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can first, and replaces it in one's larder by a newer tin, so that one's supplies are constantly rotated and never get out of date.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.