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Blog | An Emergency Food Primer

Are you confused about emergency and survival food? Do you know the difference between an MRE and an Emergency Food Ration (life-raft cookie bar)? And how are the long-shelf life foods different from normal grocery store canned goods?

You know you need to have some food on-hand for emergencies, right? but where do you start? What goes into an emergency kit and what do you obtain for long-term emergencies or serious food shortages?

This primer may help you better understand what is available, and which type of food best fits the different situations.

First, let me start with a few definitions. For this discussion I consider an "emergency" situation one that may last anywhere from a few hours (including the magical "72-hours") up to about two weeks. For periods longer than two weeks, I consider this a "survival" situation. Experts feel that for most emergencies the situation will normalize itself in less than 72 hours. By this time the proper agencies will be in place to assist with shelter, water, food, clothing, etc.

Another consideration in planning for emergencies is, will you be in your home during the emergency, or will you be away from your home and on the move? Some emergencies happen while you are at home, such as a winter freeze, power outages, etc. Others require you to flee your home, such as an incoming hurricane or having your home damaged by a tornado or earthquake. And sometimes emergencies happen when you are away from home, as when you are traveling in your automobile.

When an emergency happens, your first line of defense (food-wise) is the food in your refrigerator and pantry (assuming you are at home). Even if you have to flee, you will likely want to raid the pantry on the way out. The disadvantages to this as the only supply of emergency food, is that this type of food typically has a relatively short shelf life, and most contain their own liquid (water), and are therefore heavy to transport. With all this in mind, let me discuss the different types of foods that are available.

FOOD BARS - these are specially formulated "cookie" bars that are non-thirst provoking and high in protein to help in a high stress situation. Each bar exceeds the normal daily requirements for vitamins and minerals. They typically have a five-year storage life and can withstand extreme temperature ranges (-40 degrees to 300 degrees F). A typical 3-day package contains 9 bars of 400 kcal each (3,600 kcal per package). They are normally Coast Guard approved for lifesaving craft (life rafts). Because of their wide storage temperature range and relative small size and weight, they are ideally suited for emergency kits especially for an emergency kit you leave in the trunk of your car, where the temperature may range from below zero in winter, to over 100 degrees in summer. The taste is acceptable (I think they are tasty), but you may tire of them after a few meals. But then they are for survival!

MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) are the military's latest type of rations (see note 1). The big difference between these and previous types of military rations (K and C) is that these taste good. The MREs are packaged in a specially designed triple-layer foil/plastic "retort" pouches that are sealed, cooked and not exposed to air until opened. MREs typically have a five to seven year shelf life if stored in a cool environment. But the nutritional value and taste deteriorate with an increase in ambient storage temperature (see the MRE Storage Life Chart). MREs are available in full meals; that contain a meat, vegetable or fruit, peanut butter, high protein crackers, freeze dried fruit bar, beverage base, accessory packet and a spoon. Or individual entrees and other pieces can be purchased separately. They can be eaten warm (warmed in a number of different ways) or eaten cool. Typical MRE entrees include: chicken a la king, barbecue pork with rice, spaghetti with meat and sauce, and omelette with ham.

A supply of MREs makes an excellent food supply for emergencies. They are light enough they can be taken with you in the automobile or include a few in your emergency kit. Just don't leave them in a potentially warm environment for very long (like the trunk of your car). I suggest you store them inside your house in a "sports" type bag or box, and grab them if you have to flee. One advantage to MREs over other types of emergency food, is that it doesn't require that water be added (except to the drink base). They don't need any cooking or preparation, making them an excellent choice of food while you're on-the-move. A typical MRE full meal cost less than $7, and occasionally bargains can be found on MREs. If you are interested in MREs, I suggest you try one of the "12 Pouch Sample Order" or the "72-Hour Emergency Food Supply" kits available through B&A or at your local Army & Navy store.

CAMPING POUCH PRODUCTS are available from a number of suppliers. The brand that B&A carries is AlpineAire and is considered one of the best (see note 1). These products are packaged in an aluminized foil pouch and typically have a shelf life of about 2 years (if stored at room temperature). The foods are either dehydrated or freeze dried, and each package is nitrogen flushed to ensure freshness and extended storage life. Many are "no-cook" varieties that don't require any cooking. To prepare you simply add hot (or cool) water. There is a wide variety of entrees (both meat and meatless), side dishes, soups, breakfasts, fruits and desserts (see B&A catalog for list). AlpineAire has a Sampler (see note 1) that will feed two people for 3-day. That means the average cost per meal, per person can be as low as $2.50. One advantage of having a supply of these items is that they can double as normal trail and camping food, while serving as emergency food if you need it. By being dehydrate or freeze dried, they are very light and easy to transport. And the taste of the camping meals is usually excellent.

LONG SHELF LIFE FOOD SUPPLY. Typically this is food that is dehydrated or freeze dried (similar to the pouch products), packaged in double-enamelled #10 or #2-1/2 cans, nitrogen flushed, and has an expected shelf life of 10 to 15 years (or more). B&A carries two lines of this type of food; Ready Reserve Foods and the AlpineAire's line of Gourmet Reserves. This is the type of food you will want to obtain and store, to prepare for a long term survival situation. Both Ready Reserves and AlpineAire have food kits that provide enough food for a few days up to a year (or more). A kit (#U-12) for 4 people for 3 days. And a family kit for 4 people for a year. The family kit would average less than $1 per meal, per person not bad!

Something that often happens when people start planning their long term food needs is they look at what they need (1 or 2 year supply) and are overwhelmed by the cost, and then do nothing. Don't try to take on the whole task at one time. You can break up your purchases and buy a little at a time. Storage space can also be a problem. But you might be surprised to find that you have many places to store items that you might not have otherwise considered, as an example in the space under your bed.

Remember that dehydrated and freeze dried food will require clean water to be able to reconstitute. Also, when you obtain your supply of storage food, use it on a rotational basis. This will get your family accustomed to the taste and keep fresh product in the storage supply, as you replace that which is eaten.

This has been an overview to familiarize you with the different types of "emergency" foods that are available, their respective costs, and to help you decide which is best suited for your situation. I hope it helps. (I recognize that this article doesn't address the natural emergency food that can be found innature, if you know what can and can't be eaten.)

A couple of final points: it is better to be two years too early in your emergency planning, than one minute too late. And consider that purchasing your emergency food supply is analogous to buying "food insurance."

If you would like more information about any of these products, or a free catalog, please contact us at B&A.

Sincerely Byron