How to Stockpile Food for Survival

For a variety of reasons, many families choose to stockpile food. Common reasons for stockpiling food include disaster preparedness, power outages, religious reasons, or in case of financial downturns. If you are considering starting your own food stockpile, you might be wondering exactly how to get started as there are plenty of things to consider, such as storage areas, food safety, food insurance options, etc.

12 MREs of Kartina by JaseMan on Flickr

Why Are You Stockpiling Food?

Stockpiling food can vary dramatically in scope and size, depending on your purpose. Some families choose to store enough food to last a year, including drinking water, while others may target a shorter disaster recovery period, such as 7 to 30 days.

Others may choose to just have a few extras of common staples around, helping prevent last-minute trips to the store or in case of short-term financial shortfalls.

Using Coupons to Build an Inexpensive Stockpile

One of the more interesting stockpiling tips I’ve run across is buying staple foods with coupons. Most families don’t buy a year’s worth of food in one trip, mostly because it’s expensive. But if you learn to combine sales and coupons, you can easily and inexpensively build your store. For example, if you have coupons for canned tuna and your store runs a great sale, buy as many cans as you have coupons for.

I’ve even heard of people paying others to clip coupons for them and mail them. A simple query of eBay for “tuna coupons” revealed some promising leads. For about $1.00, I can bid on a lot of 10 coupons for $0.55 off a pouch of Bumble Bee premium tuna (I like the pouches for survival scenarios because they can be easily opened with a knife. In fact, we keep several packs in our bug out bag).

If my local Kroger store had a sale on Bumble Bee tuna pouches, it would be a great time to get some additional coupons and stock up. It’s important to note that coupons themselves are not for sale – that is a violation of most manufacturer’s terms. You are merely paying someone else for their time to clip from various sources and mail.

Rotating Stockpiles Based on Expiration Dates

Stockpiling food over time is also a good idea for food safety and freshness. By buying products over a varying time period, you will get different expiration dates. When you buy new food, rotate your stock like grocery stores do–always put the new food in the back, so the oldest food is in front. That way, you don’t run the risk of having a forgotten item expire in a back corner of your store room. Keep an eye on the expiration dates–it’s no good to stockpile expired food, so you’ll want to use items from the front of your stockpile periodically.

Another consideration for learning how to stockpile food is your storage space. Ideally, a cool, dark area such as a basement will help preserve the food, and it also protects the items in case of a natural disaster such as a tornado. However, you will want to make sure it is also a dry basement, as seepage can cause cans to rust, which will make the food unsafe.

If you live in a warm climate, avoid storing items in your garage, unless it is climate controlled. For packaged dry goods such as flour, cereal, or sugar, store them in a plastic crate that will prevent bug infestation. I’ve opened up more than one box of cereal or crackers to find ants or mice have made their way into our stockpile.

Canning and Preserves

Other food stockpiling tips include canning and preserving your own food, as well as growing your own produce for canning. Growing and canning your own food for stockpiling is considerably less expensive than buying canned goods. You can also control the sugar, sodium, and preservatives by canning your own food. If you have a pressure cooker, you can also preserve meats. Be sure to read your pressure cooker’s instructions carefully to ensure proper food safety.

When it comes to deciding what to stockpile, consider your family’s tastes, length of expiration dates, and nutrition. The more variety you can store, the better. Good items to stockpile include:

  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Dry goods such as granola and cereal
  • Peanut butter
  • Baby food and formula ( if appropriate)
  • Powdered milk and potatoes
  • Canned soup (look for low sodium varieties)
  • Tuna (excellent protein source)
  • Bottled water (cheaper by the gallon)
  • White rice (lasts longer than brown rice)
  • Freeze dried foods (lightweight and last for years – look for these at your local sporting goods store or at a military surplus store.

For natural disasters, you should also store a cooking source and fuel, such as a propane camp stove. Don’t forget a manual can opener as well. If there are any special health considerations in your family, such as medications, try to create a stockpile of medications as well. A good multivitamin may not be a bad idea to toss in your stockpile as you will probably not be receiving adequate nourishment in a survival scenario.


