Best Nonperishable Food to Stockpile for an Emergency

By Mary Hunt

May 28, 2020 5 min read

If recent world events have given you a big, fat wake-up call, you are not alone. The message is clear: Every household needs to have some amount of food in storage. Natural disasters like blizzards, hurricanes and floods often come with little or no warning.

Stocking up now on the right nonperishable food items will help you weather the storm (or global pandemic) with less stress. The type and amount of food to store is an individual decision that depends on your financial resources and storage area.

Ideally, your long-term goal is to have stockpiled enough to feed your family for six months. But start with shorter goals, like enough food for one week and then two weeks and then a month. This kind of incremental plan won't bust the budget or throw you into panic-buying that can easily lead to burnout and buyer's remorse.

When nonperishable items are on sale, buy enough for your immediate need plus a couple for your stockpile. Make this a regular habit, and you'll build a very impressive stockpile in no time.


Generally, commercially canned foods are good for two to five years from the date they were packed. High-acid foods like tomato sauce will not keep as long as a can of beans, for example. Canned varieties can provide you with essential nutrients, making these a great hurricane food or natural disaster option. Canned foods lose vitamins as time goes by, so you will want to rotate your food supply so you are using and replacing items before their "use by" dates.


Canned protein like tuna, salmon, chicken, corned beef, turkey and even bacon (yes, you can now buy canned, cooked bacon) has a shelf life of five years or longer. Canned meats provide essential protein.


An added benefit here is that soups and chili can be eaten straight out of the can while providing a variety of nutrients.


White rice should be used within two years after opening. Brown rice should be used within six months, as it has more protein. You can extend the shelf life of white rice in containers with tight-fitting lids. It can last up to 10 years when properly vacuum-sealed.


Pasta is filling, and in a well-packaged state, it will last for months, perhaps even years, on pantry shelves. Jarred and canned pasta sauces will be a welcomed sight when you need a quick meal that's simple to heat and eat.


Beans and legumes are a great source of protein and ideal for long-term storage. In their dry state, they remain edible and packed with nutrition for long periods of time.


You can count on all-purpose flour lasting well for three to six months in its sealed bag or up to one year in the refrigerator. If stored in the freezer, it can last even longer.


Sugar is one of the few products that lasts indefinitely. The only problem it presents for cooks is that it can harden. For this reason, plan on sugar having a useful shelf life of about two years.


Here's the goal: Stock at least a three-day supply. You need at least one gallon per person per day. An averagely active person should drink at least a half-gallon of water each day. The other half-gallon is for adding to food and washing. Start small by buying a few bottles every time you're at the store.


Almost all dairy products require refrigeration, so powdered milk and canned evaporated milk are great stock items. These substitutes are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D when fresh milk is not an option.


If you have access to a propane or charcoal stove, you may be doing some cooking. A basic supply of salt, pepper, seasonings and sweeteners will improve the flavor of your food, and these items often are forgotten when amassing a stockpile.

Would you like more information? Go to for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Photo credit: Olichel at Pixabay

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