Food and Water
If an earthquake, hurricane, winter storm or other disaster
strikes your community, you might not have access to food,
water and electricity for days, or even weeks. By taking
some time now to store emergency food and water supplies,
you can provide for your entire family.
This guideline was developed by the:
Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation
with the American Red Cross and the U.S. Department of
Preparing a Supply of Clean Water
Having an ample supply of clean water is a top priority in an
emergency. A normal active person needs to drink at least
two quarts of water each day. Hot environments can
double that amount. Children, nursing mothers and ill
people will need even more.
You will also need water for food preparation and hygiene.
Store a total of at least one gallon per person, per day. You
should store at least a two-week supply of water for each
member of your family. If supplies run low, never ration
water. Drink the amount you need today, and try to find
more for tomorrow. You can minimize the amount of
water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool.
How to Store Water
In a washed plastic, glass, fiberglass or enamel-lined metal containers, would be the best place to store your water. Never use a used container that has held toxic substances. Plastic containers, such as soft drink bottles, are best. You can also purchase food-grade plastic buckets or drums. Seal water containers tightly, label them and store in a cool, dark place. Change the water every six months.
Emergency Outdoor Water Sources
If you need to find water outside your home, you can use
these sources. Be sure to purify the water according to the
instructions listed below before drinking it.
- Streams, rivers and other moving bodies of water
- Ponds and lakes
- Natural spring
- Avoid water with floating material, an odor or dark color. Use saltwater only if you distill it first. You not drink floodwater.
Three Ways to Purify Water
In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated
water can contain micro-organisms that cause diseases such
as dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis. You should purify all
water of uncertain purity before using it for drinking, food
preparation or hygiene.
There are many ways to purify water. None is perfect.
Often the best solution is a combination of methods. Two
easy purification methods are outlined below. These
measures will kill most microbes but will not remove other
contaminants such as heavy metals, salts and most other
chemicals. Before purifying, let any suspended particles
settle to the bottom, or strain them through layers of paper
towel or clean cloth.
Boiling The safest method of purifying water. Bring
water to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes, keeping in mind
that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool
before drinking. Boiled water will taste better if you put
oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth
between two clean containers. This will also improve
the taste of stored water.
Disinfection You can use household liquid bleach to
kill microorganisms. Use only regular household liquid
bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite.
Do not use scented bleaches, color-safe bleaches or
bleaches with added cleaners. Add 16 drops of bleach
per gallon of water, stir and let stand for 30 minutes.
If the water does not have a slight bleach odor, repeat
the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. The only
agent used to purify water should be household liquid
bleach. Other chemicals, such as iodine or water
treatment products sold in camping or surplus stores
that do not contain 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite as
the only active ingredient, are not recommended and
should not be used.
Distillation This method involves boiling water and then
collecting the vapor that condenses back to water. The
condensed vapor will not include salt and other impurities.
To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the
handle on the pot's lid so that the cup will hang right-side-
up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not
dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes.
The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.
While the two first methods described above will kill most
microbes in water, distillation will remove microbes that
resist these methods, and heavy metals, salts and most
Hidden Water Sources in Your Home
If a disaster catches you without a stored supply of clean
water, you can use the water in your hot-water tank, pipes
and ice cubes. As a last resort, you can use water in the
reservoir tank of your toilet (not the bowl!). Do you know
the location of your incoming water valve? You'll need to
shut it off to stop contaminated water from entering your
home if you hear reports of broken water or sewage lines.
To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by
turning on the faucet in your house at the highest level.
A small amount of water will trickle out. Then obtain water
from the lowest faucet in the house. To use the water in
your hot-water tank, be sure the electricity or gas is off, and
open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start the water
flowing by turning off the water intake valve and turning on
a hot-water faucet. Do not turn on the gas or electricity
when the tank is empty.