  1. I have gotten much better at food rotation. Here are a few things that I’ve done that changed things immensely:

    1. Take a sharpie and label each item in big letters on the month and year of when you bought it. Do this right after you get back from the grocery store. This has had such a huge impact on my food rotation abilities.
    2. Group like things together.
    3. Don’t stockpile too many items packaged in PET plastic containers (like ketchup, mustard, peanut butter).
    4. Don’t buy something you rarely use just because it’s on sale.
    5. Do a once over of your stockpile before you go grocery shopping.
    6. Periodically do a purge.

    1. When I decided to take stockpiling seriously, the first thing I needed to know was how long stuff was sitting on my shelves. Looking at teeny tiny expiration dates was too hard and too time consuming. Before I started my sharpie marking system, I just labeled everything in my cupboard with an O for “old” and then dated everything moving forward.

    What I learned quickly was what my real staples were vs things that I thought I used but never really touched. I realized I really didn’t eat as many garbanzo beans and cornbread mix as I previously thought. 3+ years later, I still have some items labeled O. Those will never get stockpiled again, and only purchased when needed for a recipe.

    Having the big magic marker labels gives you a quick look at how long something’s lasted from a big purchase. So, you may say, 5 boxes of my favorite cereal lasted 6 months but it goes on sale every 2 months. I try to stockpile in relation to how often the item goes on super duper sale. For example, chix stock only goes on super duper sale during thanksgiving and xmas in my area, so I buy a year’s worth.

    2. My other big thing was not being organized and just shoving things where there was an open spot in my pantry. This led to having several mini-stockpiles and not realizing how much of a certain item I really had. It also prevented me from rotating goods in the order of buying them.

    3. The PET thing I learned from my husband who’s a plastics engineer. He said that plastic containers don’t have the best barrier properties, so that’s why ketchup expires relatively quickly. Another example was taco kits. The soft tortillas were okay because they were in a foil wrapper, but the tacos got stale after only a few months. So, I’d be wary of buying more than a 6 months supply of anything that can go stale just sitting on your shelf unopened.

    5. At least a couple of times a year, I get to the point where I have no more shelf room to put stuff away. At this time, I usually enact a no stockpiling month and try to save as much on groceries as possible and clear some shelf space. I like these months because my grocery bill makes me smile.

    Lastly, it’s not really that complicated once you’ve got a system. I takes all of an extra 10 minutes/week to do the above things. You don’t have to time things perfectly, just learn as you go and adjust as needed.

    • Its true about the plastics. Even aluminum foil isn’t much better(so thin that there are microscopic holes in it). Aluminum beverage cans have an epoxy(plastic) liner in an attempt to minimize permeability, but that’s like plugging a hole in your boat with swiss cheese. The only truly impermeable container is glass. Even steel food cans have similar problems to aluminum beverage cans. Glass containers may also have plastic lined metal caps or lids but its still better because it minimizes the interior surface area that’s compromised.

  2. Oh, the other question I get asked is “why don’t you write in magic marker the expiration date instead of when you purchased it”.

    The answer is TIME. Much easier to just label every item with 6/10 vs looking at every little label and writing a different expiration date on each thing. It also helps me understand when I bought something vs how often it goes on sale.

    I don’t have a written price book, but do have a mental list of what the lowest prices are of my top 50 items and the rough frequency that they hit their lows.

  3. I went to a warehouse club and bought a 50 lb bag of rice and a 50 lb bag of beans. I also got some huge cans of fruit and vegetables. We got free 5 gallon buckets with seals from a wine shop to store the rice and beans. If you put them in mylar bags with oxygenator packets inside the buckets they will last up to 10 years. You can get the mylar bags and oxygenator packs off ebay or at the local LDS store. I consider these an insurance policy. You hope you never really need them but they are there just in case.

  4. Bay Leaves.
    Put them in the tupperware or glass jars with the flours, noodles, beans, etc…
    They repel the nasty little bugs 🙂

  5. Great tips Sandy L !!
    This is also a great time to bring up this subject – Hurricane season around here.
    I love having my “stockpile”. I live at least 25 mins one way from the nearest grocery store. So if I don’t have something….well that’s too bad! I’m not going to take an hour or more to go get one thing, That’s why having a good food storage system is so important!!
    Don’t forget personal hygiene products too. I have about 2 dozen toothbrushes sitting in a shoebox – the don’t expire and with 5 people in my house, they’ll be used in no time!
    Also IMPORTANT: WATER!!! Please don’t forget that when gathering your food storage.

