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Storing Food and Water: What Makes Sense

PULLMAN, Wash. — While Washington State University Cooperative Extension faculty are not recommending that people stockpile massive amounts food and water for the millennium, they do recommend that people keep a few days of food on hand in case of natural disasters.

“Most people in the state have probably experienced some kind of disruption in their food supply in the past 20 years,” said Val Hillers, WSU extension food specialist. “I think it makes a lot of sense to store food and water for whatever kind of natural disaster is likely.”

First, what should you store?

The short answer is shelf-stable goods, such as canned meats, soups, vegetables and fruits.  Also falling into that category are dry or canned milk, canned or powdered drink mixes, smoked or dried meat, cookies and cold cereal.  Select foods that you and your family like to eat.  An emergency is not a good time to experiment.

How much should you store? Most experts recommend storing at least a three-day supply of both food and water.  The general recommendation for water is one gallon per person per day.  Food- grade plastic bottles, such as soft drink bottles, with tight fitting caps are best. And to help conserve water:  “Avoid stocking up on salty foods that will increase your thirst,” advises Elaine Mir, WSU Spokane County Cooperative Extension.

Since power outages often accompany other emergencies, make certain to have an alternative method to heat your meals, such as a charcoal grill, which can be used only outside, or canned heat, such as Sterno, which can be used inside your home, the extension educators say.  And for the same reason, you can’t depend on your refrigerator or freezer to store your emergency food supplies.

“Don’t get caught short without a manual can opener either,” Hillers adds.

Use and replace your inventory of stored goods about every six months.  “That’s a guideline for food quality, more than food safety,” Hillers explained.  “Beyond six months, you might begin to pick up some off flavor in things like cereals.”

“However, you need to manage your inventory to avoid waste,” Mir explained.  “It doesn’t last forever.”  She expects that county extension faculty across the state will receive a flood of calls in the next months and years from people who have stored and preserved foods without rotating them into their menus.

And where should you store your emergency food?

Try to store your emergency food supplies in a cool dry room, the experts say. Some recommend having a stash near a door should you need to evacuate your home in a hurry because of rapidly rising flood waters, fire or earthquake.

For more information, contact your county extension office for recommendations and publications.  Look for the phone number in the county listings of your phone book. You will find additional information at WSU’s Food Safety Resources site on the World Wide Web at

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