Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Useful long-term dry food storage tips


A couple of days ago I wrote about a German suggestion that everyone store emergency food and water supplies for up to ten days, in case of emergency.  I recommended storing a minimum of thirty days' supplies, because a major emergency might disrupt deliveries to supermarkets and other places where we can replenish our larders.  It may take weeks before things get back to some semblance of normality.

That led to a few e-mails from readers, asking what foods were easiest to store long-term without the risk of them going bad.  That's not necessarily a primary consideration for short-term supplies, of course.  One can simply buy one or two extra cans every week of food one already consumes (e.g. tinned beans, corned beef, Spam, vegetables, etc.) and build up one's reserves that way.  One consumes the oldest can first, and replaces it in one's larder by a newer tin, so that one's supplies are constantly rotated and never get out of date.  It's relatively easy to adopt this method;  in fact, for my wife and myself, it's our primary reserve.  We have canned food sufficient for up to thirty days, used carefully.  This would be supplemented by dry foods such as rice, flour, dried beans, etc.  (We also have a couple of dozen freeze-dried meals for quick-and-easy preparation.  They're relatively expensive, but keep your eye out for sales - we bought ours at half the normal price on a Woot deal similar to this one.)

That said, there's nothing wrong with (and a lot to be said for) having a longer-term supply of dry foods.  The Mormon church is particularly helpful about such matters, as it's part of their normal faith practices for families to keep up to a year's food in reserve.  Many of their recommended supplies can be purchased online from the LDS Store, or through their local churches (many of which also offer food storage classes, and the shared use of expensive resources like canning machines, etc.).  The University of Utah (known, with tongue firmly in cheek, as the Mormon Church in academic gowns!) has a very helpful food storage guide (downloadable in Adobe Acrobat format).

If you don't have the budget or storage space for large quantities of stored food, there are several economical steps you can take to begin more limited preparations.  The first is to find appropriate storage containers.  Plastic and mylar bags and containers are not always the best choice;  they can be punctured, are hard to make (and keep) airtight, and so on.  I strongly recommend the good old-fashioned Mason jar (particularly the larger sizes - I prefer the 64 oz., or half-gallon, version).  They're air- and watertight, can be readily re-sealed with new and inexpensive lids, and can easily be vacuum-sealed.  It's worth shopping around for the best price, including doing an Internet search every time, because prices vary constantly.  For example, I bought some more half-gallon jars last week.  On Amazon.com, the cheapest price I could find at the time (including shipping) was $16.30 for six (a price per jar of $2.72).  Almost every other vendor was more expensive (including local stores, buying them off-the-shelf).  However, Walmart.com offered a dozen of them (with free shipping to my local store for pickup) for only $20.38 - a dollar cheaper per jar.  I'm sure you can guess where I bought my supplies!  Spare lids and bands are also useful items, as are reusable plastic lids to secure the contents while they're being used after the jar's vacuum seal (if it had one) was broken when it was opened.

(By the way, if the boxes in which the Mason jars are delivered are heavy-duty and offer cardboard dividers between jars, don't throw them away.  They make useful storage containers.  I have some beneath the bottom shelf of our food closet, providing added protection to our filled Mason jars.)

You should also buy packets of oxygen absorber, because oxygen is the primary contributor to dried products going bad over time.  I use these ones from Amazon.com, putting one or two into each half-gallon jar (depending on the food inside;  dense foods like rice get one per jar, because there's less air space, while non-dense foods like pasta get two, because there's more oxygen to absorb).  They effectively vacuum-seal the jar as they absorb the oxygen it contains.  You can also buy a low-cost vacuum sealer with attachments to fit Mason jar lids if you want the added security of that approach.  (I like to keep them on hand for foods that don't need oxygen absorbers.)