  6. I’ve always thought about doing this, but never have. My grandmother use to preserve strawberry jam, and it always tasted great! My grandfather use to smoke meat (not advisable, since your entire basement will smell smokey!).

    I think I’ll try the can rotation idea down in the basement. Our pantry is always full of other stuff anyway.

  7. Another good thing to have near your food stock pile would be a first aid kit. If you need to leave quickly you can grab everything in the same location rather than hunting around the house.

  8. I’m a *huge* fan of glass jars especially when I buy beans or rice in bulk. It would take a pretty pumped-up rodent to get into one of those, they are bug-proof, and they can be sterilized and made airtight. Plus, I’m a big-time canner and make a lot of home preserves from garden vegetables or from fruit when it’s in season. The jars can do double duty for storage, they’re reusable, and they’re very eco-friendly.

    Another important stockpile item, for me, is dried beans. I can do just about anything with beans and rice and they do make a complete protein. They can be easily flavored with herbs from a backyard garden, frozen or dried so that they last. I favor brown rice over white. Although white lasts longer, I find it lacks flavor and it’s not so great nutritionally. If I cycle through the stockpile at a reasonable rate wastage isn’t a problem.

    Another good stockpile item: mint leaves for tea. Let a spearmint plant loose anywhere there’s soil, and you have free tea the rest of your life.

  9. I have about 1/2 dozen gallon jugs of water that i keep in the house in case of emergency. You never know when something may come up, even if it is just a boil order. I keep them fresh by rotating them and pouring them into the back of the toilet tank and then re-filling with fresh water. No water wasted that way.

  10. Very good tips, not something people think about all the time, but good to keep in mind. Especially water – if you’re out, you’re really out of luck. Keep some supplies on hand. Also, as a side note, keep some with you in the car too, if going on long drives – you never know what could happen, even with a newer car.

  11. I’m an ardent home canner but I do have an additional warning. Do not trust “traditional” recipes for canning unless you can back them up with more recent sources. See the bottom of this page for more info but to summarize:

    * Older recipes were written often by people not living in a centrally heated house; the cellar was like a refrigerator in the winter.
    * Foods are different. Today’s tomatoes are less acidic than those of a hundred years ago, for example
    * Many deaths from botulism would go undiagnosed in older times.

  12. I have never thought about storing some food for disaster preparedness. It is something I should start. Thanks for all of the tips!

  13. When we were hit by Ike and had no electricity for 8 days, we were happy to have tons of peanut butter, jelly, and bottled water, but we really wish we had an outdoor grill since all our meat went bad. We only have electricity at home, so we didn’t have hot food unless we went to someone else’s house. Now we have a small charcoal grill as a backup.

  14. When I was a kid, back in the early 70s, my father became convinced that we were on the verge of the second Great Depression. So he stockpiled scores of cases of dried foods, which we eventually threw out about twenty years later. I guess I never understood the point of stockpiling for such a calamity. I couldn’t hoard the food for my own family, knowing my neighbors were hungry. In a sense, we’re all in the same boat anyway.
    As for more likely events, it always seems silly to me that every time there is a predicted major snowstorm, folks around here stampede to the store for groceries. It is clear to me that they don’t do the basic frugal strategy of bulk-buying groceries. If you do that, you likely have a month’s supply of food. The longest we’ve been without power was 13 days after a massive ice storm. Roads were impassible for a few days. We had a generator, and firewood and of course plenty of food. Since we used our generator just for short periods during the day, boredom was our main concern. We are so dependent on electricity for entertainment and hobbies. Luckily I had a stockpile of yard sale puzzles.

  15. Good tips! One thing I’d like to add is that if you’re purchasing lots of dried goods, you’ll need to account for that when you set up your water stores. It isn’t enough to just have drinking water — you need to wash and cook foods. Sure, lentils and rice are cheap and easy to store, but they can significantly drain your fuel and water sources.

  16. These are great tips, especially the idea of keeping food out in the garage simply because it is convenient to do so. Many items can be stored in special containers in order to stay fresh longer, and I often forget about this.

