Some of us remember climbing under our wooden school desks as kids when the air raid siren went off. Maybe we even had neighbors who built bomb shelters in their basements or backyards. So, the idea of disaster preparedness is not all that foreign. However, today with cable news blaring at us 24/7, the dangers feel a little more real.
Emergency food storage is a purchase that more and more people are making to strike that worry from their list. (Water storage is needed, too.) Radio talk-show hosts and bloggers tout the importance of emergency food storage at every turn. This investment could one day be our key to survival, so we cannot afford to make a poor choice. And, if nothing ever happens, we can just say we erred on the side of caution.
While there have always been emergency preparation enthusiasts, or preppers, in our midst, after 9/11, we saw a new level of consciousness of the need to prepare in case of an unexpected disaster. Suddenly the threat did not come just from hurricanes, tornadoes or snowstorms. It came from outside sources and threatened far longer-lasting consequences.
Food offerings underwent a major revamp as they started to be marketed more commercially and to a less exacting audience than the highly focused preppers had been. Past generations may have remembered the Great Depression and the hardships of World War II. Now, however, even the eldest of our senior population have only possibly experienced the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, so that level of hardship was limited to our military personnel in far off places.
Today, emergency food storage means the same to seniors as it does to any other age group: it is a way to soften the impact of an abrupt disruption to our food distribution system. It can also provide needed food in cases of natural disasters, power outages and job losses.
The goal is to buy foods that will provide our caloric and nutritional needs at an affordable cost. How those foods are processed and packaged must be able to stand the test of time.
In an emergency where the power is out, and our refrigerators and freezers no longer preserve our fresh foods, the first logical step is to turn to canned and processed foods that have a longer shelf life. However, the kinds of emergencies foreseen by the manufacturers of emergency food storage can last far longer than those everyday foods.
We have seen the mob scenes that develop each time people try to stock up at the last minute when a hurricane or snowstorm threatens. So, depending on their energy levels and endurance, seniors may find it difficult to compete with frenzied crowds for food supplies. In case of emergency, having thought through the need for emergency food storage and having an adequate stock in easy reach will mean one less stressor at an already stressful time.
Having the right emergency food storage supplies on hand will bring tremendous peace of mind because we know that:
- We have foods that meet our need for calories to maintain our energy level;
- The meals we stockpiled will provide the minerals, vitamins and other nutrients to preserve our good health or protect our declining health;
- We have purchased foods that meet any allergy or medical restrictions we might have;
- We can prepare meals efficiently in the face of unknown circumstances;
- We have a variety of foods to keep mealtime interesting; and
- We won’t worry about access to money because foods were all purchased in advance.
There are enough different emergency food storage companies today to offer whatever type of food you would want to stock in case of emergency. Some companies manufacture their own products, other companies sell private-label products made by third parties and yet others market branded products from several companies.
As you compare companies, you want to know you can afford their delivered price. (Maybe they even offer payment plans because of the significant investment involved.) You want to know what recourse you have if you are dissatisfied with the product, plus how easy it is to order and cancel an order. Lastly, you want to know how easy it is to reach and interact with the company’s customer support team.
Next, you want to know more about the food itself: the types of food available, nutritional information on what is offered and whether they offer samples for you to taste. Then, regarding logistics: what they charge for shipping, whether they provide order tracking and how long shipping takes.
The food you rely upon in an emergency may be life-sustaining, so its selection process must be taken seriously.
Selecting emergency food storage is very different from buying food at the grocery store, where we can go out and pick up something we are missing. We must get it right from the outset. Also, because our food selection will be more restricted, different factors need to be considered in the process.
Duration of supply: The marketing of emergency food kits can be deceptive. They are often sold in 3-, 6- and 12-month sizes, say for one person. Typically, how long the supply will last is measured in ‘servings.’ However, it is only by doing your own calculations (hopefully before you place your order) that you realize your supply may fall way short when you go to use the product.
The definition of a ‘serving’ varies. Some companies use volume (0.5 to 1.5 cups). Even assuming four servings per day, you could be eating as little as two cups of food each day. The correct measure should be based on calories, and when you calculate calories per serving you often get as few as 250 calories. That would total 1,000 calories per day, which is far too low for an adult.
