Canned and non-perishable foods in case of an emergency. Photo: Nency Stacey/Flickr

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on Jan. 4, 2018. We are republishing this story in the wake of today’s M3.5 earthquake and yesterday’s M3.4 earthquake. 

If you are like us, you woke up this morning after that 4.4 jolt asking yourself a lot of questions about the emergency preparedness kit that you may or may not already have in your house. Kudos to you if you have a go-pack and food and water put away in case of an emergency, but when was the last time you checked on that supply? And, do you really have the right and proper amount of food and water set aside in case the Big One — or other disaster — hits?

Most experts say that we should have at least three days worth of food, water and supplies set aside in case of an emergency. This is to account for the time it may take for rescue workers to reach you after a major disaster. The City of Berkeley’s Public Health Division recommends that we have five days worth of food and water for each member of your family.

But as anyone who has already prepared supplies knows, it’s not as easy as you think it’ll be. There are many things to know about properly preparing your emergency food and water.

Here are some things to consider:


A person needs about one gallon of water per day. That sounds like a lot of water, but it’s not all for drinking. According to the City of Berkeley, you’ll need about two quarts for drinking, and two quarts for food preparation and sanitation. And don’t forget to account for your pets!

You’ll need extra water for young children, nursing mothers and those who are sick. Also account for hot weather or that you may be more physically active during an emergency; in both cases you’ll need about double the water for drinking.

Water should be stored in sturdy plastic containers; many experts suggest clean two-liter soft drink bottles, if you’re storing in re-used containers. Avoid glass, which can break, or milk cartons, which will decompose over time. If not using commercially bottled water, make sure to thoroughly clean the containers before filling and replace them every six months, according to FEMA.

FEMA also suggests some safe water sources in your home: hot water tanks, pipes and ice cubes in your freezer. Do not use water from toilets (including the tank), radiators, waterbeds or swimming pools and spas.

A portable water filter used by backpackers could be another good option to stash in your emergency kit.


The best foods to pack/store are non-perishable foods that you don’t need to refrigerate, cook, prepare, and which require little or no water. Even better, select foods that are lightweight or compact, especially for your go-packs.

Freeze dried and dehydrated food intended for backpacking are a great option. Many of these foods can last from 10-30 years in storage and some only require adding water to rehydrate before eating. Be sure to read the instructions before using, as some types require boiling water. In that case, a camping stove and some clean water is all you need.

Keep food in a cool, dry place. Boxed food should be stored in plastic or metal containers with a tight lid.

Choose high energy foods that will keep you full longer, like peanut butter, granola or protein bars and trail mix. But try to avoid having too many foods that will make you thirsty. You don’t want to blow through your water supply or get dehydrated.

Suggestions for canned foods include meats, fruits, vegetables, juices, milk and soup. These can be safely eaten straight out of the can, without being reheated.

Choose foods in easy-to-open or serve packaging, and have a manual can opener in your emergency kit. Pack lightweight utensils, like camping sporks or those disposable utensils you get when you order take-out. Paper cups and plates, paper towels or moist towelettes are additional supplies that can be added.

Check your stockpile every year to make sure you’re considering new family members, those with special diets or food allergies. You may want to include vitamins or other supplements. If you have an infant, have ready-to-eat formulas, rather than dry ones that need to be mixed with water.

Select foods that you (and your family) would normally want to eat. Especially since you probably will be eating that food when refreshing or replenishing your emergency stock. Although you’d probably eat most anything in dire straits, almost-expired cans of Vienna sausages don’t sound so palatable, do they? Add things like sugar, salt and pepper to your kit.

Add comforting foods, like cookies, candy or other food items that may help relieve stress.

Don’t forget to pack pet food. Consider getting collapsible, lightweight pet bowls, too.

If you’re in your house when a disaster hits, some things to consider before eating perishable items in your fridge. The Department of Homeland Security’s website says that refrigerated foods are safe to eat if the power hasn’t been out for more than four hours. Try to keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible, to avoid spoilage.

Many experts recommend having a small bag full of supplies in your car, which include non-perishable food and water.

Sarah Han was the editor of Nosh from 2017 to 2021. Previously, she worked as an editor at The Bold Italic, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In 2020, Sarah won SPJ NorCal's...