12 Best Non-Perishable Foods For An Emergency

by Paromita Datta last updated -

An emergency rarely comes knocking. Whether it’s a hurricane, fire, or an epidemic, there are certain occasions when we may have to plan for adequate food and nourishment. This is why it is highly recommended that you keep a stock of non-perishable food in your pantry for any unforeseen circumstances. This is especially important for those who live in areas susceptible to natural calamities. Our list of non-perishable foods is also handy for campers or anyone who is planning to stock food for the long-term.

What is Non-Perishable Food?

Non-perishable foods are those with a long shelf-life. They can be stored for months without refrigeration. This will typically include canned food, dehydrated food, and dry goods. It is important to remember that non-perishable goods also have an expiry date. The only difference is that it is months, usually years, longer than perishable foods. Non-perishable foods are not just good for emergencies, these can also come in handy on the odd days you cannot go out to buy groceries.

12 Best Non-Perishable Food

It pays to be prepared when planning your non-perishable food list, especially if you are stocking for the long-term. A few different food groups also ensure that you can get as nutritiously balanced a meal as it is possible in the circumstances. We have prepared a list of non-perishable foods based on recommendations by the Department of Homeland Security. We have added other suggestions to ensure that your stock is as nutritious and varied as possible. Although we have added the average shelf-life to each recommendation, do read the label. Keep in mind that non-perishable goods also have an expiration date. [1]

Canned/Dried Fruits & Vegetables

When the fresh stuff is not available, the canned version is your best bet. Those concerned about the depletion of nutrient value shouldn’t worry. A study published in the journal Nutrients, found that frequent canned food users consumed more nutrient-dense food like fruits and vegetables than people who used canned foods only rarely or infrequently. So, make sure you have canned fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, berries, carrots, and green beans. Another option here is to use dried food. Modern technology has ensured that dried vegetables and fruits retain a very high concentration of their nutrient value. The shelf-life of canned goods depends on the type. Low-acidity foods like carrots can last from 2-5 years, while canned tomatoes will be usually 12-18 months. [2] [3]

A bowl of dried fruits

Dried fruits can give you a delicious and quick burst of eneregy. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Canned/Dried Meats & Fish

There are two reasons to stock canned meats and fishes, to ensure enough proteins and to provide a delicious meal. Canned fishes like sardines and tuna are easily available. You can use them in sandwiches, pasta, stews, and casseroles. Canned meats and poultry can be used in a similar manner. The shelf-life of canned meats and fishes can be up to 5 years. Vacuum packed meats and fishes have a smaller shelf life, but can be equally handy.

Dried meats and fishes have an even longer shelf life. Some of these products may have to be hydrated before eating. You can add them to stews, pasta, and soups. The best part is the variety available today which goes far beyond the usual jerky. There are a number of dry-cured sausages and hams you can choose from.

Canned/Dried Beans

Beans like pinto, chickpeas, kidney, and black beans are full of nutrition, high in fiber and folate. Canned beans can be quickly added to pasta and stews for a filling meal. They can also help in reducing risk for chronic conditions like heart disease. With a shelf-life of 2-5 years, they can last long in the pantry. An economic alternative is dried beans which if properly stored, can last 2-3 years. [4]

Protein and Granola Bars

What comes conveniently wrapped up in a compact package and gives you a boost of energy with just one bite? Protein and granola bars are an easy way of getting a quick shot of pep and life. Backpackers often pack protein and granola bars because they are easy to carry and give them a quick and easy source of energy. You can also make them at home for better control of the sugar content. The shelf life of commercially available protein and granola bars is typically up to a year.

Dry Cereals

Dry cereals like brown rice, oats, and barley can be stored for months. An essential course of carbs, cereals offer us an essential source of energy and help to keep us full. They can be used for porridge, added in stews, or eaten by themselves. Buy individually packaged bags to prolong freshness. The shelf-life will depend on the type of cereal. According to the USDA rice and dried pasta has a shelf-life of 2 years. But read the label to know the expiration date and storage conditions. [5]

Whole Wheat Crackers

Wholewheat crackers are a very handy source of energy and can quickly make a meal. Their shelf-life is shorter than the plain version, but the extra fiber in the wholewheat can help you feel full for longer. For a quick snack, eat the crackers by themselves or with nut butter. You can also make them into a sandwich for a more substantial meal. We’ll recommend a family pack that gives you better value for your money. The shelf-life of wholewheat crackers is typically up to 6 months.

Nut Butters

Nut butters are nutrient-dense and delicious. Today you have many options available that go beyond peanut butter. Among the butters you can choose are almond, cashew, hazelnut, walnut, brazil nut, and pistachio. Nut butters are very easy to make at home. But their shelf-life is about a few weeks and they must be refrigerated. Commercially available butters can last longer and do not need refrigeration. Keep in mind that even if the label says you can store the butter for up to 2 years, nut butters have a tendency to go rancid if stored for too long. Once opened, you should finish it in 2-3 months. You can use these as a spread or stir them into your sauces, stews, and oatmeal.

Different kinds of homemade nut butter on a wooden table

Nut butter with wholewheat crackers makes a quick and flavorful snack. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nuts And Trail Mixes

Unlike dried fruits like apples and berries, we are talking of nuts like almonds and walnuts. These can last for months. Nuts are also high energy food, full of healthy fats. An article published in Nutrition Journal revealed that the addition of nuts and dried fruits to a normal diet can not only improve one’s nutritional status but also reduce the risks of developing chronic diseases. [6] [7]

With nuts, dried fruits, and granola, trail mixes are another option that is good for snacking. Some also contain chocolates to make things interesting! Like protein bars, trail mixes are favored by campers and hitchhikers for their quick snacking and energy-boosting qualities. Nuts and trail mixes can last for six months when stored in airtight jars in a dry, cold place.

Canned Soups and Sauces

For a quick meal that is also delicious, canned soups and sauces are very handy. If you have pasta, you can make a comfortable meal with a can of pasta sauce. Similarly, canned soups can simply be heated and eaten for a quick meal. Luckily there are many flavors of canned soups that you can choose from. This includes tomato basil, butternut squash, chicken noodle, country vegetables and more. The expiration date for canned soups and sauces can range from 1 to 5 years.

Shelf-Stable Milk Or Milk Powder

Milk will spoil in a few hours if kept without refrigeration. Shelf-stable or aseptic milk can stay in your pantry for 6 months but must be refrigerated once opened. The longevity of the milk comes from pasteurizing it at ultra-high temperatures, which is followed by sterile packaging in a carefully controlled sterile environment. Non-dairy milks are also available in shelf-stable packaging.

The next best alternative is milk powder. You can make yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, cheese, and anything else you may like with powdered milk, as the book 101 Things to do with Powdered Milk shows us. Powdered milk also has a very long shelf life and can last up to 10 years. [8]

Food for infants

If you have a baby in the family, it is imperative that you stock up on infant milk powder and baby food. It is important to stock food that is certified as baby food as these are packaged in a carefully controlled environment. When stocking for an infant, it is wise to store more than you need, since your baby cannot eat any other food.


Since your food supply is limited and likely to be lacking in essential nutrients, it is highly recommended that you also store multivitamins. For its shelf-life, read the label.

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About the Author

Paromita Datta covers the latest health and wellness trends for Organic Facts. An ex-journalist who specialized in health and entertainment news, Paromita was responsible for managing a health supplement for The New Indian Express, a leading national daily in India. She has completed her post-graduation in Business Administration from the University of Rajasthan and her diploma in journalism from YMCA, Delhi. She has completed an e-course, Introduction to Food and Health, from Stanford University, US.

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