Food Storage Basics

We only recommend products and services we have thoroughly reviewed and used. This post may contain special affiliate links which allow us to earn a small commission if you make a purchase, however your price is NOT increased.


Why Store Food?

To those that get it, this is almost a silly question, and up until about 75 years ago would also be considered a silly question to the average person. The fact is that humans have stored food for thousands of years because their lives would often depend on it.

To some degree we still collectively store food; the U.S. government does have food reserves. However, with growing corporate agriculture, growing government, and growing industry the idea has fallen by the wayside. This is unfortunate because this now archaic practice is still important and can save your butt in a storm, a family or financial crisis, or an emergency.

To thoroughly explain why you need food storage I would have to write a book, because I would have to delve into politics, industry, society’s complacency and many other woes that our world faces today. Even our government recommends a 3 day food storage; they come right and tell you that they can’t take care of you in every situation! Millions of people have died of starvation throughout history; history repeats itself, and it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”

Long-Term vs Short-Term

“How long will that food last?” is the million dollar question! I think it’s better stated if you ask, “How long will that food last and still be healthy for you to eat?” The answer is (drum roll please)… it depends. It depends on the food, the manner in which it was stored and where it was stored.

Some food can last thousands of years; they have found dehydrated food in Egyptian tombs that was still “good” to eat, although I do wonder if any of those archaeologists that are claiming that actually tried a bite. So how do you know if those pre-packaged freeze dried food packets that companies sell you will last 20 years? The answer is: you don’t.

So here is what I do and how I define those terms. Short-term storage is food that I put in my pantry, fridge or freezer. If it’s in my pantry it is usually open and needs to be used up in a short amount of time. The fridge and freezer are dependent on electricity so I consider anything in them perishable and stored for the short-term (even though some things in the freezer can last a few years). I rotate my food storage so I don’t buy anything I’m not willing to eat in the “here and now” (my non-emergency state).

That’s not to say I don’t buy some prepackaged stuff, but I use it within 5 years. I have 3 boys that like to camp so I will often send the pre-packaged food with them on camping trips, or if there are days I just don’t feel like cooking I might use a pre-packaged meal. I don’t eat anything over 5 years old. So that’s my long term storage—anything that will last up to 5 years. All my wheat, rice, sugar and beans are eaten within 5 years.

I’m not arguing that food stored for 5 years and one month is not still good. I’m just saying that’s my cutoff date. You need to have expiration date in your head even if we’re talking about something like wheat. Yes, wheat will last for 30 years or more if it’s stored properly (as in laboratory conditions). I don’t know about you but no matter how hard I try, the conditions in my house will never be ideal. I live in Texas and I can crank the AC down to 70 degree in August and September, but it’s still going to be very warm in certain parts of my house. Heat is just not good for stored food.

Things To Consider When Storing Food

Health- I alluded to this above. Everyone wants food that will taste good but we need food that is healthy for us, especially in a crisis situation. Food storage and healthy food are often considered opposites. No matter how you stack it, white rice is never going to be healthier for you than brown rice.

So there are some trade-offs because of course brown rice does not last 5 years. Brown rice has fats in the bran and the germ (the parts of the grain that are removed in white rice) that will go rancid after a certain time (about 1 year). It will last longer if you place it in the freezer.

Balance is the key here. Do I have white rice stored? Yes. Do I have it for dinner every night? No. I do have it in my food rotation. White rice has a lot of carbs in it and is a great food to fuel hard labor, building, hiking, running and the like (brown rice works well for high labor days too, but like I said there are trade-offs). So I reserve white rice dishes for days when we do these activities. That’s the argument with storing these lower nutrient foods – supposedly in a crisis situation you’ll be doing hard labor so you can eat more. It may be true that your body will be under more stress and you will need more calories, but you will still need those nutrients.

Rotation Food storage rotation is often the most difficult part of having a food storage, at least it was for me. I looked high and low for a system flexible enough to accommodate my growing boys. I could not find one so I wrote one in the form of a planner. The idea behind food rotation is that if you are in a crisis situation you’re more likely to eat the things you like to eat. Yes, if you’re hungry enough you’ll eat anything but at that point your body is already in a physical crisis because you’re that hungry. That physical stress (which is bad for cognitive skills and the immune system) can be avoided if you are eating food that you normally eat. Hence, food rotation is critical!

Expense It does cost more build up a food storage. However, if you build up an inventory then begin to rotate your food the expense should be the same as before you started your food storage because at that point you are just buying what you eat and not extra. If you earmark just a few dollars, as little as $10.00 a week, to building up a food storage you can have an impressive stock pile in one year. Using a food storage calculator may be helpful in the beginning.

Storage—I talked a little about this above. Food will spoil if it is exposed to light, heat, and air. So it’s important to build a food storage but it’s also important to inventory it (again my planner can help with that) and consider where you’re going to store it. There are also a few tools you’ll need to purchase, such as Mylar bags, food storage buckets and oxygen absorbers.

Skills—When you have a food storage you need to have the skills to cook the food. This is not so difficult if you have pre-packaged food. However, if you have buckets of wheat stored and you’ve never made bread, this could be a problem. Yet, another reason to eat what you store. You’ll develop the skills to cook everything you have stored and will be less stressed if a crisis does occur.

Method—When you place food in your food storage some consideration should be given to the manner in which it is preserved. Food can be canned, dehydrated, freeze dried, frozen or preserved with a combination of these methods along with chemicals. A basic understanding of these methods will give you a better understanding of expiration dates and how and why food decomposes or goes bad. So reading labels is not only important for health; it’s important for food storage too.

