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Three-Day Emergency Supply of Shelf-Stable Food for One Person   arrow

Developed by the Front Range Healthy Lifestyles Issues Team
Colorado State University Extension

An unexpected blizzard, tornado, flood or power outage can create food-safety and supply problems. In order to be prepared for such emergencies, experts advise keeping a three-day supply of food and water on hand.

What does a three-day emergency food supply look like? What should you consider and where do you start?

As you prepare your three-day food supply, keep the following in mind:

  • Store food you like and normally eat.
  • Rotate and use food and water every 6 to 12 months.
  • Consider small can sizes that provide just the number of servings you will consume at one time. If your power is off, refrigerating leftovers is not an option.
  • Keep a manual can opener, and eating utensils on hand.
  • If you don’t have an alternative way to boil water, do not include instant foods*.
  • Store foods packaged in cardboard boxes, thin plastic, or paper in a metal, glass or rigid plastic container to avoid insect and rodent damage.
  • Choose shelf-stable foods that do not require a refrigerator or freezer for storage. Once opened or prepared, many foods no longer are shelf stable.

Shelf-stable foods you may want to include in your emergency food supply:

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta:
Dry bread sticks
Melba toast
Matzo bread
Chow Mein noodles
Ready to eat cereal
Granola Bars
Rice cakes
Hard Taco Shells
Commercially canned bread
*Instant cereal
Wasa bread
Popcorn cakes
*Instant rice
Canned fruit
Fruit leather
Canned or bottled fruit juice
Dried fruits (raisins, prunes, apricots, etc.)
Powdered juice drinks
Juice concentrates
Canned vegetables
Canned vegetable
Canned vegetable juice
*Instant vegetable soups
*Instant potatoes
*Sun dried tomatoes and other dried vegetables
Milk, Yogurt and Cheese and Other Calcium Foods:
Canned evaporated
Canned pudding
Canned sardines
Processed cheese
Snack cup pudding
Canned salmon and other fish canned with bones
Dry milk
Canned spinach
Boxed (shelf-stable) milk, rice milk or soy milk
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans and Nuts:
Canned tuna
Canned soup
   with meat
Canned chili
   (meat or bean)
Peanut butter
Textured vegetable
   (soy protein)
Canned Chow Mein with meat
Canned meat
Canned beans
Canned ravioli/spaghetti
Shelf stable tofu (silken)
Vienna sausage
Canned ham/pork
Canned stew
*Instant refried beans
*Instant soup (bean or meat)
Commercially prepared turkey or beef jerky


Plan to have on hand one gallon of water per day, per person, for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene.

Three-Day Emergency Food Supply for One Adult:

Based on the Food Guide Pyramid, a basic three-day emergency food supply for one person should contain:

  • 18-33 servings of food from the Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Group (daily recommendation is 6-11 servings)
  • 6-12 servings from the Fruit Group (daily recommendation is 2-4 servings)
  • 9-15 servings from the Vegetable Group (daily recommendation is 3-5 servings)
  • 6-9 servings from the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts Group (daily recommendation is 2-3 servings)
  • 6-9 servings from the Milk, Yogurt and Cheese and other Calcium Group (daily recommendation is 2-3 servings)

The amount of food you need depends on your age, gender, physical condition and activity level.


The following is an example to give you an idea of what a three-day supply of shelf-stable food may look like. It is based on the Food Guide Pyramid. This example may contain foods you like and then again it may not. To plan a three-day supply that is ideal for you and your household members, plan a menu that includes foods you like. Use the menu you develop to help decide what foods you may want to store.

Bread, Cereal, Rice, & Pasta Group
Quantity Item Servings Cost
2 single serving packages ready to eat cereal 2 1.04
1 single serving package instant oat cereal* 1 1.19
1 9 oz. box wheat crackers 8 1.69
1 3.6 oz. bag popped corn mini cakes 7 1.99
2 1.5 oz. granola bars 2 1.00
# Servings 20 $6.91
Fruit Group
Quantity Item Servings Cost
1 6 oz. can orange juice 1 .45
2 4 oz. can mixed fruit 2 1.12
1 .75 oz fruit roll 1 .34
2 1.5 oz. boxes raisins 2 .56
2 8.45 oz. box apple juice 2 .92
2 4 oz. cups apple sauce 2 .76
# Servings 10 $4.15
Vegetable Group
Quantity Item Servings Cost
1 11.5 oz. can vegetable juice 2 .65
1 1.5 oz. cup instant mashed potatoes* 1 1.19
1 8.5 oz. can mixed vegetables 2 .53
1 9 oz. can yams 1.5 .95
1 8 oz. can green beans 2 .52
1 8 oz. can stewed tomatoes 2 .69
# Servings 10.5 $4.53
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, & Nuts Group
Quantity Item Servings Cost
1 10 oz. shelf stable meal (pot roast) 1 2.39
1 3 oz. can chicken 1 1.40
1 3.25 oz. can tuna 1 1.06
1 2.29 oz. cup spilt pea instant soup* 1 1.55
1 12 oz. jar peanut butter 5 1.79
# Servings 9 $8.19
Milk, Yogurt & Cheese and Other Calcium Foods Group
Quantity Item Servings Cost
1 32 oz. box of enriched soy milk 4 1.79
1 8.75 oz. box shelf-stable processed cheese 3 3.99
1 5 oz. can evaporated milk 2 .49
# Servings 9 $6.27
Other Group
Quantity Item Servings Cost
1 bag hard candy & chocolate Varies $1.84
3 gallons boiled water   3.00
Total Cost $34.89

Cost per person is lower when there are two or more in the household. This is due to small, single-serving size containers of food, which are more expensive per serving than containers with two or more servings.

Once assembled, your emergency food supply can be stored in a cupboard or closet, under a bed or desk, in the basement, or in a heated garage. Canned foods should not be stored where they could freeze. If frozen, cans are often damaged, causing food spoilage. Remember to store the food supply where it will be safe from insects, rodents and possible flooding.

For further information, see the following fact sheets:

This information is provided to you by your local Extension Office:
Front Range Healthy Lifestyles Issues Team, Colorado State University Extension. 4/19/1999.
Prices calculated March 1999.