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Should You Keep an Emergency Food Stash?

Judging by my Twitter feed this morning, the only people not enthralled by a certain extravagant British wedding were protesters in Uganda and Syria, people across the South affected by yesterday's terrible and deadly tornadoes and me. If you were hoping for an in-depth report on royal canapés, sor...

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Judging by my Twitter feed this morning, the only people not enthralled by a certain extravagant British wedding were protesters in Uganda and Syria, people across the South affected by yesterday's terrible and deadly tornadoes and me. If you were hoping for an in-depth report on royal canapés, sorry to disappoint. You'll have to look elsewhere—or read Abigail Tucker's fascinating history of wedding cakes.

The tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters that have been punctuating news reports between birth conspiracy theories and nuptial to-dos in recent months are a good reminder that it's wise to keep an emergency supply of food and water on hand. Even if you don't live in earthquake or tornado country, floods, snowstorms, power outages or space alien invasions could disrupt supplies or leave you stranded. OK, probably not that last one—although, now that SETI suspended its search for alien signals, who knows if we'll be caught unawares?

So, what should be in this emergency cache, and how much of it? At the very least you should have about three days' supply of water and food per person in your household, recommends the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These should be kept in a "grab and go" container—one for home, work and car—in case you need to evacuate quickly. Each kit should contain at least a half-gallon of water per person per day. You might also consider buying water purification tablets or another water sterilizer from a camping goods store (you can also boil water to purify it, but it's good to have a back-up in case you don't have power or a gas stove).

FEMA also suggests keeping a two-week supply of food and water at home for "sheltering needs." These foods should, obviously, be nonperishable: canned goods, dry mixes, cereals. Try to avoid foods that will make you thirsty or that require a lot of water or special preparation. Don't forget a manual can opener. If the power is out and your appliances are electric, you may be able to cook on a camp stove, barbecue, fireplace or solar oven, but consider storing foods that don't require cooking.

Even nonperishable foods need to be replenished periodically. According to a FEMA chart, dried fruit, crackers and powdered milk will last about six months. Most canned foods, peanut butter, jelly, cereals, hard candy and vitamins will keep for a year (but check expiration dates on packaging). Stored properly, wheat, dried corn, rice, dry pasta, vegetable oils, baking soda, salt, instant coffee or tea, and bouillon will keep indefinitely.

Finally, don't forget your pets. Fido and Mr. Bojangles need food and water, too!
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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