A can of food

Best Non-Perishable Food to Stockpile for an Emergency and Where to Keep It

If recent world events have given you one 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 non-perishable 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.

A can of food

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, 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 non-perishable 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.

Canned vegetables

Generally, commercially canned foods are good for two to five years from the date they were packed. High acid food 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

Canned protein like tuna, salmon, chicken, corned beef, turkey, Spam, and even bacon (yes, you can now buy canned, cooked bacon) has a shelf life of five years or longer. Generally lasting at least two years in the pantry, canned meats provide essential protein. Vacuum-packed pouches have a shorter shelf life but will last at least six months, according to the USDA Meat and poultry hotline. Vacuum sealed packs may come in handy if you don’t have a can opener.

Everyday Cheapskate participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon affiliated sites.

Canned soups and chili

An added benefit here is that soups and chili can be eaten straight out of the can while providing a variety of nutrients. Consider storing a variety of these items and look for low-sodium options


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

Dry pasta and pasta sauces

Pasta is filling and in it’s packaged, well-packaged state, 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 simply heat and eat.

Dry Beans

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


The Protein in Rice and Beans. Rice and beans may seem like a simplistic meal without enough protein or nutrition. It turns out, however, that rice and bean dishes have complete proteins, are packed with carbohydrates, protein, and nutrients you may need for a vegan diet or fitness plan, and are totally delicious.

The Bean Cookbook, is a free download from The Bean Institute that will teach you everything you need to know about how to prepare and enjoy beans. Honestly, I had no idea. I’ve learned so much. Plus hundreds of really awesome recipes! FREE download.


You can count on all-purpose flour lasting well for three to six months in its sealed bag, up to one year in the refrigerator and, longer if stored in a freezer.


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.

Bottled water

Here’s the goal: Stock at least a three-day supply—you need at least one gallon per person per day. A normally 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, buy a few bottles every time you’re at the store.

Sports drinks

The electrolytes and carbohydrates in beverages like Gatorade or Powerade will help you rehydrate and replenish fluid when water is scarce. These drinks have expiration dates printed on them, so pay attention and rotate your stock accordingly.

Powdered milk

Almost all dairy products require refrigeration, so powdered milk and also 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 items often are forgotten when amassing a stockpile.


Supplements will help replace the nutrients you would have consumed on a normal diet. Pay attention to expiration dates after which vitamins and other nutritional supplements will begin to lose their potency.

Storage areas

When we think of storage areas, it’s usually a basement or garage—both of which are ideal. But what if you live an apartment or you have no basement and your garage is barely big enough for your vehicle(s)? Get creative! You’ll be amazed how many places there are in your home that can keep emergency food supplies out of sight, but still handy.

Under beds

If you have room under your beds, you can use shallow plastic containers to hold canned goods and sealed dry goods.


Walk into your closet, turn around and look above the door. This space is open in many closets and a great place to add a wire shelf for lighter foodstuffs. Be very careful as you don’t want cans to roll off and land on your head.

Under stairs

That space under the stairs leading to your basement or second story may seem useless for its odd shape and lack of accessibility. But take a second look. With some simple shelves, this space just might be ideal for food storage.

Refrigerator and freezer

If the electricity goes out, what should you do about the food in your refrigerator and freezer? Generally, do not open the refrigerator, not even to take a peek, until you absolutely need to get something. If food has spent more than four hours over  40 F.,  it’s likely no longer safe to eat. But remember that a refrigerator is well-insulated. If you do not open it, the temperature will remain as a safe level for an hour or two, even longer.

As long as frozen foods have ice crystals or are cool to the touch, they’re still safe. Here’s the rule: Once the food gets to room temperature of about 65 F., bacteria forms more quickly, and you want to be very careful about what you’re eating. As with the refrigerator, keep the door of that freezer tightly closed to slow the thawing process.

If you don’t have electricity, you may still be able to cook or heat your food. If you have outdoor access, a charcoal grill or propane stove is a viable option. Caution: These can’t be used indoors because of improper ventilation. If you’re stuck indoors, you’ll be glad to have kept a can of Sterno handy: Essentially canned heat, it requires no electricity and can warm up small amounts of food in cookware.

More from Mary's Everyday Cheapskate

my clean kitchen
A close up of a metal pan on a stove top oven, with Dough and Yeast
A close up of many different types of food on a table
chicken tortilla soup
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
4 replies
  1. Betsy Hoekstra says:

    Unfortunately this post comes at a time when many stores are just recovering from the panic buying that took place since February when the Corona Virus hit out country. Canned goods, beans etc are still in short supply in all stores in my area.

  2. Cindy K. says:

    This is a great idea..to add to my emergency pantry a few items at a time! I’m implementing it THIS week! So simple, so easy! Also, I’m now looking at alternate spaces for storage, such as under the stairs or over doors. Thank you so much!!

  3. ina says:

    I fell into the habit years ago of labeling all my canned, bottled and packaged food with a permanent marker before I even put it away. I write the expiration date on the top of the package in large numbers to make it easy to see what foods need to be eaten next in the rotation. If I’m storing it in a container where I only see the tops, I also note what the food is. I would add nut butters and jam to your list. The ever popular peanut butter doesn’t need refrigeration after opening; it’s a protein source that doesn’t need cooking either. I think we’ve all learned in the past few months that a stockpile of toilet paper is a must also, along with some paper towels. Disposable plates, bowls and flatware are helpful, too. And that ever necessary can opener. Imagine if we all had a stockpile that could get us by for a few months. It would have cut down drastically on risky social contact during the pandemic.

  4. Lynda Ruiz says:

    One problem I have is the rotation thing. I store canned goods for emergencies, but I seldom eat canned goods. I much prefer fresh and frozen. One method I’ve found is keeping the food for 12-18 months, then donating it and buying new cans. Your info was good and now I need to go clean out my pantry.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *