Here’s what you need to know.

You’ve probably heard people talk about how non-perishable foods are necessary in case of a natural disaster or, more recently, a public health emergency that requires self-quarantine (like the coronavirus). But what exactly are non-perishable foods—and how do you know if you’re prepared with the right ones?

When Would You Need Non-Perishable Foods?

Pantry Getty 3/17/20
Credit: Irina Tiumentseva/Getty Images

Irina Tiumentseva/Getty Images

A well-stocked supply of non-perishable foods is necessary during and after power outages. When your refrigerator stops working, perishable foods (like raw meat and eggs) start spoiling immediately. Consuming these goods after they’ve spoiled can make you extremely sick.

Non-perishable foods are also important if you can’t leave your house for an extended period of time. Medical issues or disabilities might make it difficult to go to the grocery store, or a natural disaster or public health crisis might make quarantine unavoidable.

Perishable vs. Semi-Perishable vs. Non-Perishable

Fridge Getty 3/17/20
Credit: Karen Moskowitz/Getty Images

Karen Moskowitz/Getty Images

Foods’ shelf lives can be divided into three categories: perishable, semi-perishable, and non-perishable. Here’s how to tell the difference:

  • Perishable: Spoil quickly and should be refrigerated ASAP. Cooked foods (leftovers) are perishable. Other perishable foods are meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs and many raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Semi-Perishable: Take longer to spoil and may or may not need immediate refrigeration. Semi-perishable foods include onions and potatoes.
  • Non-Perishable: Will last for a while if stored properly, though they may lose quality over time. Examples of non-perishable foods you may have in your pantry are dried beans, canned soups, and spices.

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Non-Perishable Foods List

  • Dried and canned beans
  • Dried rice
  • Dried and canned fruits and veggies
  • Canned soup
  • Canned meat and fish
  • Pasta
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Cereal
  • Oatmeal
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried milk
  • Crackers
  • Boxed juices

Emergency Situation Grocery List

Can Opener Getty 3/17/20
Credit: CatLane/Getty Images

CatLane/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security recommends keeping at least a three-day supply of non-perishable foods on hand in case of a worst-case scenario.

  • Bottled water
  • Ready-to-eat canned goods (fruits, veggies, tuna, etc.)
  • Dried fruits and meats
  • Protein bars or fruit bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Boxed or canned juice
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Food for infants
  • Non-perishable/pasteurized milk
  • Comfort/stress foods


  • Make sure you have a working can opener.
  • To conserve water, avoid foods that will make you thirsty (like potato chips).
  • When preparing your emergency situation food supply, consider how many people you’ll need to feed. Will you be by yourself? Or will you need to care for a family of four?
  • Choose foods your family doesn’t hate. Canned tuna is no good if your 3-year-old refuses to eat it.
  • If a can is dented or swollen, throw it out—even if its contents look safe to eat.
  • What if the can looks OK, but the food inside smells or tastes weird? When in doubt, throw it out.
  • In the days leading up to an expected natural disaster or an event where lots of people will need to be quarantined, don’t go crazy in the canned goods aisle. Buy what you need, but don’t take so much that other people are left without food.