FOOD STORAGE 101, Inventory


Maintaining a food storage inventory will help optimize your emergency preparedness planning of food preps. An inventory may sound simple enough, but it takes some considerable work in the beginning followed by the diligence to maintain the system.

If you have already stored away a quantity of food preps without an inventory, it will take some effort to document what you have. If you are just starting out with building food storage, it will be simpler and a good habit to develop. The effort will be well worth it for a number of reasons…



The way I look at it, organization is the key to optimization.

One way to go about organizing your food storage preps is to keep ‘like things’ together. Many of us probably do this by instinct anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it. It certainly will make things much easier to catalog and inventory if all your cans of beef stew are all in one place, for example.

Soups are side by side with broth, bullion cubes etc. All of the baking items are stored together. Pasta is stored with sauces and canned tomatoes. The various types of beans are together. The spices and condiments are together… You get the idea.

Initially when your food storage inventory is somewhat small, you probably have your foods on shelves or sorted in locations that are visible to you. This keeps things simple for obvious reasons. A problem develops when you begin to accrue more than what can be stored on your shelves or in your cupboards. What then?

At this point you need to keep them in containment. Boxes, buckets, bins, whatever…

Once you begin doing this, you will very quickly lose sight (literally) of your inventory and what you have in your food storage. This is where organization and inventory control becomes important. At this point you really need to start a list if you haven’t already.

The methods that you use to store excess food vary according to one’s own storage space restrictions, willingness to spend$, and opinion as to what works best for them. For us, we use a mixture of boxes, 5-gallon buckets, and storage bins to hold our excess food storage.

We label the outside of these containers with either numbers (which translate to food groups on a spread sheet or list) or the name itself. If you number things, it will appear to others as inconspicuous. If you name everything, others will know that you have all that food. This may or may not be important to you depending on who comes into your home. OPSEC applies here…

The process of inventory also involves using a Sharpie marker to write the month/year on newly purchased items. This enables a first-in, first-out food rotation plan.

The method of recording your food inventory should be whatever works best for you. If you’re into using spreadsheets on a PC, then that may work better for you. Be sure to print out your inventory form time to time…

You may decide to keep a hand written notebook, with each page as a food group. 50 cans of this, 38 jars of that, 25 boxes of that other thing… etc.

The point is that when you have a list of what you have, then it becomes easy to discover the holes where you may be lacking. It also allows you to estimate the equivalent calorie count and the diversity of nutrition that you have on hand. It enables you to put together a better overall food storage plan, and it enables a better food rotation plan to minimize eventual spoilage.


  1. Ken: Good article. We all know that organization is necessary but it is hard to put into practice. In 2011 I put everything on a spread sheet & updated it in 2012. Last year I converted a basement bedroom into a pantry…2 walls & closet has shelving, 1 wall has pallets to keep stuff off floor & I pile flour, sugar, cases etc. there. Then between door & closet I have a stack of bins. On top of bins is a clip board with list of stored goods that I can add to or delete. The house freezer has a clip board beside it also. It may sound organized but it is still a challenge. I do a lot of home canning & freezing. Remembering to date, trying to find the oldest stuff, remembering to add or cross off list for someone who is organizationally challenged is a chore. The garden shed freezer hasn’t been catalogued yet & in 3 weeks we will have 1/2 beef to put in it. Some days it seems overwelming. I guess I just have to keep trying to organize but after you accumulate stuff it is hard. It would be much easier before there was so much stuff so my advise is get started organizing early on in your preparation walk if you are just starting on that journey.

  2. I like the picture you used. Do you think the smaller containers work better than putting everything in a large container? The picture made me think it might be easier to stack and organize smaller containers.

    1. Those blue bins in the picture are one of the several styles of bins that we use (in addition to our 5-gallon buckets and cardboard boxes of various sizes).

      One thing about the plastic storage bins (if you’re going to buy any) is to be sure you spend a few extra dollars and get ‘heavy duty’. This will enable you to store more weight and to reliably stack more of them.

      Certainly, if you try to fill one of the larger style bins with cans of food, it will be very difficult to move due to the weight. It all depends on your situation and ability to move them…

      Of the bins that we currently like to use, many of them are the Sterlite ‘Ultra’ (70 quart and 30 quart) (clear). Seeing what’s inside makes it convenient for visual inspection or identification, so long as you’re not concerned that others may see them too.

      Having said that, there are many comparable heavy duty bins of all sizes and shapes.

  3. I use a bedroom closet for most of my storage. 5 gallon buckets for the rice,beans,pasta ect all marked with the contents and weight in lb”s of how much is in them. The shelves are full of can goods. I rotate them to the kitchen as more are purchased at the store. #10 cans and buckets of freeze dried just stay on other shelves as they all have 25 years shelf life. The biggest problem is water. 5 gallon containers and boxes of gallon containers take up a lot of room so I only have about 100 gallons at this time. Looking to get some 55 gallon ones to store outside in the work shed.

  4. Oh Lord, this article has convicted me of my sin !

    I know I need to inventory. Idk y I put it off for so long but I promise I will do it asap.

    I can’t promise I’ll be happy about it

    1. The recent supply disruptions may negate this but leading up to Thanksgiving has usually been one of 3 times during the year where canned vegetables are often discounted in my area. The other times are early August and late January. I use these times to fill the pantry shelves. Used to make several trips as there were limits. I haven’t been since the vid because they seem to run out of supply quickly. Tuna often on sale right before Lent in the spring is another stocking up time.

Comments are closed.