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Don’t Buy Canned Survival Food Until You Read This!

Last Updated: July 29, 2020

So, you want to get prepared for disasters and make sure 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, rats, 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, they are readily available in supermarkets, and they last a long time without any 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. There is a lot you can do 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 would attract rats, cockroaches, and other pests.

In a longer-term disaster, it could be really 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 date and how in most cases the expiration date is completely 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 really do go bad faster in cans. For example, acidic foods like canned fruits will 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 types of emergency foods should NOT go in the basement because they are too susceptible to humidity and pests.  Unless you house gets to freezing levels though, 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 your emergency food (Read: Where to Store Your Emergency Food to find out why).

However, a lot of people have no other 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 then 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, then you need to throw out the food (Source).

5. Canned Food Isn’t Enough for Disaster Preparedness

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

What if you have to flee your home?  How the hell are you going to 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 major 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 got 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.

7. Variety Is Key!

Ever heard of appetite fatigue?  It 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 situation!

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 in addition to the standard canned foods.

Here are some ideas for 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.  Or join us in our Facebook group for more emergency prepping talk and tips.


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Leave a comment

  1. 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.

      • 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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. https://www.primalsurvivor.net/mylar-bags-food-storage/
      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: https://amzn.to/38ODhOF

  5. 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.

  6. 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.


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