Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Preparing for infrastructure failure - Tip #1, a rolling food store

If you follow this blog, you'll know that I think one of the most under-considered risks to families and communities is an extended power outage (see preparing for the big power outage). For most of us, more than a few days without power would be catastrophic. This is the first of a series of blog posts with some tips and practical steps for preparing for such an event, in particular ways of surviving without our modern day basics such as a food supply, water supply, heating and cooling, medicine, and so on. This first one is about food, not necessarily because it is the most critical (at least in the short term - that would be water) but because it is something you can fairly easily do something about.

Most preparedness guides focus on getting by for a few days (72 hour survival kit, etc) or at most a week or two. But for an infrastructure failure that lasted months, this isn't going to do you much good. How can you ensure a food supply for your family that lasts months, or even better is sustainable indefinitely?  I suggest two strategies: first, a substantial rolling food store, and second a long-term self-sufficiency plan for food.

A rolling food store means that you have a section of your house or apartment set aside for emergency food supplies, apart from your regular pantry. However, in order to avoid simply storing food which goes bad and which you then throw out, this food store acts as a feed to your regular pantry, and is then replenished. It is thus kind of like a buffer between the store and your pantry.

Determining what needs to be in your food store depends on a number of factors, including the nutrition needs of your family, how many weeks' supply you want (I suggest at least six weeks), what you like to eat regularly, the storage life of the food, and the amount of storage space you have available. I recommend placing the rolling food store in a garage or other area which is accessible but out of your regular living area. Canned foods and sealed goods with a shelf life of a year or more are perfect for your store. You can also keep goods with a shorter shelf life but must remember to use and check them regularly. Good initial recommendations are cans of beans, peanut butter, canned fruit, long-life pasta - things that keep well, give a balanced diet, and which you use everyday. A wonderfully useful tool I have found to help you build your store is the Food Storage Analyzer. This website allows you to create an account, and keep track of what you have in your store. The best bit is you can type the ages of the members of your family, and nutritional details from the labels of items in your store, and it will not only tell you how long the food supply will last, but also how well it meets nutritional requirements (and thus you can tweak what things you store in your supply for better balance). I recommend going straight to the "add your own items" tab and specifically type in the details for your own items, rather than the ones you have in store.

Keeping a rolling food store has some fringe benefits too - you get to go shopping in your own garage and it also encourages you to stock up when items are on sale, and thus save some money.

Now of course this will only keep you going as long as your rolling food supply lasts (plus probably a week or two depending on what you have in your regular pantry, fridge, freezer and so on, when the failure hits). The key to long term preparedness is a strategy for growing and making your own food - but that will have to wait for a future post!

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