(One major supplier is marketing a 3-month supply of entrees and breakfasts for one person – 360 servings or four servings per day. The website admits to a total of 88,320 calories in the package. That provides 245 calories per serving, or 980 calories per day, on which no one can live for too long. At an acceptable 2,000 calories per day, this is a 44-day supply, not a 3-month supply.)
Insufficient caloric consumption over time, say less than 1,200 calories per day, will start to show up as signs of fatigue, irritability, inability to hold body heat and, eventually, unresponsiveness. A female over age 50 is estimated to need 1,600-2,200 calories per day, depending on activity level. A male would need 2,000-2,800.
To know how much product to buy, you would multiply the number of calories required per day by the number of days you want your supply to last. You would ignore servings and volume, and purchase the amount of product representing the total number of calories you need.
Preservation method: Preservation of most foods begins with the removal of moisture, which keeps it from decomposing and growing mold. The two most common methods are dehydrating and freeze-drying.
With dehydration, hot and dry air is circulated over food at temperatures high enough to remove moisture, but not enough to cook the food. The result will be withered, hard food that may still need to be cooked.
In freeze-drying, food is placed on racks in a vacuum chamber. Temperatures are lowered below freezing, then raised. Moisture in the food goes from solid to gaseous and escapes. The result is food that maintains its structure and nutritional value.
Freeze drying removes more moisture (98-99 percent) than dehydration (90-95 percent), so freeze-dried foods will tend to have a longer shelf life.
Nutritional value: In addition to getting a certain number of calories, you must also get all the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients if you are going to be eating emergency foods for an extended period. To do otherwise can put your health at risk.
Those nutrients can be achieved from the right mix of foods: freeze-dried vegetables and fruits, dehydrated grains, sugars, and other items. However, if you need to monitor your sugar, fat or sodium intake, check your food choices for detailed levels of fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates (dietary fiber and sugars) and proteins.
Freeze-dried foods retain much of their vitamin and mineral content, but lose Vitamin C, which breaks down rapidly. Dehydration breaks down vitamins and minerals (including Vitamins A and C, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin) and loses more nutritional value than freeze-drying.
Diversity of foods: Foods can either be purchased individually, as ingredients which you combine to make up meals, or as ready-to-eat kits to which you just add water. Meals may include entrees, sides, drinks and more.
Both for nutritional reasons and for maintaining some degree of interest in what you are eating, be sure you have enough diversity in your selection. (Eating the same three food mixtures for months will become very trying.) Consider having a combination of ingredients that lets you create meals freely, plus some easy-to-fix kits.
As for ease of preparation, dehydrated foods will often require cooking, possibly even boiling, which could be a problem in real emergency situations where water and heat are limited. Freeze-dried foods, on the other hand, only require water.
Product shelf life: Foods tend to be packaged in #10 cans or in ‘Mylar’ pouches. Sometimes Mylar pouches are packaged in a bucket, for which typical shelf-life claims are for 25 years, (or ‘up to’ 25 years). If you are intending to make your purchase and set it aside for an extended period, instead of rotating stock by using some of it as you go, be sure you have investigated and seen proof of the real shelf life of what you purchase.
Oxygen is the element that causes foods to go rancid, lose vitamin content and to allow for spoilage from insects and microorganisms. It is essential to know the oxygen level present inside the packaging, particularly in pouches. The lower the oxygen, the greater the integrity of the food over time.
Ideal packaging processes include nitrogen flushing and use of oxygen absorbers for double protection. As for packaging, glass and metal cans offer the best protection against oxygen penetration. With proper sealing, they can remain oxygen free indefinitely.
As for pouches, ‘Mylar’ is simply a trading name for a Dupont polyester film. Its effectiveness depends on its thickness and on being laminated with multiple components and layers, one of which must be a foil. In the absence of foil, the container’s ability to remain oxygen free will be short. Depending on the food product, actual storing conditions and the pouch’s material composition, shelf life could be closer to 5-15 years.
