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Emergency Food and Water Supplies - 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.

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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.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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