The Food Lifeboat – Scientists Views on Food Storage for Emergencies

The Food Lifeboat

A reader (thanks Alan) sent us the following research from 2009 by scientists at Sydney University.

So as he said it’s not some “nut job” who wrote. Which is probably what most people think anyone stockpiling some food is! But of course this is merely being prepared for the unexpected and is infinitely sensible.

The research gives some very straight forward analysis of the types of food needed to cover basic energy requirements in the case of a protracted emergency. Along with their costs (which are probably a bit out of date now but still give a rough idea). Helpfully since it is Australian, the food types they list are recognisable to the “average” Kiwi family as well. Of course you could swap out  similar foods for your family’s particular tastes or preferences.

It covers food rotation and pantry preparation and basic equipment you should have on hand.

Of course if you don’t want to think too much about rotation you can always add some long life food from our shop for peace of mind as well.

Here is the article from the researchers:

The Food “Lifeboat”: food and nutrition considerations in the event of a pandemic or other catastrophe

Large catastrophes have caused the collapse of empires and civilizations . Science and knowledge may help prevent some catastrophes, but urbanisation and narrowly concentrated food supplies, climate change and terrorism contribute to considerable risk. Viruses such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and influenza A/(H5N1) or “bird flu” are among the most immediately identifiable risks. In the event of a highly lethal pandemic, emergency measures such as closing schools, staying home with family and friends, avoiding contact with other people (until all have been immunized) will be instrumental in avoiding infection. Individuals in essential services or occupations may be required to reside at their workplace for the whole period of the crisis. To achieve this type of isolation, sufficient food must be available, and ways to distribute the food must be planned.

But which foods and in what quantities? It is logical that they should be staples and well accepted, easy to store, packed where possible in an inert gas for a longer shelf life and not dependent on refrigeration. Importantly, they will be nutrient dense providing the recommended macro- and micronutrients for all members of the family. Ideally, they can be eaten without cooking in case gas and electricity fail. Cost, volume and storage space are further considerations.


In Table 1 we provide an example of a food list providing 9 MJ per day for 10 weeks for one person that covers all known nutrient needs. This example was generated using the nutrient analysis software Foodworks® (5), which is based on the composition of Australian foods and commonly used by Australian dietitians. The recommended daily intake of specific macronutrients and micronutrients for adults and children is published by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Together, these two sources make it possible to compose diets with the appropriate quantity of nutrients. As the majority of the population has no access to detailed nutrient data, we have developed these examples to demonstrate what is needed and typical of what might be acceptable. We acknowledge that such food lists are culturally and ethnic-specific and that other food combinations are possible.

Table 1

An example of a food list providing 9 MJ per day. Daily food ration and purchase list for 10 weeks for one person is shown. The food covers all nutrient needs.

Food g/day kg/person/10 weeks
Milk powder, NS fat, dry* 65 4.6
Weet-Bix (regular) (Breakfast cereal) 30 2.1
Pasta, regular, dry 20 1.4
Instant noodles 20 1.4
Rice 25 1.8
Dehydrated potato flakes 15 1.1
Tortilla 10 0.7
Biscuit, savoury 15 1.1
Biscuit, wholemeal 20 1.4
Oil, canola 20 1.4
Powdered soup 20 1.4
Sweet chilli sauce 10 0.7
Tomato concentrate 10 0.7
Tuna, canned 60 4.2
Spam, regular 40 2.8
Lentils, dry 20 1.4
Peas, green canned 20 1.4
Three beans mix 50 3.5
Baked beans, canned in tomato sauce 20 1.4
Corn, canned 50 3.5
Sun-dried tomatoes 20 1.4
Milo (Beverage base) 10 0.7
Seaweed, dried 10 0.7
Raisins 30 2.1
Honey 10 0.7
Almonds 20 1.4
Apricots, dried, raw 20 1.4
Juice, carrot 50 3.5
Juice, orange 50 3.5
Vegemite (Yeast extract) 2 0.1
Chocolate 30 2.1

Total daily ration gives 9.0 MJ, providing 80 g protein, 80% of total energy intake is coming from saturated fat, and 31% of the fat intake is saturated fat), 18 g polyunsaturated fat (22% of the fat intake), 35 g monounsaturated fat (47% of the fat intake). The cholesterol intake is 101 mg per day. Percent of energy from protein, fat and carbohydrate: 16 E% protein, 34 E% fat, 50 E% carbohydrates. Recommended intake of all nutrients is covered for women and men, except for folate intake which is not covered for women of childbearing age, therefore they may consider a folate supplement. *In case of lactose intolerance, the intake of dry milk powder may be reduced and replaced by soy protein powder. Alternatively, the milk may be fermented and used in form of sour milk.

