltiness of their gravy, the smells of the food cooking that were so different from the smells in your own kitchen at home at
dinnertime. Little differences like this mattered and affected your comfort level in the home. Eating food from different cultures can sometimes put us in this situation too. Routine, especially where food is concerned, can be powerful in an emergency situation. Food affects the way we feel, and if it is unfamiliar, it can be hard to stomach and make an unfamiliar, scary situation that much worse.
Many food storage suppliers offer entree options that are familiar favorites in most families, like macaroni and cheese, enchiladas, chili, and the like. Look around at what options are available to you and make selections based on what you know your family already eats on a regular basis.
Store food that tastes good
At first glance, taste might not seem a very important consideration as you are collecting emergency food. It's easy to justify buying food storage that is not palatable and saying to ourselves, "It will be an emergency. Whether I like the food I'm eating or not will be the least of my worries." However, making sure your food storage is appealing to you and your family is more important than it initially seems. There is something to be said for having food that tastes good and makes you feel comfortable, especially in an emergency situation.
Again, if you have kids, buying good-tasting food is even more important. Kids are picky eaters. If you are desperate to get your child to eat his dinner on a regular night at the dinner table, think of the multiplied desperation you are going to feel in an
emergency situation trying to get your child to eat. It's not just about preferences, either. In emergency situations, kids in particular have a hard time forcing themselves to eat something, especially if the food does not taste good. On the other hand, if the food is something your child loves, it can be a real help when times are bad.
Food that is familiar and tastes good to us has the power to make us feel comfortable and relaxed and cared for, even in stressful situations.
Sample your options
Never make a food storage purchase without trying out some samples first. Most food storage companies have small sample packs of their larger food kits that are fairly cheap. Test a few and choose the ones that most suit your and your family's tastes.
When you do order a sample, ask the company if the food they are sending to you is the same as what is in the packages. Sometimes companies will send out a higher quality of food in their sample packages as a way of tricking buyers into thinking all of their food is wonderful.
Variety is Optimal
Also important when creating your food supply is to make sure you are building up variety. You don't want to be stuck eating canned beans for six months. You will survive, yes, but mealtimes will be more than a chore. Consider also that eating the same foods over and over for a long period of time could leave you deficient in certain vitamins and minerals found in a variety of foods.
A good idea is to start out by collecting different entree options. As you have enough of those, add in side dishes that will be full of good calories and allow for variety.
In addition, if you or your family members have special dietary needs, there are plenty of food storage companies who offer gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian options for those with food intolerances. It all comes back to storing food you regularly eat.
Don't forget the treats
A commonly-overlooked aspect of food storage is the idea of storing a few luxury items, things that you are used to having and would not like to do without. These items might be things like coffee or chocolate or other specialty foods that are part of your routine. Having luxury items may not seem to matter much, but don't underestimate the power of a simple treat in a survival situation. It might simply be good for morale, but it could also be a valuable bartering item should things come to that. Mostly, having little treats stored can make life in an emergency more liveable.
Food storage can be a big purchase. Take the time to figure out what food you and your family will eat comfortably. An emergency is not the time to try new foods, and it's also not the time to force your family to eat food they do not like. Food should be a comfort in bad situations, not a negative factor adding to the stress.
Chapter 4 Make It Last
Now you know what and how much to store. Let's look next at the packaging and storing of emergency food and how you can achieve maximum shelf life.
Food storage shelf life
An ideal store of emergency food would be made up largely of foods that have a shelf life of 25 years or more. The shorter the shelf life, the more often rotation and
replacement are required. Rotation can become an expensive practice and requires a lot of organization to keep on top of. If your food is made up of mostly long-term foods, you can buy it and only have to worry about it a few times in your life.
Keep in mind that most food storage companies will claim a 25-year shelf life, but sometimes this is just a number made up for marketing. Be aware of this, and make sure you know the properties of a food storage food that will likely last a long time.
How will you know how long food storage food should really last? Studies(5) done recently by the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science at Brigham Young University looked at various foods that had been stored for 30 years and examined them for edibility and nutrition after 30 years of storage. Here are a few of their findings:
Salt, baking soda, baking powder, and granulated sugar, when stored in their original containers and stored properly, have no known shelf life.
Wheat and rice, when stored in cans, foil pouches, or buckets, can last 30+ years. Powdered milk, oats, instant potatoes, dried apples, macaroni pasta, and pinto beans, when stored in a can or foil pouch with oxygen absorber, can last 15-30 years.
Wet-pack canned foods can last a few years, but acidic foods like tomatoes can cause the cans to corrode if stored too long.
Foods like yeast and cooking oil will last for a year and a half, and powdered eggs will last one year.
For more helpful information on the shelf life of different foods and ways of packaging, check out BYU's College of Life Sciences website, which lists all their current research on the subject:
Oxygen is the enemy of shelf life
In order to achieve optimal shelf life, emergency food must have extremely low oxygen levels. Oxygen destroys food storage shelf life because even small amounts can grow bacteria and spoil food.
In general, the residual oxygen level once a food has been packaged should be well below 2 percent. If a food storage company will not disclose the levels of oxygen in their food, or if they simply admit that they do not test for oxygen levels, steer clear of that food. If it is not tested for extremely low oxygen, it simply cannot last for the amount of time most companies advertise.
