By Denis Korn
As I continue to evaluate the websites of many current providers of shelf stable emergency foods, I am once again motivated to stimulate the due diligence and research I feel that is necessary for my readers so they may be adequately prepared. I have updated and combined these food reserve questions from two previous posts regarding this issue, and I continue to be angered and saddened at the ignorance and deception that is still rampant in the preparedness industry.
In the last few years many hundreds of websites, blogs, webinars and food companies have appeared on the scene, and while many are legitimate and sincere, there are too many instant experts. So many of these folks are simply badly informed and just continue to pass along misinformation and are too lazy to due serious research, or they simply don’t care what information they put out as long is it sells their products.
I have written a number of articles dealing with trust, honesty, reflections, guidelines, questions to ask and recommendations concerning the purchasing of food reserve products. While the food you rely upon in an emergency is vital and life sustaining, unfortunately few preppers and planers do the valuable research they should for this essential category of provisions. This post is written to help educate and inform the serious preparedness planner.
This post focuses on food, and as I have indicated in other articles, a dilemma arises – Who can you trust? How accurate and truthful is information and advice regarding foods for emergency preparedness? The purpose of this post is to encourage you to ask and answer relevant questions, use common sense and to question the reliability and advice of what you hear and read about foods for preparedness.
What stimulated me to revisit this subject was a blog I recently read that gave a recommended list of foods they thought was needed to be prepared for a long term emergency – it was for a one year period. This information was a rehash of outdated recommendations and had little relevancy to the realities of food preparation, dietary needs and food preferences in 2016. This is not the 1800’s. Do you need 400 pounds of wheat – 150 pounds of beans – many pounds of milk powder, sugar, flour, etc. – per person? Are you going to spend much of your one year baking and boiling? Do you have the resources to prepare these core ingredients – water, fuel and time? Bulk commodities can be valuable in certain food reserve planning, however over reliance on these foods can be detrimental.
I have always been an advocate of a diversity of foods for emergencies because of the numerous set of circumstances that can arise. We just don’t know with certainty what the scenario will be, or the duration and resources available during an emergency. Finances play an important part in our planning and the cheapest is often not the best nor the appropriate choice. Determining the foods to store requires serious evaluation and critical and informed thinking – do not be misled by slick advertising, instant experts, endorsements by celebrities and talk show hosts, exaggerated shelf life and taste claims, inadequate serving sizes and foods that once you have read the ingredient declaration you would normally never eat.
While there are many legitimate and quality emergency food companies and true experts, many others are content to profit from foods that – to put it frankly – are truly “survival foods” – foods that might prevent starvation, but are mediocre, have an inadequate caloric value, filed with questionable ingredients, unfamiliar, rely on sugar and other fillers, and might actually cause nutritional problems if consumed for long periods of time.
The first part of this article deals with questions for suppliers, the second part lists food reserve questions that are of value to your personal planning.
For 41 years now I have personally witnessed, heard and read many conflicting, misleading and outright deceptive claims and information regarding foods for long term storage, and while many food reserve companies are honest and reliable, many are intentionally or unintentionally ignorant and deceitful.
You are highly encouraged to take the following questions seriously and require that the food reserve companies you buy from know what they are doing, and they need to answer these questions honestly and to the best of their ability. If they can’t – then buyer beware! In my opinion – there is something immoral, appalling and disgraceful about companies who take advantage of people who may not be adequately informed and are vulnerable to misleading promotion. Unfortunately many people are more motivated by fear and mindlessly react, then carefully evaluate the facts and make informed decisions.
Spending thousands of dollars on deceptive advertising, hyperbole and exaggeration, being all over the internet with ads, getting high profile talk show hosts and websites to hawk your foods, creating shelf life figures out of thin air, telling folks how nutritious the foods are when they are filled with questionable ingredients, packaging foods in pouches and in a manner that does not assure a long shelf life, and tricking people into thinking they are getting an adequate quantity of foods during an emergency by creating arbitrary “servings” – does not guarantee you are buying value, quality or an adequate supply of vital foods! The high cost of advertising, endorsements and commissions has to come from somewhere, and all too often it comes from the value of the food products themselves while compromising quality and quantity.
As I am sure you can tell, I am very disappointed and concerned with the state of the “truth in advertising” regarding such an important facet of the preparedness planning process. The food you eat is life sustaining – and I believe preparedness food companies have an obligation to be honest and provide quality, nutritious foods.
1. If the company promotes their food reserve assortments by number of servings, you need more information to determine what you are really buying and whether the quantities are adequate.
A common marketing tactic used by many food companies today is to promote a given number of servings in an assortment, and sometimes to even state that an assortment is good for a given period of time with a given number of servings. In the preparedness market place today, where people may have to depend on daily food rations for their nourishment, only knowing the number of servings in an assortment is close to meaningless and the information insignificant . Why? Because a “serving” quantity and quality can be anything the company wants it to be. You need more information.
