The best pantry staples for emergencies

Shelf-stable foods are often the best way to go.

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By Jillian Ortiz

Preparing for emergencies may not always be at the top of your to-do list, but you can start small and avoid stress down the line by assembling an emergency stockpile at home. Toilet paper, cleaning products and water are some of the obvious essentials, but it can be tough to know exactly which foods are safe to store for long periods of time.

Shop TODAY spoke to food safety experts to find out which items we should be reaching for when prepping for emergency situations.

Start with the basics

Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, suggests starting with staples like beans, rice, pasta, canned tomato sauce, tuna, crackers and canned vegetables and fruits. These goods tend to have expiration dates that do not require immediate preparation and can last several months in your pantry.

Dr. Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, adds that crackers, nut butters, granola bars, nuts, jerky, shelf-stable boxes of milk, snack puddings and nuts are also safe options to keep on hand. He also suggests produce such as oranges, apples and carrots since they won't spoil or grow pathogens with proper refrigeration.

Prepare food appropriately — and be careful with leftovers

Although canned foods are an effective way to create a diverse pantry to last through emergencies, it's important to ensure that that your food is properly cooked and handled.

Dr. Darin Detwiler, a professor of food safety and policy at Northeastern University says proper preparation should still be one of your top priorities during an emergency.

"Cooking is a 'kill step' to eliminate harmful pathogens in food," Detwiler said. "Eating soups, chili and vegetables straight out of a can without actually cooking it is not the safest option."

He also advises against cooking too much at once, as leftovers can spoil over a long period of time.

"Cooking too much and leaving it out of the refrigerator too long can — and has — caused many problems. Rice is a major suspect as it allows bacteria to grow at a rapid rate if not refrigerated quickly and in small containers," Detwiler told TODAY.

What to buy

To help create your list of emergency pantry staples, we picked a few shelf-stable items that can be delivered to your doorstep.

  • Crackers are an easy option when it comes to snacking. This variety pack is available on Amazon and features two different flavors that are packed with protein.
  • Chapman listed granola bars and breakfast bars as items to keep on hand that can be enjoyed at any time.
  • Nut butters are high in calories and are also a convenient source of protein.
  • Dry pasta is easy to store, cook and save.
  • To keep up your intake of essential vitamins, fruit bowls make for an easy snack or dessert.
  • Canned evaporated milk is a great way to consume dairy and a source of vitamin D.
  • Packets of tuna are a great source of protein and calories. Since they come in pouches, no draining is necessary.
  • Dried rice is another shelf-stable option that can be enjoyed in a matter of minutes.
  • Soups are easy to store and usually have a long shelf life. However, Detwiler notes that many soups and beans should still be properly cooked when possible.
  • Chapman listed fruit and vegetable juices as a perfect shelf-stable item to stock up on.

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