A good thing to watch for is that suppliers use oxygen absorbers in their packaging. Oxygen absorbers can extend shelf life and prevent the growth of aerobic pathogens. Nitrogen flushes are another plus in packaging. Both of these practices used together can
eliminate virtually all oxygen. When you are looking for a food storage supplier, make sure they use both of these practices in packaging.
Food storage types compared
In the wide world of food storage options, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Are cans better, or buckets of bulk grains? Are MREs really a feasible food storage option? What's all the hype about freeze-dried foods? How do you know which is right for you? As you navigate your options, there are many factors that should weigh in your decision, including the nutritional content maintained by the different types of food storage, the ease of storage and transport, the cost, the shelf-life, the taste, and the ease of preparation. For your convenience, here is a short summary of the different types of food storage options and their relative benefits and risks.
Cans. Cans are probably the most familiar of the food storage types. Cans are easy to find in any store and thus may seem like an unintimidating food storage option for some. Another benefit of cans is that wet-packed cans contain water or juice with the contents of the can, which could be beneficial if water supplies are low during an emergency situation.
Some disadvantages of cans are that the wet ingredients do not last as long, typically just one to five years, so they have to be rotated more frequently than other types of food storage. Also, cans are not as convenient as some of the other options are to store because they are heavy and bulky. Cans also must be checked frequently to make
sure they have not become contaminated with botulism-carrying bacteria. There are also possible concerns with BPA in the lining of the cans. Number-10 cans, which are a common food storage option, can be a bad idea because once they are open, their
contents have to be consumed as soon as possible, and that means eating the same food item for several meals in a row.
Bulk grains. Bulk grains are another very familiar way to store food. Many people like bulk grains because they are a do-it-yourself method of storage. Most bulk grains last a long time (with the exception of brown rice).
However, bulk grains can also be inconvenient to store because they typically come in five-gallon buckets and are heavy to lift and move. They also present a very difficult problem if the emergency situation you find yourself in is one without power (which is fairly common). Without a stove or oven, it is difficult to make bread from your wheat or boil your oats. In this type of situation, you would have food but no way to eat it.
MREs. Meals ready to eat (MREs) are just what they sound like. They are full- course meals that have everything in one--entree, side dish, dessert, drink, condiments, and often a small heating device. MREs do not require water and are easily the most convenient of the food storage options.
Downsides of MREs are that they are often made up of high-fat and high-sodium foods, and they are rumored to have a worse taste than other types of food storage. The biggest disadvantage of MREs is that they have a relatively short shelf-life, usually somewhere around three years. As far as storage goes, they are bulky and heavy. They are also typically more expensive than other food storage types.
Dehydrated or freeze-dried meals. Another emergency food option is meals that are a combination of dehydrated and freeze-dried food. One of the benefits of these types of foods is that all you have to do is add water (a smaller amount than would be needed to cook them), and the meal is done. In addition, they generally make for good- tasting meals because the freeze-drying process retains all the original flavor and smells of the food in its original state. The freeze-drying process also allows the food to retain its nutrients and thereby makes it one of the most nutritious options as well. Dehydrated and freeze-dried meals are lightweight and very easy to store because they take up so little space. They are also easy to move and transport in a possible evacuation.
Dehydrated and freeze-dried meals are often stored in mylar pouches. It's a good idea if they are then packaged in buckets to increase air-tightness. Stackable buckets are nice as opposed to cardboard boxes, which are useless in a flood.
The main disadvantage of these types of meals is that you do need to have water to add to them. However, water should be a big part of your emergency preparation anyway, so this is not a big setback.
Check out your options on food storage packaging and decide which is right for you. Many people like to do a combination of the different types of food storage, starting with their staples and then filling in the rest as they go. Whichever option you decide to go with, make sure you consider all the factors and make an informed decision.
How to store your food for best results
Once you have gathered your food storage, the next step is to know how to store it properly. In order for food storage to last as long as it can, it must be kept away from moisture, oxygen, light, and heat. If you have made the right choices when selecting your food storage products, the first three of these requirements will already be met--your containers will be airtight and will not let in moisture or light. The last requirement-- keeping it away from heat--is up to you.
Store your food storage in the coolest place you have. Some possible places might be root cellars, basements, under-the-stairs storage areas, or pantries and closets that are away from heating vents and refrigerators/freezers. What you are going for is a consistently cool and dry place. If you simply have no other options, you might also consider storing your food in a garage or outdoor shed as long as you remember to move the food to a cooler place during the summer months as these places can get very hot.
Also be sure that your food storage supply is away from rodents, insects, and other intruders. Usually, keeping it off the ground is a good way to avoid these pests.
Get prepared, Then Rest Easy
You should now be equipped with the knowledge and tools you need to make the right decisions on how much emergency food to store, the best kind of food to store, and how to store it. If anything, the most important principles you should have learned are to do your research and know what you are buying and to make informed choices that will cater to your family's needs and preferences.
The message of emergency preparedness is often all doom and gloom, something along the lines of The end is near! Watch out! However, when you are prepared, that warning call will not sound so grim. With a solid supply of emergency food stored in your home, you will be able to rest easy knowing that you've done all you can and will be able to meet your family's needs no matter what the situation.