Food is your body's fuel, the substance that keeps your nerves firing, your heart pumping, and your muscles contracting. Just like you wouldn't try to drive your car without gas, or light a fire without logs, you should never overlook this critical survival resource.

That said, there's much more to consider than simply having enough food for a disaster. You can try to live off hot pockets and pop-tarts for weeks after a natural disaster wipes out the power grid, but it's not going to go well. What you really need is survival food that is both shelf-stable (i.e. food that can last for years without refrigeration) and also nutritious.

Survival food rice

With that in mind, we have created a list of items you might consider stocking in your home pantry. These items can be used on an everyday basis, stowed in a vehicle, or even buried in an underground supply cache. As long as they're kept cool, dry, and sealed, they can last for months or years. When placed inside a sealed container with an oxygen absorber, some of these food varieties can even last for decades.

However, before we get into our 8 varieties of survival food, let's talk about flavor.

Kitchen Staples, Spices, and Herbs

Survival food spices

All of us have tasted food that's devoid of salt and seasoning. It's completely bland, and although it may fill your stomach, it's certainly not going to be enjoyable. When you're already living through a difficult survival situation one day at a time, chewing on boring tasteless food can be a real kick in the gut.

On the other hand, spices and seasonings can make even mediocre ingredients shine. Plain pasta with a little salt, powdered garlic, and dried basil can put a smile on your face. Simple beans and rice can easily be turned into a spicy Cajun dish with some cayenne, paprika, oregano and thyme. You get the idea—seasoning matters.

Black peppercorns

Whole black peppercorns will last almost indefinitely, while ground pepper will lose some potency after a few years.

Fortunately, most dry leaf herbs and ground spices are shelf-stable for 2 to 4 years in your pantry. Other items—like salt, pure honey, and vinegar—never truly spoil and can last indefinitely.

Here's a quick rundown on some staple items to consider storing with your survival food:

  • Clean water (this one should be obvious)
  • Salt and pepper (preferably whole peppercorns, as they last longer)
  • Honey or maple syrup (both can last indefinitely)
  • Oil, such as virgin coconut oil (which has several health benefits and a 4+ year shelf life)
  • Flour, baking powder, baking soda
  • Spices: Garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder or flakes, cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, ginger, allspice
  • Herbs: Oregano, basil, thyme, bay leaves, dill, rosemary, sage, mint
  • Miscellaneous items: vinegar, cooking wine, bouillon cubes, flavor extracts (such as vanilla extract)

If you have the foundation above, the raw ingredients below can be combined into a variety of tasty dishes.

1. Rice

Survival food rice

Approximate cost: $0.50-0.75 per pound

Average shelf life: 2-3 years in pantry, over 10 years sealed with dry ice or oxygen absorbers

Varieties to consider: White rice of any variety, since it lasts much longer than brown rice. Brown rice can spoil in only 6-12 months due to higher fat content.

Nutrient content: Carbohydrates, fiber

Recipe ideas: Grilled rice ball snacks (onigiri), curry rice with canned chicken and rehydrated mango, Spam fried rice with canned veggies

2. Beans

Survival food beans

Approximate cost: $1-1.50 per pound

Average shelf life: 2-3 years in pantry, over 10 years sealed with dry ice or oxygen absorbers

Varieties to consider: Pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lima beans, lentils, and more

Nutrient content: Protein, carbohydrates and fiber

Recipe ideas: red beans and rice with Spam, chili, baked beans, cold bean salad

3. Canned Meats


Approximate cost: $2.50-6.00 per pound

Average shelf life: 2-5 years

Varieties to consider: Spam, tuna, salmon, crab, sausages, chicken, beef chili, and more

Nutrient content: Protein and fat

Recipe ideas: Canned chicken tacos with handmade cornmeal tortillas, tuna salad, Spam onigiri rice balls

4. Canned Vegetables

Survival food canned corn

Approximate cost: $1.50-3 per pound

Average shelf life: 2-3 years

Varieties to consider: Corn, peas, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, beets, spinach, mushrooms

Nutrient content: Carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins

Recipe ideas: Salads, side dishes, or eat straight out of the can

5. Canned Soup

Survival food canned soup

Approximate cost: $0.75-1.50 per pound

Average shelf life: 1-2 years

Varieties to consider: Tomato, chicken, beef, pasta, chowder, and more

Nutrient content: Varies

Recipe ideas: Just heat and eat

5. Dry Pasta

Survival food pasta

Approximate cost: $0.75-1.00 per pound

Average shelf life: 2-3 years

Varieties to consider: Any type of dry pasta

Nutrient content: Carbohydrates

Recipe ideas: Pasta with any combination of canned meat and veggies, cold pasta salad

6. Cornmeal

Survival food cornmeal

Approximate cost: $0.50 per lb

Average shelf life: 6 months-1 year in the pantry, up to 5 years sealed with dry ice or oxygen absorber

Varieties to consider: Degerminated cornmeal lasts longer than varieties with the germ intact, so look for the word “degerminated” on the package.

Nutrient content: Carbohydrates, vitamins

Recipe ideas: Corn tortillas, cornbread, biscuits

7. Dried Fruits

Survival food dried fruits

Approximate cost: $3.50-8.00 per pound

Average shelf life: 6-12 months in pantry, 2 years or more if refrigerated or frozen

Varieties to consider: Apricots, cranberries, cherries, raisins, pineapple, mango, kiwi, fruit leather strips, and more

Nutrient content: Sugar and fiber

Recipe ideas: Perfect for snacking as-is, or soak in water to re-hydrate and use in fried rice or baked goods

8. Dried or Cured Meats

Survival food cured salami

Approximate cost: $6.00-10.00 per pound

Average shelf life: 1-2 years for jerky, 3-6 months for hard unopened cured meats (like salami)

Nutrient content: Protein and fat

Recipe ideas: Chop and add to pasta or rice dishes, or eat as a snack

Bonus: Survival Food Treats

Survival food coffee

Commercially-packaged coffee beans can last up to 6 months, while freeze-dried instant coffee can last for decades.

Here are some morale-booster ingredients you might consider, all of which can be long-lasting and shelf-stable:

  • Hot sauce, soy sauce, and other condiments (those high in vinegar and salt content will last the longest)
  • Peanut butter or other nut butters
  • Powdered gelatin mix
  • Fruit jams and jellies
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Wax-coated, unopened hard cheeses
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Canned soft drinks
  • Alcohol (vodka is especially useful for its use as a cleaning agent and preservative)

By no means is this a comprehensive guide, but we hope it gets you thinking about what's in your pantry, how long it will last, and what you can use it for if SHTF. The survival food options are as endless as your creativity—bon appétit.

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