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Surviving Uncertainties: How to Build the Perfect Emergency Food Kit

When COVID hit, many people came face-to-face with a situation they’d never been in before: empty grocery store shelves. So many household staples were difficult to track down for months. And afterward, it left many of us with a question on our minds: how can we better prepare for emergencies like this?

An emergency food kit offers considerable peace of mind, especially for those of us with families to feed. But putting one together can be a daunting task–after all, what needs to be included? What should be avoided? Where do we even keep a kit like that?

We’re here to help. Here’s our complete guide to building the perfect emergency food kit!

Overhead view of a box of items for an emergency food kit.

Canned Foods

Canned Meats

Canned foods are the bread and butter of emergency food kits. Stocking up on canned goods is your best shot at keeping enough foods in storage to maintain a balanced diet during emergency situations.

The most important canned good to fill your pantry with? Canned meat.

You can find just about any type of meat–chicken, ham, beef, fish, and even spam! (Though, if you have to choose between types of meat, spam should be at the bottom of your list.)

Canned meats will ensure that you have plenty of protein during any emergency, which is crucial to your overall health. If you don’t have a steady source of protein in your diet, you can quickly fall prey to chronic fatigue, weakness of the immune system, and even bone and muscle damage.

It’s smart to stock up on canned meat for another reason, too: its shelf life. Canned meat will stay safe for consumption for five years, at minimum; if stored properly and left unopened, that shelf life is basically eternal.

An assortment of canned foods.

Canned Fruits & Veggies

Another variety of canned goods you should include in your emergency stash is canned fruits and vegetables.

While fruit and vegetables aren’t going to provide as much protein as your canned meat, they do provide other important nutrients. Most fruits and vegetables are packed to the brim with vitamin C, potassium, and other things that are key to keeping yourself healthy.

If you can, make sure you include a handful of canned citrus cases on hand. You want to have plenty of vitamin C available to ward off the risk of scurvy. (Yes, scurvy–it’s not just a risk for sailors!)

Unfortunately, many canned fruits are acidic in nature, which lowers their shelf life considerably. The acids in the fruit can eat away at the can, compromising their preservation.

Most vegetables are considerably lower in acid, with the exception of canned sauerkraut. These will keep for just as long as your canned meat under the same conditions: intact cans and proper storage.

Canned Liquids

Last but not least, it’s important to keep plenty of canned liquids on hand. These include canned juice, canned milk, and soups!

Canned juice will help to supplement your options for hydration, as well as provide more options for consuming the same nutrients that fruit provides.

If you have picky kids who aren’t fond of canned fruit, canned fruit juice is the perfect way to keep their diets balanced. You don’t have to worry about them rejecting the only options you have for fruit!

Unfortunately, canned fruit juices have the shortest shelf life among canned goods. Canned fruit juices will only stay safe for consumption for less than a year–six months at least, nine months at most.

Even canned milk has a considerably longer shelf life. If you keep evaporated milk in your stash, it will stay good for up to two years. However, once you open it, it must be used right away or refrigerated–if your emergency situation involves a loss of power, it might not do you much good.

Canned soup is another story. Like meats and vegetables, provided it isn’t a high-acid soup like tomato soup, canned soup can last more or less forever. Just keep an eye on its can for any signs of damage, and keep it stored safely!

Canned soup is another great source of protein and vegetables.

Dry Items

A pantry stocked with dryied items.

Pantry Staples

This item should be an easy one. Odds are you’re already used to keeping your pantry stocked with some of these dry staples; you just need to get an extra set!

Some pantry staples to keep in your emergency food kit are flour, sugar, and yeast. While flour only has a shelf life of eight months, it will provide you with the option to make bread if you’re able to access a significant enough heat source. Dry yeast will last in your pantry for about two years, so long as you don’t open it.

Once you open yeast, it won’t last long outside of refrigeration. It will expire after about a month or two.

You can also stock your pantry with rice, which has a shelf life of up to a decade, and dry beans, which have a shelf life of five years.

Baking soda and powder are also good to have, though they only hold their potency for about eighteen months.


While most spices aren’t strictly necessary for emergency food kits, it doesn’t hurt to keep them on hand.