Some argue that Mason jars, being made of glass, are too easy to break.  That would mean both the loss of the food they contain, and the risk of injury from broken glass.  I accept that's a potential hazard, but not necessarily a major one.  If you're in earthquake territory, where jars are likely to be shaken off shelves, by all means take that into account;  but not all of us are.  Even in earthquake country, storing jars on the bottom of a closet, beneath the protection of the lowest shelf, means they won't fall off anything, and should also protect them from things falling on them.  Others object that jars are more fragile and heavier to transport in an emergency;  but one's emergency food supplies aren't normally something one would 'bug out' with.  They're meant to be used in place.  If you plan to take them with you when you leave, tin cans or bags would certainly be more 'portable';  but even Mason jars are reasonably secure for travel if moved in the boxes in which they came (as mentioned above).  If they arrived safely in those boxes, there's no reason to presume they won't be just as safe in them when they leave!

Finally, if you practice home canning or bottling (preserving fruits, vegetables and meats for your own use), you're almost certainly already using Mason jars by the dozen.  It's no problem to add some more for dry food storage as well.

If you have further hints and ideas, please let us know in Comments.

Peter

9 comments:

raven said...

A five gallon plastic bucket $5 , with a "gamma seal" lid" $8 (screw on) will hold about a 25 pound bag $12 of white rice, wheat berries, beans, etc.

Put 1/4 pound of dry ice in the bucket, fill it, leave the lid loose and let the dry ice melt- it will displace all the air. When it is all gone (the bucket will not be cold on the bottom anymore, tighten the lid.

I initially had some concerns about this, fearing the cold would condese water inside the bucket, but a7 year test show no degradation of the rice at all- I poured it all out on a black surface to examine it- no clumping, mites, or mold were observed.

Plus- they stack nicely.

Judy said...

One thing I have noticed while vacuum sealing in canning jars is the wide-mouth jars work the best. Boxes of canning jars fit under your bed. This is where my mother stored her canning, as the house I grew up in did not have a pantry. If you want to make it pretty use a bed skirt to hide the boxes.

You will notice the Mormon 4: wheat, sugar, salt and powdered milk isn't much of a diet. Appetite fatigue is a real thing! Buy spices and herbs. Buy a wide variety of beans. Buy dehydrated vegetables, fruits, bouillon cubes and potted meats.

Learn to can, dehydrate your own foods and dehydrated meals. One of the best resources for dehydrating your own meals are backpacking sites. Links:
http://www.backpackingchef.com/
http://www.cascadedesigns.com/msr/blog/outdoor-cooking-with-tim-christine-conners/
https://www.youtube.com/user/Dehydrate2store/videos

Just an all round good source of information: Jackie Clay, http://www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/JackieClay/

You don't have to go hungry or eat the same old, same old.

Brian said...

Don't forget a way of cooking your supplies. Minimum camp stove with plenty of fuel.

Anonymous said...

It's also worth noting that canned food lasts far, far longer than the "use by" date. As long as the can in intact and not bulging it'll probably be fine. I found some soup and canned fruits and vegetables that had been misplaced during a move that were over a decade past their use by date. I tried them out of curiosity and they were perfectly fine. Not even any stale or off flavor and no adverse gastrointestinal effects.

Something to consider when preparing food in a scarcity situation is the aroma. The smell of cooking food may invite unwanted dinner guests. You'd be surprised how far cooking smells can travel. Living in the country my nearest neighbors are a mile and 1/2 mile away respectively. Last week was the first time in weeks we've been able to have the a/c off and the Windows open. One morning around 5am I could distinctly smell the neighbor cooking breakfast in their kitchen over a mile away. It's even more of an issue when you're cooking outside. Everyone a mile or two downwind is gonna know when you start cooking meat on a grill.

Anonymous said...

A few tips:
Date everything - keep a Sharpie or equivalent handy and put purchase date on everything food related that comes into the house. I use a simple code: "86" means August 2016, "35" means March 2015 purchase date. Use oldest first. Label each case, but also label each can.

