What is Emergency Food?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Emergency food can refer to various types of foods that don’t perish easily, can be prepared quickly and safely (usually without heat), and that may be stored in emergency kits for things like camping or in disaster preparedness kits. There are many different types of emergency food. Some of these are more expensive and durable, and others can be easily purchased from grocery stores. When stocking things like emergency or earthquake preparedness kits, it’s recommended people have emergency food for up to two weeks.

Hikers should carry emergency food in their backpacks in case they become lost or trapped by changing weather conditions.
Hikers should carry emergency food in their backpacks in case they become lost or trapped by changing weather conditions.

Some forms of canned foods are ideal emergency food, but read labels carefully. If canned foods must be fully heated before consumption they may not be safe to use when a heat source isn’t available. Items that may not require heating include many fruits and vegetables and most canned fruit juices. Pay attention to those items that contain meat, as these may need to be fully reheated to be safe.

Non-perishable foods, like granola bars, should be set aside for emergencies.
Non-perishable foods, like granola bars, should be set aside for emergencies.

Other emergency food supplies can include things that don’t perish quickly, like granola bars, vacuum-sealed packages of nuts or trail mix, and peanut butter or jelly. People packing for home kits should be especially wary of any types of food allergies a family member may have. When creating an emergency food supply, don’t pack things family members may be allergic to, or add detailed lists that note each person’s allergies. Long emergencies where access to medical facilities might be difficult or impossible mean people should not take unnecessary risks with foods that could cause strong allergy or illness.

Staples like canned tuna should be kept on hand in case of an emergency.
Staples like canned tuna should be kept on hand in case of an emergency.

Many people prefer to pack things like Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), which can heat without any type of water or heat source. These can include full meals, and some are vegetarian. MREs are available at various camping supply stores, and some warehouse stores like Costco can stock drums of MREs for purchase specifically for emergency preparedness or disaster kits.

Freeze-dried fruits and vegetables have a long storage life and maintain their nutrients, making them a perfect emergency food option.
Freeze-dried fruits and vegetables have a long storage life and maintain their nutrients, making them a perfect emergency food option.

MRES may be a better choice for those who expect not to have access to much. For instance, those camping or hiking may want to keep these in case of sudden weather changes, or if a person gets lost. They are also lighter to carry than canned items.

Long-lasting foods like peanut butter are a good choice for emergency stashes.
Long-lasting foods like peanut butter are a good choice for emergency stashes.

There are many useful guides for preparing an emergency supply of food, and for choosing the best emergency food types. Look to organizations like the Red Cross, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for guides on what to pack in an emergency food kit, and when to replace various packed emergency foods. Don’t forget the importance of an emergency water supply. Such agencies have guidelines on how much water to pack too.

Emergency food includes bottled water.
Emergency food includes bottled water.
It is important to read labels on food to ensure it doesn't have to be reheated before eating.
It is important to read labels on food to ensure it doesn't have to be reheated before eating.
Emergency kits often include water and food in case the two are not accessible after a disaster hits.
Emergency kits often include water and food in case the two are not accessible after a disaster hits.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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