Canning and the Four Levels of Disaster: Are You Prepared?

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Using the four levels of disasters introduced in an earlier OP article, I will take a close look at canning as a method of food preservation. Exactly how does canning and the four levels of disaster mesh? For each level of disaster, I make the distinction between canning as a preparation for a disaster compared to canning as an activity to support your survival during a disaster.

Level 1: Personal emergencies and canning

The first level of disaster is at the personal and household level. As Daisy writes, “it’s quite often about money or the lack thereof. This can occur for all different reasons. Some examples are job loss, a costly medical expense, or a car repair bill.” I would add to these the loss of a spouse, a serious illness, or any other kind of temporary disability that affects your ability to work.

When money is suddenly reduced, canning is a preparation. If you have created a substantial pantry with your own canning skills, then your pantry is like a bank account. It is a meaningful asset that you can mindfully withdraw from in this time of need. You can eat. You can put what financial resources you have to other needs, such as paying rent or mortgage.

The second way that canning can support your household during a Level 1 Disaster is as an activity to generate income. Can you access fresh fruit and sugar at reasonable prices? You could make preserves and jam to sell online or through word of mouth. Is it harvest time, with local fruit trees producing? You may be able to access free apples, as I have, to produce applesauce and canned apples.

Level 2: Short-term situations and canning

The second level of disaster comes from outside your household and often involves a challenge to basic needs in some way (e.g., food/water/power supply). What is important to notice about a Level 2 Disaster is that you will need to muster your preps and energy to deal with the disaster. At this point, you either have your cans, or you don’t. You may be stuck in your house for a couple of days in a snowstorm. It may be summer, and you have no power. You don’t have any water. This is not likely the best time to break out your pressure canner!

(For information on how to survive a winter storm, make sure you check out our free QUICKSTART Guide.)

Depending on the nature of this short-term disaster, your ability to access the supply chain could be limited for this short period of time, AND you could be without power. So, when you do can in the future, it is worthwhile to consider canning foods that are edible/palatable if there is no power available for cooking, or cooking is very difficult. On Daisy’s list of the best foods to eat when there is no power, there are some that can be home canned, such as fruit juice and fruits. I would also consider pressure canning baked beans, which are a good protein source and aren’t too bad cold (in my modest opinion).

So, when facing a Level 2 Disaster, you either have your cans, or you don’t. Canning, in this case, is a resource for your household’s survival only if you have prepared in advance.

Level 3: Man-made and natural disasters and canning

With this level of disaster, rather than inconvenience, comes danger, larger-scale destruction, and potential loss of life. Some are sudden natural disasters with little warnings, such as severe earthquakes. Some have a bit more warning, such as an ice storm. Still, some are man-made disasters, such as chemical spills or nuclear accidents, or attacks.

This level of disaster could destroy your home or make your current neighborhood unsafe. In this case, you will lose your canned food in your pantry and/or be forced to evacuate. However, should your home still be a valid retreat option and your cans intact, basic needs in your neighborhood could be some time in returning. In this scenario, having a well-stocked pantry could be a support to feed your family and redirect financial resources to any rebuilding efforts that may be required.

In the longer term, even during likely supply chain disruptions, if your canning supplies are well-stocked, you may be able to use canning to preserve low-cost/easy to access produce. Be aware: water bath canning requires either lemon juice or citric acid to safely can low acid foods (this includes tomatoes and most vegetables).

I keep a five-pound bag of citric acid in my supply cupboard at all times. It will meet my tomato canning needs for up to 40 years. What are your resources for canning if supply chains are interrupted: Jars? Lids? Food safety for low acid foods?

Level 4: A SHTF event and canning

The nature of the SHTF event will determine whether canning is even possible. For example, if you are in an intense life-threatening situation, such as a civil war, your focus may be more on survival and basic needs. If access to clean water and severe food shortages are your challenges, all in an urban area where snipers and bombing are the norms, canning may not be possible. You may be more concerned with how to safely and quickly dispose of the human waste your small community produces.

