Best Canned Food For Survival and Prepping (With List)

Do you want to prepare for disasters and ensure that you have enough food on hand to survive?

You are smart and think ahead so you won’t have to resort to eating dog food, randsts, or any of the numerous other things people have eaten to avert death by starvation.

The most obvious choice of emergency survival food is canned food.

Canned foods are cheap, readily available in supermarkets, and last a long time without special storage needs.

But canned foods also aren’t perfect for emergency preparedness. Here’s what you need to keep in mind about canned foods when stockpiling for disasters.

1. You’ll Need to Stockpile Trash Bags Too

Trash bags are something that everyone should have lots of in with their emergency supplies, along with these non-food items to stockpile. You can do a lot with those trash bags, such as sealing off a broken window or making an emergency bucket toilet.

As far as canned emergency food goes, you’ll need trash bags to dispose of the waste.

Imagine how stinky it would get after just a few days of leaving empty cans out. The dirty cans would start to grow bacteria and attract rats, cockroaches, and other pests.

In a longer-term disaster, it could be disgusting! So make sure you have a way to dispose of all those cans of emergency food.

2. You Still Need to Rotate Canned Food

I wrote an entire article on canned food expiration dates and how in most cases, the expiration date is entirely irrelevant.

Most canned foods will be safe to eat years after they go bad.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the expiration dates. Some foods do go bad faster in cans. For example, acidic foods like canned fruits spoil much faster than foods with less acidity, such as canned meats and veggies.

To play it safe, devise a can-rotating system.

3. Don’t Put Canned Food on the Basement Floor

Most emergency foods should NOT go in the basement because they are too susceptible to humidity and pests. Unless your house gets to freezing levels, it should be fine to store canned foods in the basement.

Just be warned that you shouldn’t put the cans on the basement floor.

The temperature of the slab floor will be different than the air temperature. This temperature difference can cause humidity buildup in the can and make the canned foods go bad. Put them on a shelf instead.

4. And Be Cautious When Storing Them in Your Garage

The garage is the worst place to store emergency food (Read: Where to Store Your Emergency Food to find out why).

However, many people have no choice but to store their food in the garage because of space constraints.

Like with the basement, don’t keep the canned foods on the floor. However, there are more issues with canned survival food in the garage than this.

Garages are prone to temperature extremes.

If the garage gets too hot, the canned food may spoil.

If the garage gets too cold, the canned food may freeze.

Frozen canned foods can probably be thawed and eaten safely BUT ONLY IF THE SEAMS ARE STILL INTACT. If the can has burst open, you need to throw out the food (Source). Read what happens if you freeze canned foods.

5. Canned Food Isn’t Enough for Disaster Preparedness

Canned food falls into the “nonperishables” group of survival foods, but having nonperishables isn’t enough to get you through a disaster!

What if you have to flee your home? How will you carry a bunch of heavy cans of food with you?

So, make sure you have all of the types of survival food stockpiled, including:

6. Know the Risk of Botulism

Botulism is caused by an odorless, tasteless bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It used to be a significant problem before food canning standards increased. It usually isn’t a problem today. However, it is still possible for the botulism toxin to get into canned foods — especially if the canned foods get damaged (earthquake, anyone?).

If a can is bulging at the sides or top, the contents explode when you open it, or there are bubbles inside the liquid of the can, DO NOT EAT IT.

Read more about the signs of botulism in canned food.

7. Variety Is Key!

Have you ever heard of appetite fatigue? It is what happens when you eat the same foods over and over again. You get so bored with the foods that you lose interest in eating and can lose weight – not something you want to happen during an emergency!

So, while it may seem like a good idea to stockpile 100 cans of chunky tomato soup like Ted Cruz, you should diversify your selection.

Pretty much every type of food comes in a can. Consider going to ethnic grocery stores and seeing what canned foods they have.

I’ve got some yummy cans of salsa, water chestnuts, lychee, hummus, coconut milk, and a bunch more “weird” foods besides the common canned foods.

