A close up of a box

Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared


If there is one thing most people take for granted it is food. US supermarkets are always well-stocked and we don’t think much about how all that food gets there. When pushed to consider it, I wager most of us assume there are huge warehouses somewhere filled with enough food to feed the nation for some unknown period of time.

Art and Image

The truth is, as a nation we have little to no warehousing backup in the event of a supply shortage. Our concentrated supermarket supply system uses a technology known as JIT (Just-in-Time), a method made possible by computers and the Internet.

Here’s how JIT works: Instead of every supermarket needing a warehouse to store large quantities of food to be sold locally, computers keep track of inventory, placing relatively small orders daily. This precludes the need for massive warehousing. Retailers know their orders will arrive “just in time” to keep the shelves filled. 

But who cares about all of this, really. And why should we, as consumers, even concern ourselves? The system seems to be working really well, so why the fuss?

Most people buy food for one week or less. Multiple trips to the market allow us to enjoy fresh food without the hassles of having to manage reserves. The integrity of the food supply system never crosses our minds.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with an executive of Costco. I asked him how long a Costco warehouse club’s inventory of food would last if suddenly there were no more shipments of food. He hypothesized that the shelves would be empty within three to five days. The manager of my local Vons supermarket confirmed with a similar “less than a week” response.

Now imagine that something happens to make the typical American want a food reserve. This could happen if we were to experience hyperinflation. As people see food prices escalating beyond reach and they would rush to buy and hoard reserve food while it is still within their price range. Imagine what would happen:

The demand for food would quintuple or more within a short time and shoppers would see empty shelves in the market, further stimulating panic buying, just as in a hurricane or blizzard.

The best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our families is to prepare. The more food you have in storage, the less dependent you are on a system that some theorize has only a 3-day supply in its distribution chain. I tell you this not to cause you to panic, but to move you toward action.

Start small. Buy a few more of the items on your regular shopping trip. If you would normally pick up four cans of green beans, get six. Instead of one bottle of honey, get two. But if it’s on sale, get four.

For a normal short- to mid-term storage inventory,you should stock up on the foods that you are used to eating.

Taking control of your family’s food resource is empowering and satisfying. The more you grow your food supply, the less dependence you’ll feel on others. The more non-perishable food you have in reserve, the better you will sleep at night.

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  1. Jeannette Hickson says:

    Those that are going to raise their own food, be sure to get the GMO free seeds. Not only for health reasons (they are healthier) but the GMO seeds won’t go to seed so you have seeds for the following year. You will want seeds that will produce year after year, in case you can’t get seeds in case of emergency.

  2. Cath says:

    Wow, it’s amazing to think that stores could be wiped out in less than a week. I keep a supply of food on hand — for emergencies, to take advantage of sales, and for the convenience of reaching for what I want on the spur of the moment as opposed to waiting for the next trip to the store. During a winter like this one, it was particularly useful for avoiding shopping trips during bad weather. The LDS church is especially good at stocking up on food, and there are many LDS websites with a wealth of suggestions on storing food and other supplies for emergencies. Massive power outages in our area really drove home the point that it pays to be prepared for all sorts of emergencies. Don’t forget plenty of water, too.
    I agree with Ranch Mommy–get in the habit of writing the expiration date in large numbers on the top of the package. It’s a good reminder to reach for older foods first. I always write it with the front label facing me, since that’s how I usually place it on the shelf (especially cans). It makes it easier to read the date that way. For that matter, when I store leftovers in the fridge I like to put them in recycled glass jars, on which I write the date I put in the jar. Again, a reminder to eat it before it spoils. Permanent marker rubs off glass easily with a bit of cleanser.

  3. Magislibri says:

    It is also very satisfying knowing you have a stockpile when a large storm is approaching. You’re not jamming the food stores like everyone else to get the basics.

  4. Sandra says:

    Excellent article; I’m always prepared to “heat and eat”. I’ve been helping or doing it myself…gardening and canning for almost 50 years. I raise it myself or buy it from other farmers then put it up. The big think I’d miss is milk, when my long shelf milk and dried milk ran out. I simply refuse to get a milk cow; them than can milk, gets too.

  5. LindaBabe says:

    Our problem with this is – we don’t eat packaged or processed foods. The only things I keep in my pantry that are packaged are gluten free pasta, rice, nuts, canned tomatos, vinegar, oil and spices. Virtually everything else we eat is fresh. How do you stockpile that? IF I did buy canned in the event of an emergency, it would never get rotated.

    • BethSh says:

      You can have fresh food if you home can in glass. It is great to eat fresh but in a real emergency how would you expect to pull that off? You can actually can or dry meat fish and verges.

    • Janice says:

      Keep a small stockpile of canned goods, and every year (the winter would be a good time), donate the canned goods to a food pantry in your area. If you keep your receipt, when you donate them they are considered a tax write off. Everybody wins 🙂

      • Janice says:

        LindaBabe it sounds like we may eat a lot of the same way. I would start with dried and canned beans. I believe it is black beans that have nothing but beans and water. Canned olives (in glass) would also be a good choice, as would oatmeal and dried fruit. As long as you had water and a heat source you could have oatmeal (or rice) for breakfast with dried or reconstitiuted fruit and/or nuts, rice and beans for lunch, and pasta with olives, olive oil, vinegar, and tomatoes for dinner. Not the optimum meal, but it would supply you what you need for several days.

  6. Beck says:

    I have noticed that lately some stores have food close to the due date on the shelf even bought something that was an expired canned good. Some salad dressings and condiments have dates that expire sooner than we use them especially mayo so I agree with the others that posted not only watch your pantry at home but at the store. This didn’t use to be a problem for me but recently I noticed this has become more common.

    We also keep a camping stove with fuel ready should we need it if utilities go out along with a kerosene heater. I know some keep Sterno cans for this purpose as well.

  7. sharon says:

    Years ago there was a trucker strike. The shelf’s in the grocery stores in Spokane were empty within 3 days. We live an hour from there, have always had a monthly paycheck, so I stock up just to last the month and longer. We didn’t even feel the pinch.

  8. Cville says:

    I take your final words very literally: Grow your food supply. I get a lot of pleasure out of my little raised bed garden. With so little space, I plant foods that are a little more expensive to buy fresh – tomatoes, eggplant, etc. and I always have more than enough to share with my neighbors as well as process for the freezer.

  9. RanchMommy says:

    Having at least some food stores is a great idea. But it also requires some planning and organization. For me, I use an inventory and FIFO (first in first out) system. I go through and count my goods once a month (so I have an idea of what I have and how fast we go through things) and when new groceries are brought home they go to the back of the shelf.
    Also, rather than scour each box for a best by date I just write the purchase date on the label with marker. It keeps them in a decent order and it’s easy to put them back when my toddler decides to play in the pantry.

  10. happ good says:

    We have quite an extensive pantry. The one thing to be aware of is the “use by dates” of your pantry items. Check the dates often and put the most current dates up front to be used first. Occasionally we get sloppy in this area and find some items that should have been used last year. That’s a waste and we are trying to get better at this.

    • BethSh says:

      Many things are safe well beyond those arbitrarily best by dates. As long as the container is unbroken or can is not bulging you are safe for quite awhile . Use common sense but dont worry about trashing your whole pantry without checking things out.

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