However, in a more slow-burning SHTF, such as a financial collapse or epic grid failure (e.g., from a solar flare), canning could be a big win for you. In these scenarios, the long-term nature of the disaster will be your challenge. How long will your canning supplies last without any source to replace them?

No supply chain: The SHTF event and canning

Yes, that’s a great pressure canner you own, however, post-SHTF there will be no way to test the pressure gauge each year. How long will you trust it? Or do you have the equipment to test it yourself? How long will that continue working? My weight-operated pressure canner recommends that the sealing gasket be replaced every year. How many of those gaskets do you have on hand?

Canning and the four levels of disaster

In a very long-term situation, what if you run out of gaskets for your pressure canner and can no longer use it? You have also run out of citric acid and lemon juice, which is no longer available. Do you know how to make your own vinegar, which would allow you to pickle and can some vegetables safely in your water bath canner? Honey is a substitute for the sugar in this recipe. If you don’t keep your own bees, you may be able to trade for the small amount of honey required.

“OK,” you say, “I have years of supplies for my pressure canner in place.”

But, in a grid-down scenario, are you prepared to gain the skills necessary to operate your canner safely over an open fire? This requires tenacity (if you lose temperature, you have to restart the process again), and you need a way to regulate the temperature from the fire. It is likely going to be much easier to build this and practice before SHTF than after. Here are some tips from people who have tried both water bath canning and pressure canning successfully over an open fire.

When it comes to canning and the four levels of disaster, you “CAN” do it!

Canning can be both a preparation and an activity to support your survival, depending on the context. However, proper planning is essential. Canning preparedness requires careful reflection on your equipment and supply needs in all possible scenarios.

I hope this article has gotten you thinking about how canning fits into your own preparations for the four levels of disasters. What equipment do you own for canning? What are your must-have supplies? How many years are you prepared to go? Can you see yourself acting on any of the information you read here in the article? Do you have any recommendations to share with others? Please let us know in the comments below.

About Colette

Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. She has just launched her website, Half Acre Homestead. Colette invites you to stop by and visit this work in progress! Coming soon in 2022 is her exciting new online program. Interested in Resiliency, Preventative Health, and Self-Sufficient/Off-Grid Housing (to name a few!)? Stay tuned for more details!

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  • Excellent article. I was impressed by the “make your own vinegar ” for low acid canning.

    I didn’t see you mention the undamaged used canning lids can be used to protect dry goods from rodents . So don’t throw them out.

    • Hi Michael, Thank you so much for your feedback! You are quite right about the canning lids. That is a great tip for readers. That is what I love about this community….always thinking!! Many thanks!

  • I love my canner! The food I put up myself is vastly superior in both quality and taste to anything I buy in the store. I know every ingredient in my jars and none of them read like a college chemistry exam. And yes, it’s lovely to go into my pantry to eat when it’s snowing, blowing, & -30 outside rather than running to the grocery store. Then there’s those sales-stock up and put up! Cheap, quality food all around.

    Also, those metal canning lids can be reused given certain caveats. I’ve been reusing mine for years, as my Grandmother did before me, and no one has suffered any of the grievous consequences sold by the lid manufacturers. I don’t reuse lids that are rusted or chipped, especially on the food side, or if the edge has been misshapen too far to seal dependably. Given those criteria, I reuse my metal lids 4-5x. Given the lid shortage in the last few years, I’m glad I did! I was the only canner I knew who wasn’t running out of lids.

    • Hi Amy, Thank you for this very valuable post. I am a “go by the book” canner, as you can likely tell from my article. If SHTF, you can bet I will be thinking back on your post and will reuse my lids….because there might be no more! I hope everyone was taking notes on this comment, too. Much appreciated!

