Food Storage Basics

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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.