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Preparing for Emergencies and Disasters

Storing Food and Water

by: Val Hillers, Ph.D. , Extension Food Specialist


Storing Food And Water Supplies In Preparation For Emergencies And Disasters

An earthquake, flood or storm may result in loss of electricity, water, and natural gas supplies.  Damage to roads can hinder delivery of food.  In a big disaster, it could be several days or longer before even basic services are restored.  Experts advise that everyone keep at least a three-day supply of emergency food and water.  If you keep these basic supplies in an easy-to-carry container, they will be easily accessible in case of emergency.  If you live in an earthquake-prone area, store the emergency supplies as close to an outside door as is feasible.  Keep a small version of the disaster supplies kit in the trunk of your car.

Food Storage

It's important to have food on hand which doesn't need refrigeration and can be eaten with little or no cooking.  Store foods familiar to you - a crisis is not a time to learn to eat new foods.  Canned foods are most likely to survive the damage of a flood or earthquake and still be usable.  Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables, and soups are excellent choices.  Avoid stocking too many foods that are high in salt and increase thirst.  

Store one or two manual can openers with your emergency food supply. Canned foods can be heated indoors with canned heat (such as Sterno).  Charcoal grills, hibachis, and camp stoves must only be used outside.  

Foods which work well for emergency food storage:
  • ready to eat, canned meats, fruits and vegetables

  • smoked or dried meat like beef jerky

  • juices - canned or powdered drink mixes

  • dried soups

  • milk - powdered or canned

  • high energy foods - peanut butter, jelly, crackers, nuts, trail mix, hard candy

  • cookies and granola bars

  • cold cereals
Every six months, use these items and replace with new items for storage.

Water Storage

Store at least 3 gallons of water for each person in the household.  Store your water in thoroughly washed plastic containers.  Never use a container that has held toxic substances.  Plastic containers with a tight fitting lid, such as soft drink bottles, are the best.  You can also purchase food-grade plastic buckets or drums.  Seal water containers tightly, label them and store in a cool, dark place.  Use or throw out the stored water and replace with a fresh supply every six months.  

To prepare containers for water storage, either wash in the dishwasher or wash thoroughly by hand in soapy water and rinse well to remove all traces of soap.  Do not reuse plastic jugs that contained milk, food, or household chemicals, because it may not be possible to remove all traces of food or chemical from the plastic.  If you have freezer space, some of the drinking water can be frozen.  If electricity is lost, the ice will increase the time that foods stay frozen in the freezer.  When the ice melts, it is available for drinking water.

If you use tap water that is chemically treated (by a commercial water utility company, for instance), do not add bleach or other agents to the water unless directed to do so by the local department of health.

Other items to store in preparation for an earthquake or other emergency:
  • flashlight with spare bulb and batteries

  • battery-operated radio with spare batteries

  • chlorine bleach and an eye dropper for water treatment

  • 12-hour light stick

  • disposable plates, eating utensils, and cups

  • paper towels

  • medications

    • prescription drugs used routinely such as insulin

    • aspirin or other pain relievers

    • rubbing alcohol

    • anti-diarrhea medications

    • anti-bacterial cream or hydrogen peroxide

    • vitamin supplements

Treating Water In Emergencies

If a safe supply of water is not available, or if your usual supply becomes unsafe for drinking, you must treat the water before it can be used for drinking, cooking, or brushing teeth.  There are two ways of treating water: boiling or adding bleach.  If the supply has been made unsafe because of untreated surface water (floods, streams or lakes),boiling is the better treatment.

If the water looks cloudy, it should be filtered before treating.  You may use coffee filters, towels (paper or cotton), cheese cloth, a cotton plug in a funnel, etc.  Using several layers for best results.  You can also use filters designed for camping and backpacking.

Boiling is the best way to purify water that is unsafe because of bacteria.  Place the water in a clean container and bring it to a full boil and continue boiling for at least 3 minutes.  If you are 5,000 feet or more above sea level, increase the boiling time to at least 5 minutes.

Boiled water should be kept covered while cooling.

Purifying by adding liquid bleach
If boiling is not possible because of lack of fuel or electricity, or equipment, the water can be treated with liquid household chlorine bleach (such as Clorox, Purex, etc.) which contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite.  Do not use scented or "color-safe" bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.

Place the water (filtered if necessary) in a clean container and add bleach.  For each gallon of water, add 16 drops of bleach or about one-fourth teaspoon.  Two-liter soft drink bottles are about one-half gallon in size; use 8 drops or 1/8 teaspoon bleach for each of these bottles.  Mix the water and bleach thoroughly and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes before using the water.  If the water is cloudy, or very cold, increase the standing time to 60 minutes before using.  If the water does not have a slight bleach odor after standing, repeat the bleach treatment and let stand another 15 minutes.

Note: Chlorine will not killCryptosporidium cysts, which may be present in flood waters.  Cryptosporidium can cause severe illness in persons who are weakened because of health problems.  Boiling is the best treatment in these situations.



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