  • Wife’s always been the primary canner and water bather but I’m stepping up into it as well.
    During winter I’ve got time. Later I won’t because I’ll be busy raising and growing what’ll need canned.
    It’s a layer in the Mylar, freeze dried, fresh and frozen foods

    • Hi Matt, Thank you for your comment. What you describe is a great way to take advantage of the quiet winter season. This past winter, I’ve enjoyed more time for writing….looks like I better get canning, too! I appreciate the inspiration.

  • My pressure canner has a metal-to-metal seal (no gaskets), and a weighted gauge. The weighted gauge remains accurate, regardless of whether the dial gauge stops working. The beauty of a weighted gauge, for open flame pressure canning, is that is dumps excess heat. You only have to listen to make sure it jiggles consistently. No gauge watching!

    • Hi Joseph, Wow: I had not heard of a metal to metal seal. That is fantastic! I also own a pressure canner with the weighted gauge, and would not part with it. What I am likely going to do is buy a back up of my most commonly used weight, though. I would hate to lose it! Thank you for the tip of weighted gauge use over the open flame. I think this is something people should keep in mind. Much appreciated!

      • all American is the brand. You probably have a presto ( I do also ) the all American is close to 400.00 bucks after tax but they are a great canner.

  • I use Harvest Guard plastic canning lids with gaskets. All I need is the metal band and they are infinitely reusable (although I have extra gaskets in case they become damaged or brittle). My pressure canner still has the original gasket so either I don’t use it as much as the manufacturer thinks I will, or they’re just trying to sell gaskets. I do need to buy a couple backups just to be on the safe side. I like the idea of practicing pressure canning over an open fire. I will try that this summer. One thing not mentioned is what to do if you lose power and have freezers full of meat. Start canning it! It’s better than losing it.

    • Hi Sita, Thank you for sharing the technology of Harvest Guard. I am going to need to do some research on that. I am glad that you can share your experience that your gasket has not required replacement. If they should become scarce, this is good to know. Yes, if the power goes out and you can still can….definitely get canning! I am in that camp, as I have an off-grid propane range…no electricity required. This is a great reminder to keep in mind: if you have preps in a freezer….do you have the ability to can if the power is out. Worth working out a plan. I appreciate your taking the time to share these ideas with everyone.

      • I have the same gasket on my presto canner that it came with 5 years ago. Granted I probably only can about 100 jars a year and I DO Have a backup. I rub mine with oil before and after canning so maybe that’s what keeps it fresh

  • Great write up! An original apt psych to canning that I’ve not seen before. I think this could help those on the fence about prepping feel a bit more comfortable about stepping up when shown in this way. Kudos Colette! My wife and I also use reusable canning lids. There’s a bit of a learning curve and can create some anxiety in those used to listening for the pop but they work great. Thanks again!

    • Auto correct threw a curve ball at me! Lol. It should read ‘an original article’… not apt psych! Sorry about that. How in hades?!?! 🙂

      • Hi Paul, I had a good laugh this morning when I read your post. Thank you for the clarification. I had actually put “apt psych” into my search engine. When nothing that made sense came up, I just assumed that you were talking to me in secret code. Ha ha ha! Your feedback (and clarification) is much appreciated. Darn spel check!

    • Hi Paul, I appreciate your positive feedback. I write these articles in my little eco-cabin in the middle of nowhere, and I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to hear back from readers. I always write in the hope that the article will support people on their journeys. Now, more than ever, I feel this kind of information is crucial to get out there. Thank you for sharing your experience with the resuable canning lids. Describing the learning curve is super-helpful to folks (like me!) who may be nervous about it. Much appreciated!

      • You’re welcome! I see so many articles on this subject and while they mostly all have good information your original approach here is much appreciated. Keep up the great work and Lord bless you and your family during these very uncertain times.

