Published on 03/11/20

Stock food and water supplies in preparation for emergencies

By Sharon Dowdy

News of the coronavirus has many people feeling uneasy and helpless. Building a supply of emergency food and water will help ease some of the stress and help Georgians prepare for any kind of emergency, be it a medical quarantine, a snowstorm or a major power outage, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension experts say.

"Flash floods, tropical storms, blizzards, whatever the disaster — it pays to be prepared," said UGA Extension food safety specialist Elizabeth Andress. "Every family should have at least a three-day emergency food supply to fall back on. If you are concerned about virus quarantine, you should plan on a two-week supply according to our public health agencies."

Natural disasters, or the slim chance your family is quarantined by the coronavirus, will prevent you from shopping for supplies.

The size of your personal emergency food supply depends on the size of your family and home storage area. Select non-perishable foods that do not require refrigeration, little or no cooking, and little or no water for natural disasters. For quarantine, you can plan on having your utilities.

"Chances are, if you're in an emergency situation, you aren't going to have the luxuries of electricity and running water,” Andress said.

Include ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables. Select containers that can be used in one meal or snack, since you most likely won't be able to refrigerate leftovers.

Add canned juices, soups and canned or powdered milk. Include bottled water for drinking and extra water for mixing powdered milk and diluting the soups. Supply enough fluids (milk, juice, water, etc.) so each family member has at least one gallon per day.

“A person who's normally active needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day, but hot environments can double that amount,” she said.

Include staple foods, like sugar, salt and pepper, too, and high energy foods like peanut butter, jelly, granola bars and trail mix.

"Don't forget to throw in some comfort foods like cookies, hard candy, sweetened cereals, and instant coffee and tea," Andress said.

When stocking your emergency supply, remember to include food items specifically for infants or elderly family members.

Don't forget to include a hand-operated can opener, scissors and a knife for opening foods in foil or plastic pouches. Add disposable plates, cups and utensils, too.

Be sure to date items and make a list of dates when items need to be rotated out. Canned foods can last two years, but for best quality, use them within one year, Andress said.

Powdered milk may be stored 12 to 24 months. Use most other foods within one year, or rotate them out. Over time, replace any rusty, leaky, dented or bulging food cans.

Place your emergency supply items together in a box and store it in a cool, dry place. Dry supplies should be stored above floor level.

If an emergency causes a power outage, Andress says to use any perishable items from your refrigerator first. Next, use foods from your freezer and then begin using your emergency supply.

“Eat refrigerated foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheeses, deli items and leftovers only if they have not been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours,” she said. “Discard them if the power is off for more than four hours.”

Condiments like jelly, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise last a little longer, she said.

“Eat frozen foods only if they have ice crystals remaining or if the temperature of the freezer has remained at 40 F or below,” Andress said. “Covering the freezer with blankets will help to hold in the cold. Be sure to pin blankets back so that the air vent is not covered.”

For information from UGA Extension and UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences on how to compile short- and long-term emergency food supplies, go to

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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