Best Canned Survival Food To Buy

Canned Meats and Other Proteins

  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Sausages
  • Beef
  • Ham
  • Turkey
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas

Canned Vegetables

  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Potatoes

Canned Fruits

  • Tomatoes
  • Peaches
  • Pineapples
  • Pears
  • Cherries

Canned Meals

  • Soups
  • Chili
  • Spaghetti-Os
  • Ravioli
  • Beans and rice

Other Canned Foods

  • Condensed milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Pate and spreads
  • Gravy
  • Pudding
  • Bread

Oh, and don’t forget to stockpile a few extra manual can openers or learn how to open a can without a can opener!


Are you stockpiling canned foods for emergencies? Let us know any tips you have in the comments section.  

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Leave a comment

  1. Bayleaves are your best friend! I store a few leaves in everything dry, flour, bread flour, porridge, ECT – even pet food. Just make sure it gets removed from your food before use, especially dried pet food. It keeps the weasels away indefinitely. I have experimented with all sorts of dried food, kept my flour for over six months in a tight fitting sealed container.

  2. What about extreme hot summers as in Az. We can get in the 120’s sometimes and I’m wondering about the canned foods. We store in shed but on shelves.

    • I live in AZ too and have had food storage for many years. Storing canned foods or any food in a shed that is not cooled is a bad idea. It will not be edible nearly as long as food stored inside where it is cooler. There are many places you can stash canned food in the house. Under the bed storage bins or flat boxes work well. They can be used under the beds, couches, cribs, etc. I’ve heard that food should not be stored against an outside wall of the house, especially if the sun hits the wall. Bathrooms and laundry rooms are not the best places to store food either, because of humidity and temperature fluctuations. We made the mistake of storing diet soda on the back patio, which was always shaded. It didn’t last very long at all and had to be dumped, which was a waste of money for sure. My daughter laughs at some of the places in the house I have food stored, but at least I know it will stay good for a long time.

  3. We had a large walk in pantry which we converted from standard shelves to a system where the newest cans were put in the top and the. cans rolled to the bottom so we had constant rotation. Also, flour, grains, rice and oats were stored in cans where weevils could not survive. We had a larger, locked shed where the larger storage boxes were kept. As we used a can ,
    the label was removed stuck on a nail so we knew exactly what needed to be replaced next shopping trip. AND, for the jerk who dared tell me they knew “where to shop” in an emergency, an over and under shotgun and a 22 hand gun. Yes, my kids came first for those of you who think that’s too harsh. I am now 81 years old and my children are all grown, but I encourage them to do the same.

  4. Don’t forget medical supplies. glow sticks. a tealight will heat an enclosed area. hydrogen peroxide. rubbing alcohol. elastic bands. safety pins. paper clips. baking soda

  5. Very good advice . I have a tip so I don”t waste food. If it gets close to the best before date, say two or three weeks. And I may not eat the food I give it to a food bank cos it won’t go to waste. Someone in need will make quicker use of it.

  6. Thank you for mentioning botulism in your article. I am interested in how to properly dispose of canned food that may have been contaminated by botulism or other toxins (bulging cans, leaking cans) in both normal and in emergency situations. Other types of food can also be contaminated (fats that go rancid, dried foods that ferment/mold, etc.) I would not want to inadvertently spread the contaminant to the other cans or walls or shelves in the pantry, the environment, soil, or ground water. Please provide instructions or a link to articles with good information on this subject. Please include how to tell different types of food are bad, and how to properly dispose of them. Thank you in advance for your help.

  7. Nice Article, other thoughts: preparing for special needs people. Example Gluten Intolerant, Dairy intolerant, Elderly family members, etc. I have a couple of months worth of plant based protein powder, which has a shelf life of 1 year. What about later? Any ideas?

    • For special dietary needs, it’s usually best to get dry foods (beans, powdered milk/ powdered dairy-free milk, rice, grains, etc.) and put them in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers for storage. Here’s a post about that.
      But planning is still key. You want to make sure you have the right number of servings of fruits/veggies/proteins/fats/grains/dairy per day. A lot of people make that mistake and then end up with a lot of rice and beans but not much else. In my book I have some spreadsheets and instructions about how to plan a food stockpile. Check it out here:

  8. I like the can rack above but didn’t see a name or where I could buy one. I wanted a Rotator rack, but the small ones don’t have very good reviews. I saw somewhere where to buy tall Rotator racks for cans of all kinds. Between food in our RV, garage and house, I’m always getting stuff mixed up, so eating newest first, instead of oldest first, so need a better system, like all on one big rack in garage and go get what I need in correct order. Thanks for all your help in all areas.