  17. I just finished a three month supply of the foods we eat and now I’m working on the non food and cleaning supplies. I have been following a blog that gives you items to purchase each week but it is very different than any other I have seen. I have also learned to store foods in unexpected places like in my linen closet. The extra blankets are now in the basement. On this blog she suggested we store water in our empty canning jars and it has really increased the amount I have stored without me having to create more room for it. Food storage has really saved me money too because now I only buy things when they go on sale.
    The blog is:

  18. @Amy – about 80% of your household cleaning supplies can be replaced with baking soda and vinegar. The plus side of storing baking soda and vinegar is that you are not putting chemicals into storage with your food 🙂

  19. I know, I love vinegar., cheap and I even like the smell. We’ve also added the “ingredients” to our General Store to make our own laundry detergent: Fels naptha, borax and washing soda. You can make tons for very little investment.

  20. Do you like SPAM? I do. I am telling you, nothing beats a piece of bread loaded with ketchup and SPAM.

    Having dry goods is good for emergency, but if you have some canned meats on hand, like spam or corned beef or tuna or even better sardines then you can get your meat requirements that way. if you have kids, how many times can you really give them beans, you need to get them something fun, especially in an emergency situation

    • SPAM is the worst thing ever invented – overly-salted butcher’s floor sweepings! But your point is well-taken.

    • Was on a tour of Pearl Harbor (pre 9/11) tour guide was a native Hawaiian and relayed the stories of Dec 7th she was told by her grandparents and parents. Due to the dependency on ships bringing food, the Hawaiian government stockpiles Span & rice for fear of them being cut off from the mainland and unable to receive food. I say whatever works!!!

  21. Spam with creamy horseradish…yep – had it for dinner last night!

    Also think jerky, pepperoni sticks, other dried meats,etc. They store almost forever 🙂 The meats can be just eaten, but they can also be used in stew or soup or with scrambled eggs etc. Chop up and soak in a little water, and they are usable in a lot of meals.

  22. For an easy way to store food for 4 for 30 days, costco’s website has this handy little bucket of freeze-dried vegetarian dishes:
    (Food for health emergency food kit)

    it’s currently running at $89.99 and will store for 20 years. Very portable in a bug-out situation as well.

    You can also get “Mayday 2400” food ration bars from several places online, including amazon, that have a 5 year shelf life and most of your daily nutrients. They’re excellent for your car or boat. It only comes in one flavor, but you’ll live.

    • Thank you for the links. I did not know such a well stocked emergency bucket was available so reasonably – the cost includes the shipment by ups. I will be ordering the $139.99 version with the hatchet, pots, cups, and water filter equipment in it, as well as some 20 yr storage food. There are 7 major rivers coming into the 3 bays in our county – so finding water is not an issue – but finding clean water would be 🙂

  23. We’ve been doing a combination of extra grocery store purchases (tuna fish, olive oil, etc.); bulk food co-op buys (wheat berried, rice, beans, coconut oil) and online freeze dried food orders (see to build our long-term survival food stockpile.

    It definitely feels better having a plan and some things put by for lean times or long emergencies.

  24. When it comes to emergency preparedness, most people I talk to think that nothing will ever happen to them- I constantly hear “why should I bother”. In today’s world it sounds crazy to talk about storing food. Why bother when restaurants, convenient stores and grocery stores are open 24 hours a day, 7days a week? We have grown up in the age of consumerism and take for granted there will always be food on the shelves. Well, what if there is a national emergency? Or if the unions repeat what happened in France – and stop delivery trucks in protest. What if our government keeps spending and hyper inflation occurs? Just look what happened in Boston! Why not be prepared just in case? It drives me NUTS when people have their heads in the sand!! But I know I am not nuts.
    As a father of 3 small children, I have always tried to protect and provide for all their immediate and future necessities. I could not come home and tell my kids there was no food on the shelves. Now, I can sleep in peace having purchased years of emergency food! I love having the peace of mind, the feeling of being empowered– that my family and I are covered with the necessary emergency food, and survival supplies for the next 20 years at TODAY’S prices for what ever comes our way. For more information, go to blog .

  25. All good ideas- they reckon it’d be 5-7 days before panic really set in and disorder started.
    I’m going to get a 3 month store- a good tip is “cous cous”- nutritionally the same as rice and pasta(about 360cal/100g) but all you need to cook it is twice it’s weight in water brought to the boil, add cous cous and stir, replace the lid and take off the hob and 5 mins later it’s ready to eat. Saves a vast amount of water and energy compared to rice and pasta.