Wire rack shelves from restaurant supply houses. Not inexpensive, but available in various heights (usually 63", 74" and 86"), various shelf depths (usually, 14", 18", 24", sometimes available in 12" but not often), and various lengths (24", 36", 42", 48", 60", 72"). It's "assemble yourself" - the corner poles and shelves are sold separately - and 4 hands are needed if you haven't done it before. Shelves can be spaced at 1" intervals so vertical spacing can be set, and vary with each shelf, to accommodate whatever you want to store, and the various sizes mean you can fit nearly floor-to-ceiling storage into almost any space. (Pro tip: you'll find spaces that require the shelves to be assembled inside the space, so plan ahead. Wheel kits can be added (uses different upright poles, so plan for it) allowing shelves to be moveable. Shelves will hold 350 lbs, so they're pretty solid; I have an 86" high unit with 48"shelves spaced 12" apart - the bottom 3 shelves each hold 4 5-gallon water jugs horizontally. the upper shelves are filled with 12X9X9 food unit boxes.

Restaurant supply outfits also sell boxes of plastic spoons, forks and knives at very low prices. They're boxes of 1,000 so get your friends involved to share the cost. A quart ziploc freezer bag will just hold 20 sets of spoons, knives and forks.

Staples sells a wide variety of cardboard boxes at good prices, and ship-to-store is free. A 12"L X 9"H X 9"W box is a perfect fit for 24 standard size 15.5 ounce grocery store cans. A "food unit" can be assembled with 8 cans of protein (chili, salmon, etc.) 8 cans off veggies and 8 of fruit giving you a "grab 'n' go" box. Pro tips: tape a few P-38 and/or P-51 can openers under the box lid so you can open the cans, and those plastic spoons, forks and knives? Drop a dozen of each into the spaces between cans. Mark the box on each end with date and contents: I use the date code (above), plus "U" for food unit, "V" for 24 cans of veggies, "F" for 24 cans of fruit, an "X" for plastic utensils included, and a large black dot to indicate 4 can openers taped under the lid. Canned food is cooked before canning, so it can be eaten cold right out of the can. Tastes better heated, but it's edible cold.

American-made P-38s and P-51s are availabe in packages of 100 from Sportsmans' Guide, about $20 and $25 respectively plus shipping. If you're buying freeze dried food in #10 cans, tape an opener to the top of a couple cans in each case.

sdharms said...

can home dehydrated veggies be sealed in a mason jar and kept for a long period?

Anonymous said...

The University of Utah (known, with tongue firmly in cheek, as the Mormon Church in academic gowns!) has a very helpful food storage guide

A) The University of Utah is actually the apostates. The faithful go to BYU.

B) The link you provide is to Utah State University, a totally different place way up in Logan.

(USU class of '86 here; g'waggies!)

Judy said...

sdharms - yes, but here are some caveats. The veggies or any fruits have to be prepared as you would freeze them. They may need to be blanched to stop any enzyme action that would give them an off flavor when cooked before eating. I use oxygen absorbers plus vacuum sealing on the jars.

Here are the two dehydrator books I found to be the most useful: The Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer MacKenzie, et al and Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook by Mary Bell. The booklet that comes with the Excalibur Dehydrator is also excellent.

One other point, be sure and get a GOOD dehydrator from the get go. You want one with a fan and temperature controls. My first one didn't have the temperature controls and I should have saved my money a little longer and got a GOOD one. My only beef with the Excalibur Dehydrator is the fruit leather sheets don't have a lip on them, which means juices can leak off the sheets as the purees warm up. I fixed that by stapling corners into my sheets.

Craig B said...

From personal experience in Hurricane zones; store and keep items that you would NORMALLY eat. I have seen LOTs of "survival" food tossed out because someone didn't like the taste of texture, even to the point of people going hungry because it wasn't what they were used to.... Best to test cook/prepare a meal or two of what you are storing before you buy large quantities. Even have some tested recipes packed with the stored food with consideration of just what cooking equipment you may have in a crisis situation.

My family camps a lot so camp food and camp cooking gear is always on hand.

Craig