Emergency foods: what to stock in the pantry if you can not shop due to an emergency or due to self-isolation and quarantine.

Updated March 2020 in light of Coronavirus. Real shortages of basic and essential foods do happen after extreme weather events. With the Coronavirus (Covid 19) declared a pandemic, there is a chance that you or friends may need (or choose) to enter quarantine for a few weeks. There is also a possibility that regular distribution and supply chains break down due to staff downtime. For example, if power stations or powerlines go down and not enough staff are well enough to repair them, you may be temporarily without power.

There is no need to panic buy. A few strategic purchases will see you through a couple of weeks in isolation. Plan how much you need for two to three weeks.

1. Work out whether friends or family or delivery services are willing to drop deliveries at your door or front gate (whichever is better for isolation). If yes, you don't need to stock up too much.

2. If you want to be totally isolated or quarantined, buy long-life products that will take you through the few weeks you are safely tucked away at home. Do not be greedy. Do not over-buy. If everyone buys just enough, there will be enough to go around.

3. Do not go shopping if you or anyone in your household enters quarantine. If you are unprepared, order online and advise the delivery person to toot their horn or msg you when they arrive and to leave the order at the gate /door unattended. Do not greet them in person.

This article gives you information on what to buy to feed your family when fresh produce is not available. It explores emergency situations to due bad weather events, disruption to produce supplies and everyday living, and isolation or quarantine due to Coronavirus.

Having food is up there with shelter as a basic survival need. It is hard to hold back and not panic during extreme events such as cyclones, Coronavirus concerns, bushfires and floods. But holding pack is the best thing for everyone to do. That way, everyone can get something to eat.

Choice is already out the door for many communities and you may not even have the 'luxury' of getting shelf-stable foods. With the help of the list below, you'll have a better chance of getting a nourishing feed.

Food shortages put the role of food in our lives into perspective. We have a daily need for a good, old-fashioned safe food and energy supply. Communities in far-flung Qld, NT and WA experience these shortages all through the year due to extreme weather events. Those in poverty see it as well.

Now, with Coronavirus, many of us will mirror their experiences and respect the hardships that others endure, without choice, everyday.

This suggestion list is about practicalities, not pure nutrition.

If your house was untouched by previous extreme weather dramas and your pantry is safe, you might be surprised at what is buried in the depths of your personal supermarket that is your kitchen. You may have enough food already to last a couple of weeks! Get creative. Put together flavours, foods and combinations that don’t fit a recipe or ‘tradition’. Use up all of your own pantry contents before you go out and deplete supermarket shelves of food that others who have lost everything or have a more urgent need could use. Share your created foods with neighbours and friends who can’t cook at the moment, if safe to share.

During extreme weather events (like the drought we have been in) fresh produce is often hardest hit with crops of fruit, vegetables, wheat and other grains wiped out. The Coronavirus will also impact on supply chains and the production of fresh and manufactured foods if staff are off duty with the virus.

Power outages and power lines down also stop food manufacturers making fresh foods such as bread. Loss of power means food goes off in fridges and freezers. Butchers can't keep meat fresh and safe. Power loss also slows farmers down when milking their cows and hinders their ability to keep the milk fresh. If the power suppliers have downtime due to staff being off with Coronavirus, power outages might occur.

Weather events may damage roads, railway lines and airports, which could mean long delays and long detours for truck drivers to deliver food from interstate. Supply chains may fall apart due to staff shortages with the virus.

What this may mean for you is that, temporarily, only supplies of shelf-stable long-life foods will be available. Essentially emergency foods. Foods and drinks that are stored without refrigeration until opened.

If you and your family enter voluntary isolation or need to enter home quarantine for two to three weeks, will you have enough food to get you by?

What are some of your 'choices' when fresh produce is not available or when you need to go into temporary isolation or quarantine due to the Coronavirus (Covid 19)?

These suggestions include options should power outages or fresh food shortages occur.


