How to stockpile for an emergency

With more and more people building up a food stockpiles, should you be buying some emergency supplies?

I first wrote this article in 2019 when stockpiling became a hot topic around fears of a no-deal Brexit, but it’s getting a lot of traffic again now as people begin to worry about the effect of Coronavirus. Everything I’ve written below is still relevant if you’re thinking of getting some emergency food and toiletries in.


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If you’ve been into a supermarket or shopped online recently you won’t have escaped a growing number of sections with no stock. The reason? People are stockpiling for Brexit. And quite a few of them too. A survey last month found one in six Brits had already started or was about to start doing it.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s even more people now, worried about stock running low due to others stockpiling, or news that big retailers like Sainsbury’s and M&S are concerned about the supply chains in the event of a no-deal Brexit. And it’s not just food. There are already reports of shortages of some medicines, while I’ve seen entire shelves cleared out of toilet roll.

But I’ve been sceptical of getting involved. The more people stockpile, the more there will be empty shelves. This, in turn, could panic others into taking part too. Though supermarkets are stockpiling themselves, this run on the supermarkets could lead to shortages. And that’s even before the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. So I’ve held back writing about this so not to fan any flames.

Why stockpile?

However, when both Becky and I were recently ill and hardly left home for a week, we very quickly got through a lot of our everyday storecupboard and frozen supplies. It actually surprised me how poorly prepared we’d be for any prolonged period where we couldn’t get food.

Plus, though we don’t know how badly Brexit will affect our access to food, there are daily news reports out there which suggest even if the government manage to negotiate a smooth departure there will still be higher prices and stock problems. Both are reasons to begin stockpiling, especially if you’d struggle with the cost of food going up or if you have dietary requirements.

And as our illness showed, all sorts of emergencies could force you to delve into your stockpile. For example, if you live in an isolated area it only takes some heavy snow or flooding to stop you leaving your home.

So for all those reasons we’ve now started to build up our own supply of food and toiletries. Here are some basic rules you need to follow to make sure you’re not wasting money or food.

Stockpiling rules

Buy what you’ll actually use

For the most part, only buy things you’d usually have and use. As you use them in normal life you can just replace them in your stockpile.

There will, of course, be some things where the long-life version isn’t something you’d normally buy. For example, you might usually get fresh milk, fruit or fish rather than UHT or tinned versions. But it’s important to make sure you’ve got a supply of vitamins, protein and calcium. 

Stock up to on herbs, spices, stock cubes and so on. Plus oil for cooking with. 

However, avoid buying food you won’t eat. I’m thinking about things I wouldn’t normally touch like pot noodles or tinned all-day English breakfasts.

Check what you’ve already got

A lot of the things you think you might need might already be in your cupboards and freezers, so it’s just a case of replacing them as you use them.

Only spend what you can afford

Don’t get into debt by whacking a year’s supply of tins on a credit card. Work out what you can afford and stock up as and when you have more cash.

You’ll get more for your money if you downgrade to own branded items, and obviously, look for special offers. And look for reduced food to fill your freezer.

Check expiration dates

Some food won’t be suitable as it’ll be out of date sooner rather than later. But it’s worth checking everything.

We picked up six tins of tomatoes on special offer with a date of Dec 2019. Which is more than long enough. But we already had some in the cupboard with a date of Dec 2020! So do check for the longest dates possible. Also, remember that you can still eat anything past its best before date, but not anything past its use by date.

You’ll need to keep track too. Use any food which is nearing its end date and then replace it.

Think beyond food

Toilet roll, toothpaste, cleaning products and the like could all also be affected by problems with the supply chains or trade deals. These products will all last for ages. You should also think about your pets, and things like batteries, cling film and foil.

Extreme stockpiling

If you read any of the Brexit Prepper forums you’ll see people talking about water purification tablets, solar chargers, gas stoves and tents. I think this is extreme for Brexit, but as I said earlier, you should think about stockpiling for any kind of emergency.

So say water supplies were contaminated or energy supplies cut then some of those things could come in handy. I won’t get into it here, but you can search online if you want to take your stockpiling to the next level…

What if there’s no need to use your stockpile

There’s little harm buying supplies of things you’re going to eat anyway. If Brexit is delayed then you just won’t need to buy your supplies for a while. So pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, etc are likely to all be storecupboard staples that you’ll get through.

Of course, you might not use everything. For example, if you bought powdered egg but there’s always a supply of fresh eggs, then you’re unlikely to use this alternative. Or if you’ve got huge numbers of some items – some people are stockpiling for a year – then you’re not going to want to solely eat these if you don’t have to.