Water I know, I know, water is not food, but it’s important to have and it’s often 50% or more of your food’s content or you’ll need it to rehydrate your food. You cannot have a food storage independent of a water supply. You’ll need to spend some time building up a water storage or fine tune a water supply plan.

Vitamins—Remember that white rice I was talking about just a second ago? I hate to harp on white rice, after all, wheat has it problems too with all that gluten. But, just bear with me a minute while I make my point. White rice is a processed product and loses most of its nutrients in the milling process. Vitamin B and Iron, for starters, are removed during processing, leaving a starchy carb without many nutrients.

If you are eating white rice everyday taking a multivitamin makes sense. So having multivitamins in storage is a good idea. However, vitamins have expiration dates too. This can be a problem when you’re not currently taking a multivitamin but want to store them for a little extra insurance, which is the case with my family. We try to get organic nutrients through fresh food but I like to keep vitamins just in case. I usually keep a small stockpile of vitamins and then donate them well before their expiration date so they can be used. There are some things that I want in my stockpile that I will not use in a non-crisis situation. The trick is to keep those things a small percentage of your supplies.

The Ultimate Way To Store Food Is To Grow Your Own

I believe the best way to store food from season to season by growing your own organic produce and then preserving it. Yes, there are a lot of skills and a lot of work involved! But here’s the thing, most of us are not in crisis mode yet and we have time to at least start learning how to do this. Let me know what food storage skills you’re working.

  • Marty Geiselman says:

    Should kitchen tools such as a hand operated can opener be kept with your stored food? I’m trying to determine if I need a second one from the one I use daily in my kitchen.

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Marty,

      It just depends on your situation. If you have room for a second one then it would make a great backup.

  • Valerie says:

    How are you vacuuming sealing the mason jars? All I am invisioning is a canner or counter top vacuum sealer.

  • kathy says:

    We currently have about 30 days of food storage. I have a well if I ever get the pump handle fixed and about a week of water stored. Some of my food storage is beans and rice, which we don’t really eat often. How long will these items gwnerally last in storage in the kitchen? I use very little canned or packaged goids and it’s difficult to rotate those as well. Can’t aafford to keep giving it away…

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Kathy,

      Beans and rice will last a good long while. I personally don’t keep food over 5 years, but I heard of people keeping beans and rice for longer.

  • Jim says:

    Did you dry-can (also called oven canning) those beans?

  • Mary Elizabeth Tait says:

    Very interesting read. I live in California, so having an emergency supply of water and food is important with the threat of earthquakes. Do you talk about water storage?

  • Amber Tatlow says:

    Just a note on vitamins, and other medicine type items: the “expiry date” is not always the law… Laws are in place for companies and they are forced to put them on, when in reality, the shelf life is far greater than you would think. Am a paramedic, and we literally dump thousands of dollars in “expired” drugs, that are actually useable and good. No hard and fast rules, but generally hard, non liquid tabs last longer than any soft or liquid ones, and if you store properly, cool, dry, dark, will last much much longer than the date on the bottle. Esp with the cost, I’d never dump them or be afraid of ineffectiveness. Yes, use common sense, but do not be too quick to doubt. Always remember the people who put dates, stand to gain when you must repurchase, and everyone is afraid of being sued. Just my thoughts.

    • Victoria Pardee says:

      I have worked healthcare for 30 years and know this statement to be accurate. US sends thousands of “expired” meds to 3rd world countries for consumption.

  • gigi davis says:

    Can you seal coconut flour and coconut sugar and how long will it last it is organic.

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Gigi,
      Yes you can store coconut flour and coconut sugar however, things with a high fat content like the coconut flour will not last as long as items that do not have a high fat content. It also depends on the age of the coconut flour and coconut sugar when you bought them. If you made the flour yourself of course, you know exactly how old it is. You may have to experiment, perhaps store the coconut flour for six months and see how it does. If it’s still good at the end of six months then you can try storing the next batch a little longer. I’m assuming by coconut sugar you mean coconut palm sugar and that will last awhile since it is dried nectar. Most people recommend a two year self-life for coconut sugar.

  • I find the 1/2 gal. jars at Ace Hardware. If you don’t have an Ace near you try their website. You can also order them from Ace and get free shipping when they send to your local store for pick-up. I love these jars.

  • Janice S. says:

    I am fortunate to live in the south where I grow two gardens twelve months out of each year. Mostly, I can and dehydrate my home grown produce. I use many half gallon jars for vacuum sealing everything from dried beans to honey from my hives.

  • Debbie says:

    what kind of jars are those? where do you find them?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Debbie, the are half gallon Masson jars. Sometimes Wal-Mart carries them. You can always find them on Amazon.

      • Susie Lee Powell says:

        Hello, I am susie. I just purchased some 1/2 gallon mason jars @ walmart. Going to use them for cereal , beans popcorn and other things.I love mason jars

    • Teri K says:

      Debbie… if you’re located near Lancaster, PA you’re very close to Fillmore Container. They carry a plethora of jars for food storage and canning. I usually make one special trip each year just for the ‘odd’ jars I’ll need such as syrup jars or spice jars that tend to get given away as gifts at Christmas. Check out their website

    • JoEllen says:

      They come in half dozen boxes. No good for canning unless you are doing clear juices but they are excellent for dry goods in food storage. They will run you $9-$16 or so for 6. You can vacuum seal them or use oxygen absorb to seal them.

  • >