  • Powdered milk. This is the best option if you have no power, ice or fridge. Only make up enough to suit your immediate needs. Mix 1 measure of powder with 3 measures of water to make milk. When you add powdered milk straight into tea and coffee you’ll find that the drink stays hotter for longer because your are not adding cold milk.
  • Evaporated milk. Once the can is opened it should be kept in the fridge or on ice and used within a couple of days. If power is out, it is best to reserve evaporated milk for times when lots of milk is needed, for example on breakfast cereal or for kids drinks. Mix equal parts water and evaporated milk to make milk or use it straight from the can.
  • Long-life UHT milk. Once the carton is open, the long shelf life is lost and you need to keep it in the fridge or on ice. Once open and in the fridge, the best-before date no longer applies. Use it up within 7 days of opening. Soy, rice, oat ‘milks’ may be the last UHT milks left on the shelves. Don’t be shy; give them a try and you may discover a flavour that works for you on cereal and in cooking.
  • Long-life custard. A delicious dessert served with canned fruit. You may not want to go back to the fridge version! Unless you like room temperature custard, you may want to heat this up if your stove is in action or you’ve got a camp stove. Once opened, the carton needs to be kept cold and used within 7 days or as directed on the carton.
  • Cheese. Cheese supplies seem to be steady but fresh cheese needs to be kept cold. If you have no fridge or supplies of fresh are short, look for long-life processed cheese (boxes, foil wrapped triangles, and cheese sticks) on the ordinary shelves.
  • Yoghurt powder. Learn how to make your own yoghurt with powdered mixes or from fresh yoghurt that you continuously use as a starter.
  • Condensed milk. This is sweetened concentrated milk. If you usually have sugar with milk in your drinks or on cereal, then this will suit your tastes. Once opened, the can needs to be put on ice and used within 5 days. The tubes seem to keep a bit better off ice but the manufacturer does not recommend this.


  • Canned vegetables. Most canned vegetables are already salted so don’t go adding extra salt. They only need reheating rather than cooking as they are pre-cooked. They can be eaten straight from the can without heating. The variety usually available is big and ranges from potatoes, corn, peas, asparagus and green beans to bamboo shoots, mushrooms, capsicum and beetroot. But you may not have much choice so buy what you can. Just remember not to overcook them or they’ll turn to mush.
  • Dehydrated vegetables. Bring on the powdered spuds, dehydrated peas and dried mushrooms! Look in the dried herb section for dried onion flakes, onion powder, garlic powder. chilies and dried green herbs (parsley, coriander, chives).
  • Long-life Indian/Asian meals. Look in the international food section at the supermarket to see if any long-life packet meals remain. Indian versions are often packed with spinach, legumes, and potatoes. Reheat in the bag in a pan of boiling water or microwave if you have power.
  • Long-life vegetable and tomato juices. With cans, cartons and plastic bottles to choose from, once opened, these need to be put on ice or in the fridge.
  • Long-life bottles sauces and preserves. Think tomato-based pasta sauces and Mexican tomato salsa, Italian influenced olives, chargrilled capsicum, mushrooms and artichoke, tomato concentrates – pastes and purees.
  • If power outages are not likely, buy frozen vegetables.
  • Uncut pumpkin, carrots and potatoes keep longer than leafy greens. Keep them in a cool darkened place.


  • Dried fruits. These last the distance even out of the fridge once opened. This is not the time to be choosy – buy what you can and you may find that your kids discover that they like a naturally sweet food.
  • Plastic pack and canned fruit. Once opened, these need to go on ice or in the fridge so plan to eat the lot or share it around if power is out.
  • Long-life fruit juice. If you have a choice get 100% pure but if there’s no choice, you’ve got a safe (uncontaminated) drinking source (due to extreme weather events) that may have some added vitamin C.
  • Frozen fruit is another good choice if there are no problems with power supplies


  • Canned legumes/lentils. Great to make Mexican feasts or eat as salad. Chickpeas, kidney beans, mixed beans, cannellini – the range remaining will vary but these are all pre-cooked so you can either eat them rinsed straight from the can or reheated in a meal. Baked beans make a good meal as do cans of chilli beans.
  • Eggs. Fantastic if you can get hold of them. If you have chickens, make sure you have enough grain to last a few weeks.
  • Dried beans and legumes. You need a lot more time, clean water and a cooking source to take advantage of dried beans and legumes but they go a long, long way if you have a hoard of hungry mouths to feed.
  • Canned fish and seafood. Salmon, sardines, tuna, prawns, crab, herrings … you might be surprised to see what is left on the shelves to experiment with. Combine with instant spuds and rehydrated onion and mushrooms for a great patty. Toss through pasta with tomato paste and UHT cream or evaporated milk.
  • Canned chicken is versatile but salty. Use as a sandwich filler, pizza topper or noodle-tosser.
  • Canned meats. These tend to be much saltier and fattier but sometimes there is no choice. They come in larger can sizes. Unless you have a lot of people to feed and can use the can up straight away, these need to be kept on ice or in the fridge once opened.
  • Nuts and seeds, and peanut paste/butter. An excellent option that keeps without refrigeration.
  • Tofu. long-life shelf stable versions may remain in the Asian section of the supermarket.
  • If power outages are not likely, buy fresh meats now. Divide into meal-sized packs to freeze raw for later use. Or pre-cook meals that will get you and your family through the 'feeling rough and unwell' days.


