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In late August, Hurricane Harvey made headlines as the strongest storm to make landfall in the US since Charley in 2004; it meandered for days, dumping between 40 and 52 inches of rain in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Shortly after, Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic basin hurricane ever recorded, which forced millions to evacuate. This is officially the first time ever that the US has been hit by two category 4 storms in the same year. There’s no denying it: disasters and catastrophes are becoming more common, and you have to be prepared in case the worst happens where you live.

Whether it’s a storm or an earthquake, acts of God can happen anywhere, anytime in the world. Though officials can call evacuations, it’s not always a safe choice; in 2005, dozens of Houston residents died in standstill traffic while fleeing from Hurricane Rita, a natural disaster which ended up taking only 10 lives itself. To be truly prepared, you must be ready to stay put — and that means having good food that can last in the long haul.

Grains: The Original Survival Food

survival food
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Grain was considered as currency in ancient Egypt, and rulers of the Roman empire collected it from their subjects as a form of taxation. One reason it was so valuable was because of its use as a survival food. After it is harvested, grain can be stored to sustain entire towns and cities even through drought, winter, and other seasons when food is scarce.

The storage life actually differs depending on the type of grain: soft grains like oats, rye, and quinoa can potentially last up to 20 years, though eight years is more realistic. Hard grains like corn and rice have a basic shelf life of 10 to 12 years if stored properly, but more advanced storage technologies and processes can extend that to 30 years. Nutritionally, grains are valuable because they contain complex carbohydrates, which are great for long-lasting energy. You also get other nutrients like proteins, fiber, manganese, and B vitamins from grains.

Beans and Nuts: Grain’s Higher-Protein Cousins  

beans and nuts
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Beans and nuts are another good ration to have. From a storage standpoint, dried beans have a two-year shelf life — not as long as grain, but still very decent for survival purposes. They don’t lose any of their nutritional value over that time, but it will get harder for them to soften in water as the years pass. Nuts, in their raw, unprocessed form, are actually not that good for emergency storage because the oils and fatty acids they contain can make them go rancid, but you can make them stay good for a year with the right preparation processes. As is the case for most foods, you also have to store them properly, ideally in airtight containers.

Like grains, beans and nuts can provide you with complex carbohydrates, fiber, manganese, iron, and other nutrients. They also pack protein, more than the typical amount you’d find in grain, which is why rice and beans complement each other well. Nuts have higher concentrations of fat than beans, but their fat content isn’t dangerous to the degree you’ll see in oil and many varieties of animal meat.

Freeze-Free Meat Preservation

freeze-free meat preservation
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While grains, beans, and nuts are theoretically an adequate protein source for survival situations, many people are not satisfied eating these alone. They want something savory, something they can really bite and chew into, and something to really fill their stomach. In other words, they want meat or fish. You might expect that type of food to spoil easily unless they’re refrigerated, which is not practical for emergency supplies. But there’s actually a couple of age-old processes to help meat and fish last longer that are still used in the food industry today: curing and smoking.

The most straightforward method to cure your own meat is salt curing. It’s a balancing act; add too little salt, and your food might actually spoil faster, while using too much will make it unpleasantly salty. There are various recipes you can follow online, which use dry salt, brine or a combination of the two. As for smoking meat to store long-term, the goal is to dry it out rather than actually cook it; you can change its flavor using different types of wood chips, but avoid wood that’s toxic or contains pesticides. A good curing process should produce meat and fish that will keep indefinitely and be all right to rehydrate and use in soups. If you’re not able to cure or smoke foods yourself, you can find plenty of commercially-made options in grocery stores or online.

The Power of Powder
Although it’s not exactly a staple in many people’s survival kits, milk is an ideal item for any disaster-preparedness inventory. It provides calcium and vitamin D, as well as protein. Dried milk from the grocery store typically has a “best before” period of 18 months. However, the USDA says that “shelf stable” foods, which includes dried milk, can be consumed even after their “best before” date as long as they’ve remained unopened from the original packaging. Like grain, the shelf life of milk varies depending on the type. Your best bet is whey milk powder, which can last more than 15 years depending on the producer and storage conditions. Fat is unstable, so nonfat powdered milk has a longer life than powdered whole milk or buttermilk.

You can extend the shelf life of dried milk by keeping it someplace dark, dry, and cold. The more heat and moisture in the environment, the greater the chance that dried milk will react and develop an off-putting taste in as little as two years. That’s not to mention the chances that bacteria, mold, and other contaminants could grow in the nutrient-rich substrate. Basically, the closer you can get your milk to totally non-reactive conditions, the better.

When You Can’t Cook to Save Your Life

emergency food kits

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Old habits die hard, so a lot of people probably would not be able to eat uncooked food even in a survival situation. Fortunately, there are a lot of long-lasting, ready-to-cook products available. Food preservation technology has come a long way, so people now have more convenient options, which include easy-to-prepare emergency food kits. Canned goods are a good, long-lasting food option. But there are alternatives out there that are more ideal for emergency situations.

While they might not necessarily appeal to bang-for-your-buck preppers who take control of costs as well as their chances of survival, emergency food kits have several advantages. Aside from combining several survival staples in one convenient package, conscientious emergency-food producers work to get as close to a typical cooked meal’s taste profile as possible, even incorporating sauces and other flavorings into the mix. And if that still doesn’t have you convinced, consider that the average individual or household doesn’t have access to the same packaging and preserving technologies that commercial producers have.

Unless you’re a prepper or an outdoor enthusiast, emergency food probably used to seem like an impractical expense to you. However, the risks of emergencies are becoming harder to ignore, and people can no longer always expect to be safe; you never know if your community will be crippled by flooding or other disaster-caused damage. In a desperate situation, it’s too easy to get scared and put yourself and your family at further risk — which is why preparedness is so important. Nobody can perfectly predict what dangers they’ll face in a storm or other calamities. But the more planning you do, the less panicked you’ll be.

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