      • Or plain racks with risers on the back legs to tilt it slightly forward, and a strip of plastic taped across the front of each shelf to keep cans from rolling off.

    • Kay, I take a marker and write the expiration date on the label in several places and also on the top and bottom of cans, and cartons … even the gravy and/or sauce envelopes. You can see the date distinctly instead of the tiny, tiny red lettering that the manufacturer put on them. It’s kept me rotating my stored food easily.

    • I write a date on my cans too. But.. I change the marker color every year for the next 5 years. Blue, green, orange etc. They are easier to spot. My food is in the laundry room. I pull out any food that expires this month or does soon and keep just that food in my kitchen pantry to grab first. My husband will be building me rotating can wood storage containers that will be screwed to the wall and I will be using a rolling 12inch deep metal rack to go in front of the can storage. I can easily move it out of the way when needed.

  9. One problem with canned food has only been touched here- temperature. There is more to it than hot or cold. Ravioli handles freezing ok. Corned beef hash handles is very well. Canned meat of any type (that I have used) handles it very well. Vegetables, those do not handle it very well. After green beans or sweet peas thaw out, they are mush and to the point of unpalatable. I learned this the hard way. In spring summer and fall the canned veggies are great to have due to cost and quality. But it behooves you to buy the freeze dried veggies in #10 cans if you question the temperature. Expensive, yeah. But it’s worth it in a crisis when you have no other resources. BTDT.

  10. Hello, thank you for all your helpful tips. We are prepping in our basement.
    I am concerned about air supply. What can we buy or do to help ourselves, if we are locked down for 2 weeks?
    Also, we are in Michigan. If we are forced to live in the basement, ideas for heat.?
    I have many questions 🙂 We are doing a good job prepping. Do you have a full list of supplies we should have that you could email me.?
    Also in a small basement, burning lampoil for light. Is that toxic?
    Sincerely, Patricia

    • Hi Patricia – sorry for the delay in getting back to you I wanted to check a few things first.

      Basement Heat:There are several safe options – this article gives a decent overview –
      Full list of supplies:Start here –
      Lampoil:Genuine, good quality lamp oil is safe to use indoors. DISCLAIMER – Always check the manufacturers instructions and use a Carbon Monoxide alarm for an extra level of safety
      Thanks for the great questions.

      • Just to add – if you want a downloadable list of supplies join the mailing list by clicking the Ultimate 27lb Disaster Survival kit link in right hand sidebar.

    • Patricia: We have been self-sufficient for 40 years & thrive on 4% pension. Lamp oil burning IS TOXIC as are candles. Far better are several wind-up lamps & wind-up radio combination. One amazing tiny unit only needs winding briefly once weekly. 3 layers of cardboard on floor important to insulate. If you get some daily sun, charge up say 6 garden solar lamps daily that all have built-in switches. Bring them inside at sunset & have say 2 on at any one time until its battery is flat. then use 2 others.
      Much FRUIT & VEGES survive well without cans, fridge, salt, ice, etc like: Pumpkin – eggs – citrus – any fruit after cutting or whole stored in water even berries – apples – mushrooms – coconut – varieties of greens that you also grow- potatoes – root vegies- etc. For 25 years we have a set of vacuum containers that when evacuated with its hand pump preserves all food for ages. l had a delicious sausage thus preserved at room temp after months. Think of more yourself!

    • I am just staring out with this and I know nothing I am 75 years old and this is the first time I have even thought of this and I belive that this will help me alot I canning.
      Thank you

      • I’m elderly as well. I divided my stocks into 3 time elements. First is my short term working pantry (fridge, freezer and non-perishables that need to be used within 6 months. Next are non-perishables that are good for up to 5 years (cans and vacuum sealed grains/frozen meat). Finally is my long term storage of 5 to 30 years (This includes food vacuum sealed in mylar bags and in no 10 cans). If you’re on a small income I recommend you look to food banks, churches and charities first, then puchase a little each trip to the store. Good luck!


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