  • Breads. The supermarket shelves may be bare but some bakers may still be pumping out bread. If that’s not the case in your area, try these ideas.
  • Long-life packs of international bread. Scout the shelves to find packs of Indian naan and roti, Mexican wraps/tortilla, Italian pizza bases.
  • Crisp crackers and savoury biscuits. A convenient no-fridge option instead of bread.
  • Noodles, pasta and grains. Quinoa and cous cous takes minimal effort and time to prepare and serves as an easy base for meals, as are vermicelli rice noodles and soft noodles in long-life pouches. Rice paper wrappers are a kid-friendly and gluten-free substitute when bread is not available. If water safety is a concern (due to floods), then see if you can get pouches of pre-cooked rice that are easy to reheat – just be sure to wipe down the outside of the hot pouch before opening. Or use cartons of liquid stock/juice to re-hydrate cous cous and cook dry rice.
  • Breakfast cereals. If milk supply is a problem, try cereal topped with juice or canned fruits instead.
  • Porridge. Cook up old fashioned oats with water and powdered milk if the fresh milk supply is a problem. If flavoured instant oats are available, you don’t need to add anything more than water.
  • Flour. Rediscover what you can create with flour. Simple fodder like scones, damper, dumplings and roti fill hungry bellies. Get some yeast and find out how to make bread from scratch, without a bread maker, once the clean-up has finished and you have some spare time. Leave specialised flours, such as gluten-free flour, for people who medically really need them.


  • Infant formula powder. Work out how much formula your bub goes through and always keep at least an extra week's supply to hand during storm and fire season, more now you are concerned about the Coronavirus.
  • Bottled water to make up the formula. Just in case your town supply is cut off or made un-safe + spare pre-washed bottles and teats in case you can't safely clean the ones you have. This applies more to extreme weather events (e.g. flood, storm, fire) than to corona virus at this stage.
  • Bottles or long-life pouches of baby food. You may not be able to safely puree baby's food and your freezer stocks may be un-safe if power goes off.
  • Baby cereal.

After extreme weather events, industry bodies work as quickly as they can to re-supply the basics from inter-state suppliers but there can be no guarantee as to how long the supply chain will stay strong and unbroken. In the long haul, food supply and availability may prove to be tight during extreme weather events and if imports are stalled due to tighter border controls (cancelled or delayed cargo flights and ships held offshore), the range and variety you are used to will dwindle temporarily. On the positive side, you can take advantage of the low variety and limited supplies to keep your body into shape. The Coronavirus is interrupting things further with closures of eateries, factories and manufactuing sectors when staff call in sick/choose home self-isolation.

Treat your kids to cuddles and hugs of care rather than feel the anguish of trying to supply more food, fancy foods and fast foods. Fussy eaters might well become a thing of the past if there’s nothing else available to eat to cure their hunger. This is one harsh reality of surviving extreme events. Take comfort in family, newfound friends and neighbours (from a safe distance or through a closed window) rather than in food.

You may also want to visit The Pantry List which details other items essential to consider for a household during an emergency - baby goods (wipes, nappies), health and hygiene goods (liquid soap, detergent, dishwashing liquid, hand sanitiser, bandages, tampons, tissues, toilet paper), prescription medicines, and power alternatives (batteries, generators) for torches, radio and other communication.

Keep your hands clean and away from your face and your child's face. Wash hands after thoroughly after toileting, after touching common property (e.g. supermarket trolley, hand rails and benches, and on public transport), before food preparation, before feeding others and before eating. Use detergent, soap or liquid handwash to thoroughly wash hands.

Prepared by Trudy Williams, Accredited Dietitian with https://www.FoodTalk.com.au

NOTE: You are welcome to link to this page or share this material with others providing you acknowledge the source by retaining a live direct link to my website and authorship. Please respect this.

I have no affiliation with outside industry bodies that would benefit from this article. The information is independently prepared by me.

Now Only

this=that (adult's edition) "seconds"

Thank you Trudy! A sign of appreciation