Food and Water in an Emergency
Information courtesy of:
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Reprinted by Permission of the American Red Cross (1997)
If an earthquake, hurricane, winter storm or other disaster
strikes your community, you might not have access to food,
water and electricity for days, or even weeks. By taking some
time now to store emergency food and water supplies, you can
provide for your entire family. This brochure was developed
by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation
with the American Red Cross and the U.S. Department of agriculture.
Having an ample supply of clean water is a top priority
in an emergency. A normally active person needs to drink
at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments
can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers and ill
people will need even more. You will also need water for
food preparation and hygiene. Store a total of at least
one gallon per person, per day. You should store at least
a two-week supply of water for each member of your family.
If supplies run low, never ration water. Drink the amount
you need today, and try to find more for tomorrow. You can
minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing
activity and staying cool.
Hidden Water Sources in Your Home
If a disaster catches you without a stored supply of clean
water, you can use the water in your hot-water tank, pipes
and ice cubes. As a last resort, you can use water in the
reservoir tank of your toilet (not the bowl).
Do you know the location of your incoming water valve?
You'll need to shut it off to stop contaminated water from
entering your home if you hear reports of broken water or
To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing
by turning on the faucet in your house at the highest level.
A small amount of water will trickle out. Then obtain water
from the lowest faucet in the house.
To use the water in your hot-water tank, be sure the electricity
or gas is off, and open the drain at the bottom of the tank.
Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake
valve and turning on a hot-water faucet. Do not turn on
the gas or electricity when the tank is empty.
When Food Supplies Are Low
If activity is reduced, healthy people can survivor on
half their usual food intake for an extended period and
without any food for many days. Food, unlike water, may
be rationed safely, except for children and pregnant women.
If your water supply is limited, try to avoid foods that
are high in fat and protein, and don't stock salty foods,
since they will make you thirsty. Try to eat salt-free crackers,
whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content.
You don't need to go out and buy unfamiliar foods to prepare
an emergency food supply. You can use the canned foods,
dry mixes, and other staples on your cupboard shelves. In
fact, familiar foods are important. They can life morale
and give a feeling of security in time of stress. Also,
canned foods won't require cooking, water or special preparation.
Following are recommended short-term food storage plans.
As you stock food, take into account your family's unique
needs and tastes. Try to include foods that they will enjoy
and that are also high in calories and nutrition. Foods
that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking are
Individuals with special diets and allergies will need
particular attention, as will babies, toddlers and elderly
people. Nursing mothers may need liquid formula, in case
they are unable to nurse. Canned dietetic foods, juices
and soups may be helpful for ill or elderly people.
Make sure you have a manual can opener and disposable
utensils. And don't forget nonperishable foods for your
How to Cook If the Power Goes Out
For emergency cooking you can use a fireplace, or a charcoal
grill or camp stove can be used outdoors. You can also heat
food with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots.
Canned food can be eaten right out of the can. If you heat
it in the can, be sure to open the can and remove the label
Three Ways to Purify Water
In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated
water can contain microorganisms that cause diseases such
as dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis. You should purify all
water of uncertain purity before using it for drinking,
food preparation or hygiene.
There are many ways to purify water. None is perfect.
Often the best solution is a combination of methods.
Two easy purification methods are outlined below. These
measures will kill most microbes but will not remove other
contaminants such as heavy metals, salts and most other
chemicals. Before purifying, let any suspended particles
settle to the bottom, or strain them through layers of paper
towel or clean cloth.
Boiling is the safest method of purifying water. Bring
water to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes, keeping in mind
that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before
Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back
into it by pouring the water back and forth between two
clean containers. This will also improve the taste of stored
You can use household liquid bleach to kill microorganisms.
Use only regular household liquid bleach that contains 5.25
percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches,
colorsafe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.
Add 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir and let
stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight
bleach odor, repeat the dosage and let stand another 15
The only agent used to purify water should be household
liquid bleach. Other chemicals, such as iodine or water
treatment products sold in camping or surplus stores that
do not contain 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only
active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be
While the two methods described above will kill most microbes
in water, distillation will remove microbes that resist
these methods, and heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals.
Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting
the vapor that condenses back to water. The condensed vapor
will not include salt and other impurities. To distill,
fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on
the pot's lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when
the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling
into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water
that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.