The cost of this diet for 10 weeks for one person is about $500. The most expensive items are: Milk powder, Weet-Bix, spam, chocolate.

Table 2

Example of a list of simple dry foods that will cover basic energy needs (9 MJ per day), and most nutrients except vitamin C and vitamin A. Daily food ration and purchase list for 10 weeks for one person is shown. The food items could be packed in airtight packages filled with inert gas of a few kilos per package, and stored in food stores throughout the country. In addition multivitamin tablets have to be provided.

Food g/day kg/person/10 weeks
Wheat flour, wholemeal plain 150 10.5
Oats, raw 100 7.0
Oil, Canola 25 1.8
Milk powder, dry* 65 4.6
Lentils, dry 30 2.1
Peas, split, green/yellow, dry 40 2.8
Noodles, dry 50 3.5
Vegemite (yeast extract) 2 0.1
Fruit, mixed, dried 35 2.5
Almonds, raw 40 2.8
Multivitamin/mineral supplement One tablet One box

This example gives 9 MJ per day, with 80 g protein and 76 g fat, thereof 14 g saturated fat (6 % of the energy intake comes from saturated fat and 20% of the fat intake is saturated fat), 18 g polyunsaturated fat (26% of the fat is polyunsaturated fat) and 39 g monounsaturated fat (54% of the fat is monounsaturated fat). The daily cholesterol intake is 43 mg. Percent of energy from protein, fat and carbohydrate: 16 E% protein, 32 E% fat, 52 E% carbohydrates. Recommended intake of nutrients is covered for women and men, except for vitamin C and vitamin A, and these would have to be given as supplements and for women at childbearing age the intake of folate and iron is lower than recommended.

*In case of lactose intolerance, the intake of dry milk powder may be reduced and replaced by soy protein powder. Alternatively, the milk may be fermented and used in fermented, sour form.

In addition, about 2 litres of water per day per person would be required.
This diet costs about 250 $ for one person for 10 weeks. The most expensive items are: dry milk powder and noodles.

Preparing Your Pantry and Meals Overview

The food items listed provide sufficient nutrition for the body’s needs. This does not mean you are limited to the suggested foods; however substitutions can impact on the nutrients provided by the diet.

Pantry Maintenance

It is important when foods are stored for use later in the week, month or year that the use by date is evident and that older supplies are used first. It is recommended that 10 weeks supply of food items is necessary to be stored in the pantry, freezer and refrigerator. Practicality recommends that freezer and refrigerator items should be kept to the minimum. Start by ascertaining the meals /foods that you and your family prefer eating and whether they can replace some of the items on the food lists with nutritional security. Identify the foods on our list that do not routinely appear in your meals or snacks and begin trying new recipes so you have a series of meals and snacks that your family will eat if necessary. Each week buy a few additional foods for the pantry with a good date life eg some pasta have 2-3 years shelf life. Do not stockpile foods in a separate place allowing them to go out of date. Make them part of your normal pantry and replace when used. When purchasing foods, consider the size of the packaging. Some foods deteriorate quickly once opened and for these, buy the packaging size sufficient for one meal only.

Meal Preparation

Review your regular family recipes. Water and power supplies may be disrupted during an outbreak of pandemic flu and this will influence meal preparation. Because of this the meals that can be prepared with minimal implements and equipment are ideal ie one pot cookery. Make a file of these recipes. Another member of the family may need to prepare the meals if you are unwell. It is important that we do drink water everyday and not waste supplies for the washing and cleaning of excessive pots nor wasting cooking water. Rice should be cooked using the absorption method and the water left over from cooking pasta should be reused in soups and casseroles, wherever possible. Consider a supply of paper plates should water for dishwashing becomes limited.

Essential Kitchen Equipment

2 can openers
Glass measuring jug
Metal stirring / serving spoon
Plastic, non porous chopping / preparation board Large Mixing Bowl
Saucepan with tight fitting lid
Aluminium Foil Cling Wrap

Authors: Anna Haug*, Jennie Brand-Miller**,Olav Albert Christophersen***, Jennifer McArthur**, Flavia Fayet**, Stewart Truswell**

*Visiting scholar at the University of Sydney from Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 1432 Aas, Norway

**The University of Sydney, NSW 2006 Australia

***Ragnhild Schibbyes vei 26, Oslo, Norway website: Scott Dickinson


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