Topic Overview

Having a supply of food and water can be helpful in any kind of
extended emergency, whether it is a national security emergency or a natural
disaster. If you are unable to leave your home, if the local water supply
becomes contaminated, or if access to food and water is limited or unavailable,
emergency supplies may be able to sustain you and your family until the
emergency has passed.

The question of how long you should plan for your supplies to last
does not have an easy answer. It is impractical for most people to store and
maintain large reserves of food and water, and it is unlikely that you will
ever need them. Having a short-term supply, however, may make sense. The
American Red Cross and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration
(FEMA) recommend that you have enough food and water to last from several days
up to 2 weeks.

Water is the most important part of any emergency supplies kit. You
can exist on very little food for a long time, but after a short time without
adequate water, your body will not be able to function. Most people need about
2 quarts per day. Including the water needed for hygiene and cooking as well as
drinking, a reasonable guideline is to store one gallon of water per person per
day. So, a family of 4 who wanted to keep a 1-week supply of water on hand
would need to store 28 gallons (1 gallon per day per person, times 4 people,
times 7 days). A 3-day supply for 4 people would be 12 gallons.

Remember that water and most food supplies-even some
“nonperishables”-have to be replaced periodically.

  • Replace bottled water that has remained sealed
    and unopened once a year.
  • Replace water that you filled yourself
    or bottled water that has been opened every 6 months.
  • Visit the website of the Red Cross at for information on how often to
    replace food supplies. Some may need to be replaced every few months, while
    others may remain safe to eat for much longer.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP – Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology

Current as ofMay 7, 2017