Most canned foods aren’t exactly chosen for their flavor profiles, and having spices available can improve their taste considerably. Pepper, garlic, cinnamon, and any other seasonings you love can be kept in your emergency food kit, and though their flavor may lose potency over time, they won’t go “bad.”

If your emergency food makes you want to gag, it’s not exactly going to be easy to keep eating it. And even in emergency situations, you deserve the best quality of life you can achieve. Believe us, you want spices on hand!

The one spice that is absolutely necessary to have in your emergency food kit is salt. Salt can perform miracles on bland food, but it also acts as a preservative, and it’s best to have plenty stocked up.

Make sure you stock up on iodized salt specifically, not sea salt or kosher salt. Iodine is an important mineral, and without it, your health will start to decline.

Powdered Foods

A scoop of powdered food.

Powdered foods are another major piece of any ideal emergency food kit.

Of course, if you plan to stock up on a lot of powders, you’ll need to plan accordingly. Whatever amount of water you plan to store, you’ll want to double or even triple it to account for powdered ration preparation.

Powdered foods include instant oatmeal, powdered milk, dried soup, instant potatoes, powdered eggs, and more.

Protein-Packed Foods

Canned meat doesn’t have to be your only source of protein. There are other protein-forward foods you can invest in to add some variety to your emergency food kit.

One protein-packed option is peanut butter. Jars of peanut butter can keep for up to a year after their official “expiration” date as long as they stay unopened. Peanut butter is a kid-friendly protein source, as well, so if you have picky kids and worry about them eating through an emergency, it’s good to have on hand.

Other protein sources to add to your emergency food kit are nuts, protein bars, beans, powdered eggs, protein powder (though you’ll need something to mix it with), and beef jerky.

(It doesn’t have to be beef; if you prefer another kind of jerky, go for it!)


While we can survive just fine without carbohydrates in our diet, they do help keep energy up. The last thing you want in an emergency is to be too exhausted to function.

Carbohydrate-heavy foods include crackers, granola and granola bars, trail mix, oats, and cereals.

Fruits and Vegetables

While regular fruits and vegetables won’t keep very long on the shelf, you can always invest in their dried counterparts…or make some of your own!

Fruit jerky is growing in popularity as a healthy snack thanks to how easy it is to make yourself. Plus, its shelf life is phenomenal even when compared to canned fruit: if placed in a container that keeps air out and stored properly, dehydrated fruit can last up to a decade in your emergency food kit.

Vegetable jerky doesn’t last quite as long; it’ll only last about two to five years if stored in the same way.

Happy Foods

In emergencies, many people prioritize necessity–and for good reason. However, in the most stressful times of your life, sometimes a little bit of comfort food can go from a luxury to a necessity…if only for your mental health’s sake.

To ensure you can keep your spirits up through any crisis, make sure you include some non-perishable favorite foods in your emergency food kit. If you or any one of your family members have favorite candies, canned drinks, coffee beans, or other things that will keep for some time, try to include them.

It may feel like a waste of space right now, but you’ll be grateful for them when the time comes to use your emergency food kit.

Make sure you check each individual food’s shelf life to keep track of when they need to be replaced.

Other Liquid Supplies


A man getting gallon jugs of water.

Water is fairly self-explanatory. If you have to choose between storing more food and storing more water, choose water.

Human beings can survive without food for a month or more. But without water, humans can only survive for a week at most. The average is about three days. Always prioritize water in an emergency and ration carefully.

Cooking Oils

Try your best to keep oil on hand in your emergency food kit. If you have power, you’ll want it to cook certain things; if you don’t have power, it can still act as a cooking agent if you have the proper equipment.

Allergy or Food Sensitivity-Friendly Items

Alternative Milk Options

If you or someone in your family is lactose intolerant, you’ll want to have alternative milks on hand. You can track down powdered versions of soy milk, coconut milk, and even oat milk!

While the liquid versions still require refrigeration, the powdered versions do not. However, there seems to be some debate over how long these powdered milks will last–some say they won’t be good after six months, but others argue they can last up to a decade after purchase.