It's 2:00 a.m. and a flash flood forces you to evacuate
your home - fast. There's no time to gather food from the
kitchen, fill bottles with water, grab a first-aid kit from
the closet and snatch a flashlight and a portable radio
from the bedroom. You need to have these items packed and
ready tin one place before disaster strikes.
Pack at least a three-day supply of food and water, and
store it in a handy place. Choose foods that are easy to
carry, nutritious and ready-to-eat. In addition, pack these
- Medical supplies and first aid manual
- Hygiene supplies
- Portable radio, flashlights and extra batteries
- Shovel and other useful tools
- Household liquid bleach to purify drinking water
- Money and matches in a waterproof container
- Fire extinguisher
- Blanket and extra clothing
- Infant and small children's needs (if appropriate)
- Manual can opener
If the Electricity Goes Off...
FIRST, use perishable food and foods from the refrigerator.
THEN, use the foods from the freezer. To minimize
the number of times you open the freezer door, post a list
of freezer contents on it. In a well-filled, well-insulated
freezer, foods will usually still have ice crystals in their
centers (meaning foods are safe to eat) for a least three
FINALLY, begin to use non-perishable foods and
How to Store Water
Store your water in thoroughly washed plastic, glass,
fiberglass or enamel-lined metal containers. Never use a
container that has held toxic substances. Plastic containers,
such as soft drink bottles, are best. You can also purchase
food-grade plastic buckets or drums.
Seal water containers tightly, label them and store in
a cool, dark place. Rotate water every six months.
Emergency Outdoor Water Sources
If you need to find water outside your home, you can use
these sources. Be sure to purify the water according to
the instructions on page 3 before drinking it.
- Streams, rivers and other moving bodies of water
- Ponds and lakes
- Natural springs
Avoid water with floating material, an odor or dark color.
Use saltwater only if you distill it first. You should not
drink flood water.
Short-Term Food Supplies
Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut
off your food supply for two weeks, you should prepare a
supply that will last that long.
The easiest way to develop a two-week stockpile is to
increase the amount of basic foods you normally keep on
- Keep food in a dry, cool spot - a dark area if possible.
- Keep food covered at all times.
- Open food boxes or cans carefully so that you can close
them tightly after each use.
- Wrap cookies and crackers in plastic bags, and keep
them in tight containers.
- Empty opened packages of sugar, dried fruits and nuts
into screw-top jars or air-tight cans to protect them
- Inspect all food for signs of spoilage before use.
- Use foods before they go bad, and replace them with
fresh supplies, dated with ink or marker. Place new items
at the back of the storage area and older ones in front.
During and right after a disaster, it will be vital that
you maintain your strength. So remember:
- Eat at least one well-balanced meal each day.
- Drink enough liquid to enable your body to function
properly (two quarts a day).
- Take in enough calories to enable you to do any necessary
- Include vitamin, mineral and protein supplements in
your stockpile to assure adequate nutrition.
Shelf-life of Foods for Storage
Here are some general guidelines for rotating common emergency
- Use within six months:
- Powdered milk (boxed)
- Dried fruit (in metal container)
- Dry, crisp crackers (in metal container)
- Use within one year:
- Canned condensed meat and vegetable soups
- Canned fruits, fruit juices and vegetables
- Ready-to-eat cereals and uncooked instant cereals
(in metal containers)
- Peanut butter
- Hard candy and canned nuts
- Vitamin C
- May be stored indefinitely (in proper containers and
- Vegetable oils
- Dried corn
- Baking powder
- Instant coffee, tea and cocoa
- Noncarbonated soft drinks
- White rice
- Bouillon products
- Dry pasta
- Powdered milk (in nitrogen-packed cans)
If you are interested in learning more about how to prepare
for emergencies, contact your local or State Office of Emergency
management or local American Red Cross chapter, or write
P.O. Box 2012
Jessup, MD 20794-2012
and ask for any of the following publications:
- Emergency Preparedness Checklist (L-154) Item #8-0872
- Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit (L-189) Item #8-0941
- Your Family Disaster Plan (L-191) Item #8-0954 ARC
- Are You Ready? Your Guide to Disaster Preparedness
(H-34) Item #8-0908
- Emergency Preparedness Publications (L-164) Item #8-0822