  • I have been pressure canning between 120 and 180 jars of food since 1978. I am on my third canner in 45 years. I use weighted pressure gauges and have never had to replace any gaskets. I have a propane grill with a side burner that can be used for canning. I also have two camp stoves that can be used with the pressure canner, so I can continue to can for a couple seasons after SHTF I always keep 2-3 boxes of extra jars and enough extra lids for 3 seasons. I know that this is not sustainable for decades, but it will get me through a couple of years after SHTF. I also try to keep at least one to two years supply of canned foods on the pantry shelves. This year, for example, my family is eating the jars of food canned in 2018 and 2019. Home canned food can be stored for a long time, if it is stored correctly in properly sealed jars. Most stores have canning jars now, but I have not seen extra boxes of lids. I recommend that everyone buy as many jars as can be afforded. Lids can probably be found on-line, and you might want to buy as many as you can afford. I suspect canning supplies will be hard to find in a couple of months.

    • Our Walmart has been able to keep up on lids now. Also try Ace hardware.
      Don’t order “Mason” as they pretend to be out of England but come China and are untrustworthy.

      • Hi Matt, Thank you so much. It is great to share resource information and suggestions with others. I am going to follow up with a local search to see if I can find lids within an hour’s drive of where I am. I had no idea about the Mason jars. Do you have any brands that you recommend? I generally use Bernardin jars and canning supplies and they seem to be good so far.

          • Hi Matt in Oklahoma, That’s great to hear. I can’t access that brand of jars readily here in local stores in Eastern Ontario. I checked out our local Walmart (city of 100,000 plus) and found an ample supply of jars and more lids than even I would buy.

            In terms of brands: Bernardin canning jars say clearly on the box that they are Made in USA. (Owned by Rubbermaid, apparently). A “competing” lower price brand here is Golden Harvest (Hmmmm also owned by Rubbermaid…..). However, these boxes do NOT say Made in USA.

            So, I will be following your lead to buy the jars made in USA to guarantee the quality of my supply.

            Many thanks for identifying this issue for readers!

    • Hi Fr. Bob, WOW! It is so valuable to the OP community to have someone with your length and depth of experience commenting. Thank you. What caught my interest immediately is that you have gone through three CANNERS during those years. If you see my response, I would be grateful to know how you assessed when it was time to retire a canner. Very valuable information! Also, I think it is helpful for other folks to read your preparations and what stock you keep. It is an excellent starting point for those with less experience to aim for. That is helpful to know lids are in short supply where you are. I will do a check when I go into the city today and see what I CAN find. (pun intended…sorry!) Thank you again for taking the time to share. Experience like yours cannot be bought….only EARNED.

  • I have canned for years and am of the “no canning police” group. Botulism is MUCH, MUCH less common than the scare tactics make it seem. I don’t necessarily follow any book. If there is a recipe that great Aunt Martha used for years and it worked, then I use it. I buy lids online in bulk. Try . Amish stores are also a good source. Reusing lids is also a great tactic. I have also used Tatler lids. As someone above said there is a learning curve but so much better than running out of lids! Keep damaged lids and jars for non-canning use. Buy bulk pectin like Pomona’s for jams. The no-gasket canner is branded Atlas. They are more expensive initially but not in the long run. Hope this helps and of course you have to operate within your own level of comfort but I am 71 years old and have used these principles without any problems for decades as has my sister.

    • FANTASTIC, Julie! Every single tip you offer is based on decades of experience. Thank you for adding your thoughts and wisdom here, as everyone will benefit. Much appreciated!

  • I don’t know what’s next – but earlier today I ordered 200 more canning lids.
    Last week I bought a Food Saver Sealer.
    Now to decide what to can or dry or seal first!

    • I’m with you, Fern! I’m happy with my extensive collection of lids AND I’ve been learning from those who reuse lids in this thread. WIN WIN! Wishing you all the best on your canning and drying!

  • It seems like I read something on reusing your canning lids. Something about soaking the lids in warm vinegar or water before using them. Has anyone else heard or read this.