With dairy sensitivity, be sure to double-check the labels of any other foods you add to your emergency food kit for hidden dairy ingredients. You’d be surprised what can show up!

Separate Storage

If you have dangerous allergies to consider when putting together an emergency food kit, you’ll want to set up a separate “allergy-safe” storage area.

Boxes of gluten-free pasta stored in pantry shelving.

Cross-contamination can happen all too easily, even when packages are thought to be sealed. Pests can get in and nibble at containers, cans can corrode, and allergens can end up infecting other foods without you ever knowing.

Depending on the severity of the allergy in question, you may even want to store emergency allergy-safe food in another room entirely.

Even with these precautions, try to keep an epi pen or two on hand in case of emergency. These only have a shelf life of about a year, but it’s worth having them available.

“Safe” Foods

While most emergency food kit rations are naturally allergy-safe (vegetables, fruit, meat, etc) you’ll want to check and make sure their labels don’t have any cross-contamination warnings. You’ll also want to check all the ingredients to seek out hidden allergens, particularly in pre-made meals.

You can track down allergy-free emergency food items that are specifically made with allergies in mind if you want to have complete peace of mind.

Emergency Pet Food Items

Man feeding a cat food from a foil pouch.

If you have furry family members to think about, don’t worry–you can add pet food to your emergency stash!

Dry pet food should last up to a year and a half when unopened. Canned food lasts just a bit longer. You can keep canned food for two years before discarding it, so long as it stays sealed.

There are also certain kinds of pet food manufactured specifically for emergency kits. These bags of dog food will last up to five years when kept sealed!

If you have feline friends to keep fed during emergency situations, you can also find emergency cat food. This dry food will also last up to five years.

Unfortunately, some cat food doesn’t last quite as long as dog food. Unopened bags of dry cat food will last about a year at most.

However, canned cat food will last longer than canned dog food. When kept unopened, it will last up to three years in storage!

Emergency Food Kit Equipment

While most emergency food kits are designed to not require cooking, there are some items you’ll want that option for. (Soup, for instance, isn’t best cold; you also may need to boil water for certain foods)

You’ll want to have an emergency stove, a stock of fuel, and plenty of firewood in case you run out of fuel for the emergency stove. You’ll also want pots and pans that can withstand open-flame cooking. Keep plenty of matches and/or lighters on hand as well.

Person using a propane gas stove to cook indoors.

Emergency Food Kit FAQ

Where should I store my emergency food kit?

Many people choose to keep their emergency food kits in their basements. However, if your basement suffers from excessive dampness, leaks, or invading critters, we recommend not storing your emergency rations there.

Try to find a space that stays cool, dry, and dark. This will prevent any water damage or potential mold and mildew issues.

If you can’t avoid using a space with high humidity, we suggest investing in a dehumidifier to dry out the air.

Even if you don’t believe your chosen storage space has a pest problem, make sure you check regularly for any signs of invaders. If you notice chewed-through packages or droppings around your food supplies, you’ll want to inspect each item for damage.

Throw out any and all rations that even show slight signs of having been tampered with. It’s frustrating and inconvenient, but the last thing you need in an emergency is someone falling ill from eating contaminated food.

How long will my emergency food kit stay good in storage?

Different items in your emergency food kit will have different shelf lives. As a general rule, you should sort through your emergency food kit at least once or twice a year to check for expired or damaged items.

Alternatively, when building your emergency food kit, you can put together an inventory chart to keep track of what you have, how long it lasts, and when you’ll need to replace it. This will help you stay organized and ensure that any expiration dates remain at the forefront of your mind.

It also helps if you store the longest-lasting items in the back of your storage space, then arrange the rest of your items accordingly. This will allow you to conveniently swap out the items that require replacement most often without having to dig through piles of emergency rations.

Water, for instance, will last the longest (and is often the heaviest) so it should be stored in the back.

Items like canned fruit and canned fruit juice will expire faster; these should be kept near the front.

Do Your Best to Prepare for the Worst

A box containing food and other supplies for emergencies.

With a fully stocked emergency food kit, you can rest easy knowing that you’re prepared for any emergency that comes your way.

Not sure you can start a fire if you run out of cooking fuel? Visit our Campfire Survival section now!