2. What are the calories in each serving – the ingredient source of those calories (white sugar, non-nutritive calories or quality calories) – and what method, or source of information, was used to determine the calories in their products?
The standard for comparing one reserve food product with another has traditionally been to compare the number of calories of similar products or meals. This is done by comparing the calories by either: knowing the stated calories and the weight in a given serving of a product; or the number of calories of a food product in a comparable sized pouch or container. This enables comparisons of similar items from different companies – comparing apples with apples. Even the government on their mandated nutritional information requires the calories be listed – and the source of those calories.
3. How many calories does the company recommend one should consume per day, and how many of their servings will it take to achieve this number?
Now you can do the math and compare the real cost and value of one companies products to another. What is the true cost per quality calorie? What is the cost for supplying the proper number of calories for the time period in your emergency scenario? Don’t forget it is the quality of the calories that is critical.
Here is the important issue: The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for the average adult person is 2,000 calories a day (reputable companies generally allow 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day in formulating their assortments). There are companies who promote a 500 to 1000 calorie per day allowance!
4. If a company uses names for their meals that sound like they contain real meat or are similar sounding to meat recipes – is it real meat, soy or gluten?
This is a common deception among many companies who either do not have the legal authority to pack real meat products because they do not have USDA inspected facilities, or they try to make their products as cheaply as possible.
5. When a company claims a shelf life of between 20 and 30 years, how was this determined?
I know of only two USDA inspected companies (disclaimer – one of those companies, AlpineAire Foods, is a company I founded in 1979) who have been in business longer than 30 years with a diverse selection of blended meals and individual items for long term food reserve products who can verify shelf life, use the proper packaging technologies and have their own testing facilities. In the 41 years I have been in the preparedness industry, I have never heard of any established major manufacturer of dry food products ever recommending storing foods in any type of pouch over 7 years. This includes all the established companies packing pouch foods for the outdoor recreational industry.
6. What experience does the companies customers have eating their foods exclusively for extended periods of time?
If a company is selling you foods that you may have to rely upon for weeks, months or possibly years, how did they determine that their foods have the necessary nutritional value to sustain a person for an extended length of time? This includes children and adults.
7. How does the foods taste and are they formulated to digest properly if consumed for a lengthy period of time? What about ingredient quality?
Many of today’s preparedness food companies are primarily marketing companies that don’t emphasize quality and nutrition. Their foods must be made cheaply to support the margins required for their extensive marketing budget, commissions and dealer costs. Study the ingredient declarations – often very difficult to find if not unavailable on many websites – for artificial flavor enhancers, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, fillers and white sugar. Unfortunately, many deceptive companies and stating their meals are “freeze-dried”, however upon reading the ingredients declaration, there are none. Are there any reliable independent testimonials about the foods you are considering for a preparedness investment? How long has the company been in the food reserve business? As happened after Y2K, how likely is the company to go out of business if there is a dip in demand?
NOTE: MRE’S (meals-ready-to-eat – military rations) were formulated by the military for combat soldiers to be eaten for no longer than one month at a time. They are high fat and high sodium and some people could have digestion issues if eaten over too long a period.
8. What about preparation?
Those of us in the camping/backpacking industry used the expression “just add water” to indicate that to reconstitute your pouched meal just add hot water, let sit and in 10-15 minutes your meal is ready – no cooking required. Many of the current pouch food companies use the same expression “just add water,” however what is really means is add water and boil/simmer for 15 to 30 minutes.
Here are some important questions to answer when considering what foods to store for emergencies or serious disasters:
- Do you know how to prepare the foods you are considering?
- Are the foods you are considering compatible with the scenarios and time frames you believe will occur?
- When you invest and purchase your food reserves, will it be – or has it been – an emotional reaction stimulated by fear advertising and paid celebrity/talk-show host endorsements, or will it be motivated by a critical thinking and evaluation process?
- Where and under what conditions will you store them?
- If you are going to pack your own bulk foods, do you know the proper methods and have the proper packaging?
- Are you properly informed as to shelf life issues?
- Do your foods contain a proper balance of nutrition?
- Can you properly digest the foods you are considering if they differ from you normal diet?
- If you store grains, beans and seeds do you know how to sprout them for additional essential nutrition?
- Do you have the proper equipment and appliances to utilize and prepare your stored foods?
- Have you stored the required foods to handle the scenarios you have considered will potentially occur?
- Do you have a adequate quantity to feed yourself, family, friends and anyone else who be relying on you?
- Do you or others have medical issues, special requirements or a food intolerance to consider?
- Will you be storing supplements?
- Have you considered comfort foods?
- Will you have access to the water you will need to prepare your stored foods?
- Can you grow foods if necessary?
- Will you be relying on any frozen food? What if the electricity goes out?
- If you have to be mobile, are the foods you are considering easily transportable?
- How trustworthy is the manufacturer or source of the the foods you are considering?
- Do you plan to incorporate your food reserves into your normal diet?
- Will you be like many who say, “I hope I never have to eat these foods for any extended length of time.”?