Buckets made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) with thick walls and proper gaskets can only control the inside atmosphere for around 2-5 years because HDPE is permeable. Combining buckets with another internal packaging will give a more acceptable long-term shelf life.
Two areas differentiate what seniors prioritize from what younger people do when purchasing emergency food storage products: age-friendliness and health-related value.
Age friendliness: A customer’s interaction with a company should not be affected by age. The online selection/ordering/billing process should not be an obstacle if you are comfortable going online. As for the use of the products in an emergency, the older you get, the more difficult it might become to find alternatives if the food purchased requires cooking. The weight of the food containers themselves may become too heavy for you to manipulate easily as your physical strength diminishes.
Health-related value: The more a senior has declined in health by the time the emergency food supply is needed, the more critical the actual composition of the food becomes. Its lack of nutritional value, or its sodium or sugar levels, may harm a senior in poor health. That would suggest we should purchase the healthiest foods we can afford.
Online marketers of emergency food storage use trial offer, discounts and coupons to entice us to try their foods. Costs will be based on the products selected, plus any shipping charges.
Freeze-dried foods will tend to be more expensive than dehydrated foods. Although both processing methods offer benefits, those provided by freeze-dried foods might justify the higher cost.
If a company’s marketing materials cite ‘number of servings’ without specifying the calories in a serving, the contents of a large food kit must be converted to adult-size meals containing more or less 2,000 calories each. Only then can you calculate the real cost per serving.
In selecting emergency food storage, the initial evaluation criteria include the cost, the warranty the company offers, the ease of placing the order and canceling it if you so choose, and the accessibility of the company's customer support.
Cost: The cost that matters is not that of an entire kit, but rather the delivered price per adult serving of food. As explained earlier, per-meal costs are often understated as they reflect an insufficient amount of food, calories or nutrients. Identifying the real price per serving may take a little detective work.
Warranty: Most companies will say their meals are all backed by a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee. They will indicate the timeframe within which you have to contact them to get a replacement meal or a refund. You may be required to return the product, possibly at your expense. The refund process begins once the product is received by the company. Reading a company's "Terms of Service" will give you an indication of how responsive the company will be to your needs.
Ease: A company's website should be easy to navigate, and its meal offerings should be easy to understand. Ordering and billing should be trouble-free.
Cancellation: As this is not a category that requires any kind of contract, the cancellation would most likely occur when you have a change of heart. The company should be able to tell you when it is too late to cancel an order, which would mean having to ship it back, most likely at your expense.
Customer support: The more ways a company gives you to reach its representatives for whatever reason, the better. Easy access should not end once the sale is completed. You may have delivery or usage questions, most of which can be addressed during regular working hours.
When selecting emergency food storage, you want to know more about the food itself: the types of food, nutritional information and whether the company makes samples available for you to taste. Your next consideration will be logistics-related: shipping charges, order tracking and shipping time.
The diversity of a company’s meals will be evident on its website. As you may be eating emergency food for an extended time, variety is essential, as is the nutritional value of what you are eating. For seniors with dietary restrictions, the availability of foods free of gluten and other allergens will be a decision-maker. For diabetics, it will be sugar content; for seniors with high blood pressure, it could be sodium. Taste also counts, so being able to receive a sample before ordering is preferred.
Since these are foods prepared to last for years, logistical issues are only critical if you are ordering as an incident is approaching, such as a hurricane or snowstorm.
These foods may represent a shift from how a senior is accustomed to eating. Particularly in the case of ready-to-eat meals (as opposed to separate ingredients for food preparation), it might be worthwhile ordering a small package that includes the assortment of meals you are purchasing in volume for long-term storage. You could then familiarize yourself with each food without having to open the packaging of the larger volumes. You might avoid a devastating surprise later if something proves inedible.
Stocking up with emergency food supplies represents a significant financial investment in what could be your only sustenance in case of emergency. In recent years, this industry has been flooded with many new players that lack the seriousness of the earlier food suppliers.
It is easy to be misled by companies marketing their products aggressively with deceptive terminology and endorsements by credible spokespeople. However, you now have the tools to make a smart purchasing decision.