    • Hi WhereEaglesDare, We have some comments in this thread from community members who have been reusing lids for years. I would read above for more info. One of the tips was to examine them carefully for damage and not use ones that are visibly damaged. Hope that helps. Anyone with more info is welcome to add to the discussion!

  • I have a few thoughts. I like the article it really gets you thinking.
    I would be loathe to make canning the end all be all. There are many ways to preserve food and canning is relatively new to humanity. I prefer the tattler lids that I can reuse. Ive been using them for years now and the lid shortage didnt and wont affect me for some time.
    I am also growing citrus trees inside so I would hope to be making my own lemon juice. Ive made ACV and pear vinegar before. Its not difficult really. I am going to read up on the article you provided about canning over an open fire. I would like to try that with some jam maybe (lower risk). Also, I keep bees so I have a good bit of honey. I have a hard time keeping them alive through winter though and Im working on that.

    • Hi Dinie, Thank you for your feedback. I am so glad to hear this got you thinking. That is my intention. I hope this article is helpful to folks and can help them consider whether they are content with their approach to canning or whether there is anything they would adjust.

      Regarding food preservation, I could not agree more! In fact on my Half-Acre Homestead, I emphasize the importance of a wide range of food preservation strategies…kind of like keeping my eggs in many different baskets. This way, if one method fails, I have many other layers. I had hoped to begin to address this issue in the article, but ALAS!!! I ran out of space. So, I will write about this in a future article. Having lived off-grid in a tiny house with a minimal solar array taught me a lot about self-reliance and food preservation that doesn’t require electricity. I aim to share my knowledge on this as widely as possible!

      Am quite impressed with all that you are doing and wish you the best! Thank you for sharing your ideas, as it’s quite helpful to others on their journey.

  • I have only done water bath canning and only a couple of times. Just being able to say that boosts my confidence to do more though! 🙂 One thing I have found is I tend to can foods that I would not normally buy in the store regularly, so, if I can peaches for instance, one batch lasts a really long time because I rarely eat them. I would love to expand my knowledge to canning meat, which we eat every day, but for now I prefer freezing or dehydrating as my methods of meat preservation. Thanks for the great article. And thanks to all the commenters for sharing your wisdom and experience!

    • Hi thisismyname, Good for you! You have stepped into the world of canning and began your journey. With that experience under your belt, you are well-positioned to explore pressure canning meat. One way I got my confidence up with pressure canning was to talk to my cousin, who is quite expert in it. He helped me understand the equipment choices I needed to make and showed me what he is able to can with his pressure canner. That was useful gaining from his experience. I always support having a diversified food preservation approach, so I think freezing and dehydrating are also good options. Wishing you the best on your journey! Thank you for sharing.

  • Here in VT, last year there was a brand of jars and lids called “Pur”. I tried using the Harvest Guard lids with the jars, and found that the threaded area was not tall enough to work properly with standard bands and the thicker reusable lids. Seals failed, but luckily no lost food. Just be careful of unusual brands.

    Not only does home canned food last for years, the only ongoing energy input is to keep it from freezing, unlike frozen foods.

    • Hi PatD, Thank you for sharing your valuable experience with the community. I hope others will see this and be cautious of this brand for the reasons that you have told us about. I am sorry to hear the seals failed, but glad that you didn’t lose any food. So often, it is a “live and learn” journey. Many things are worth a try! That is an important point, too: in many cases, it will be much easier to prevent things from freezing than keep them frozen! I lived off-grid for years and can attest to that. One evening, I was swapping off-grid stories with some friends. They recalled taking their canned food to bed with them one night during the construction of their home. Ah, the off-grid life!

  • I bought a volcano stove with canning in mind. One that could take a canner size pot. I also bought a couple heat diffusers to use with it.

    • Hi Desertdove, Very cool! I was not aware of this product and enjoyed looking at their website just now. Thanks for sharing this idea with the group. Happy grilling and canning!

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