In either of these cases, you can donate surplus supplies to a food bank. Aim to do this at least three months before the expiration date. You can find many local foodbanks via the Trussell Trust, but there could be others too.

Do you have a stockpile? What’s in it? Let me know in the comments below

12 thoughts on “How to stockpile for an emergency

  1. 31 August 2020. I have been reading this article because as two over 70’s my husband and I have just survived lockdown 2020 and being totally dependent on family for supplies. Seeing empty shelves in supermarkets is very disturbing. Now we have a possible no deal Brexit to contend with and 30-40% of our supplies imported from the EU I see a need which was not apparent before to put a few bits by while normal supplies are available. I would never knowingly or deliberately deprive anyone else of supplies, unlike many, but can see no harm in having in an extra supply of long life goods just in case. My purpose is to avoid panic buying. If others feel differently I wonder why they actually looked up ‘stockpiling’ in the first place. Each to their own. I found this article interesting and instructive.

  2. This is ridiculous, excessive, irresponsible and stupid.

    There is plenty of food in all the supermarkets, corner stores and delis and this article causes people to panic buy.

    If you are sick and cannot leave your house, then all the major supermarkets home deliver. FOR WHAT YOU NEED!

    Having a few extra bags of pasta and frozen vegetables is sensible, stockpiling is not. This provides little sensible guidance.

    Panic stock-piling only disadvantages your neighbor and fellow human.

    1. Thanks for your comment Ryan. Sorry to say I completely disagree. I’ve very clear that I don’t think people should be going crazy and panic buying. A small emergency supply is useful. Small.

      And this is for any event. Bad weather could cause problems with a delivery, especially for people in more remote areas.

    2. Given what is going on at the moment I dont think you should be encouraging people to stock pile. People have been going absolutely mental at the super markets buying up absolutely everything. Im ok on some packet noodles but there are plenty of people who arent. I wasnt even able to find sanitary products, or washing up sponges and even the mega stores are busy at 6am. This is how crazy people have gone

      1. Hi Shun,

        Thanks for this. I know what you’re saying, but I’ve been very careful to always say this is about a small two week stockpile to get you through any emergency. Yes people have gone over the top, which is why it’s important to try help people distinguish between panic buying and just adding to what they’ve got.

  3. So far I’ve only been stockpiling cat food as I found out the brand my cats eat comes from France.

    But I’m now thinking of collecting some essentials for the human members of the household.

    I would have thought that generally, we should have no need to worry about products that are produced within the UK? Am I correct?

    1. Well it depends where they get their ingredients. Some stuff that is 100% UK should be fine, but you never know if the packaging or a vital ingredient will have supply issues

  4. Some people are too concerned about best before dates and throw food away because it has expired, without checking if the food is still OK to use, which it usually is. “Best Before” means its best before but it also means its OK to use after the date but may not be at its best in terms of aroma, texture or flavour. This is particularly true of canned or dried foods like pasta and rice, tea and coffee and certainly true of canned foods. Its also true of some “use by” dates on dairy foods as many of them are pasteurised so they are sterile and remain so if unopened. Butter and Cheese keep longer than the expiry dates – I recently used some medium mature cheese 3 years after the expiry date and it was fine, tasting very mature as a result of keeping it in the fridge for so long. You can freeze cheese although cheddar will become crumbly but that’s OK for cooking. I went to a dairy manufacturer years ago who told me they freeze butter to mature it.

    1. Cheese is an interesting one. I read somewhere that some waxed cheese can last for years too out of the fridge – though not all sorts! I’ve not frozen cheese yet. Need to give it a go with different types so I can see how well they last. Often see some nice ones reduced on the cheese counter in my local Waitrose!

      1. I live on my own so I pretty much always freeze cheese. I grate hard cheese and if I’m freezing a soft cheese I chop it into cubes. In cooking, I use cheese straight from the freezer and I also put it in sandwiches or salads in the mornings and it’s nicely defrosted in time for lunch 🙂 As you said it’s a great way to take advantage of reduced section cheeses 😀

      2. Freezing cheese is ok. I often do it, it does change the texture slightly, i.e., more crumbly but apart from that it’s just perfect.

    2. “pasteurised” doesn’t mean “kill all the bacteria”. That is “sterilised”.

      With Pasteurised, they strike a balance between killing bacteria and destroying the taste/texture. The result is a small amount of bacteria survive which is why you have to use the milk within a period of time.

      Note also that there IS a safety margin built in to these things, designed to cater for people who buy the milk in summer and it spends 2h in a hot car boot before being refrigerated.


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