Food Storage Tips
Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off
your food supply for two weeks, you should prepare a
supply that will last that long. The easiest way to develop a
two-week stockpile is to increase the amount of basic foods
you normally keep on your shelves.
- Keep food in a dry, cool spot, a dark area if possible.
- Keep food covered at all times.
- Open food boxes or cans carefully so that you can close them tightly after each use.
- Wrap cookies and crackers in plastic bags, and keep them in tight containers.
- Empty opened packages of sugar, dried fruits and nuts into screwtop jars or air-tight cans to protect them from pests.
- Inspect all food for signs of spoilage before use.
- Use foods before they go bad, and replace them with fresh supplies, dated with ink or marker. Place new items at the back of the storage area and older ones in front.
Nutrition Tips in Emergencies
During and right after a disaster, it will be vital that you
maintain your strength. So remember:
- Eat at least one well-balanced meal each day.
- Drink enough liquid to enable your body to function properly (two quarts a day).
- Take in enough calories to enable you to do any necessary work.
- Include vitamin, mineral and protein supplements in your stockpile to assure adequate nutrition.
When Food Supplies Are Low
If activity is reduced, healthy people can survive on half their usual food intake for an extended period and without any food for many days. Food, unlike water, may be rationed safely, except for children and pregnant women. If your water supply has its limitation, try to avoid foods that are high in fat/protein, and don't stock salty foods, since they will make you very thirsty. Try to eat salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content. You don't need to go out and buy foods that you are not familiar with to prepare an emergency food supply.
You can use the canned foods, dry mixes and other staples on your cupboard shelves. In fact, familiar foods are very important. They can help lift morale and also give a feeling of security in time of stress. Also, canned foods won't require cooking, water or special preparation.
Shelf-life of Foods for Storage
Here are some general guidelines for rotating common
Use within six months:
- Powdered milk (boxed)
- Dried fruit (in metal container)
- Dry, crisp crackers (in metal container)
Use within one year:
- Canned condensed meat and vegetable soups
- Canned fruits, fruit juices and vegetables
- Ready-to-eat cereals and uncooked instant
- cereals (in metal containers)
- Peanut butter
- Hard candy and canned nuts
- Vitamin C
The following items may be stored indefinitely
(in proper containers and conditions):
- Vegetable oils
- Dried corn
- Baking powder
- Instant coffee, tea and cocoa
- Non-carbonated soft drinks
- White rice
- Bouillon products
- Dry pasta
- Powdered milk (in nitrogen-packed cans)
If the Electricity Goes Off
First, use perishable food and foods from the
refrigerator. Then, use the foods from the freezer.
To minimize the number of times you open the
freezer door, post a list of freezer contents on it. In
a well-filled, well insulated freezer, foods will usually
still have ice crystals in their centers (meaning foods
are safe to eat) for at least three days. Finally,
begin to use non-perishable foods and staples.
How to Cook If the Power Goes Out
For emergency cooking you can use a fireplace/charcoal
grill or camp stove can be used outdoors. You can also
heat food with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue
pots. Canned food can be eaten right out of the can. If
you heat it in the can, be sure to open the can and remove
the label first.
Importance of Having Emergency Supplies
It's 2:00 a.m. and a flash flood forces you to evacuate your
home, fast. There is no time to gather food from the
kitchen, fill bottles with water, grab a first aid kit from the
closet and snatch a flashlight and a portable radio from the
You need to have these items packed and ready in one
place before disaster strikes. Pack at least a three-day
supply of food and water, and store it in a handy place.
Choose foods that are easy to carry, nutritious and ready-
to-eat. In addition, pack these emergency items:
- Medical, hygiene supplies and first aid manual
- Money and matches in a waterproof container
- Portable radio, flashlights and extra batteries
- Fire extinguisher
- Blanket and extra clothing
- Shovel and other useful tools
- Infant and small children's needs (if appropriate)
- Household liquid bleach to purify drinking water.
- Manual can opener
Last Modified: 25 January 2011