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What Does Proper Food Storage Look Like

by Chris Weatherman

There is little doubt that food is the fundamental reason we prep. It was food, or the lack of it, that led to the agricultural revolution. Before that, man simply lived hand to mouth. As a result, early peoples were nomadic, following the great herds on migrations. But with the advent of agriculture, man was able to put down roots. Both figurative and literal.

Food is also the reason we plan for security, to protect it. It is a simple fact that humans have to consume food and water daily. Sure, you can go a while without it, but contrary to what a lot of the survival manuals tell you, it’s not very long. If a person was to sit down and do nothing, they could in theory, go a month without eating. But, in a survival situation we are not just sitting and waiting. We have lots of hard physical work to do, and that requires calories. Calories we have to store.

A perfect food storage would be packed with fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. Much like we already eat. But as know, these items do not store well and must be consumed fresh. Just like agriculture allowed man to settle, the invention of refrigeration allowed man the luxury of eating fresh food over a long period of time. But refrigeration is problematic for anyone trying to develop a food storage system. Mainly because it relies on the very thing we’re preparing to lose, the grid.

If we all had our own flux capacitor in a shed behind the house and created our own power, this would not be an issue. But we don’t and as a result, it’s an issue – a big one. So, with refrigeration out of the equation, what’s next? This is where history and the future meet. We can rely on the old methods of drying foods for preservation and it works well. But now we also have the advantage of freeze dried foods as well.

And it’s good we have different methods because different foods perform better depending on the method of preservation used. Meat is a good example. Drying meat is one of the oldest methods of preservation. It goes back to the earliest days of man. And it’s easy to do, simply cut the meat into thin strips and hang them up to allow them to air dry.

a deer being skinned and quartered for food

The problem with this method is what you can do with it when it comes time to consume it. Naturally it can be eaten like jerky. But if you intend to cook with it, about the only thing you can do is make a stew or soup. Freeze dried meat on the other hand, can be rehydrated and used in nearly any fashion you would fresh meat. In many cases, the reconstituted meat is indistinguishable from fresh.

I mention these two methods of preservation for a reason. Done properly, the food will last for decades. Of course, modern canning will also produce a product that will last for a very long time as well. The primary difference is in the weight of the finished product. Canned goods will be heavy and bulky.

So, what should we be storing? The best food to store, is the food you like to eat! During a crisis we are already under a lot stress. Introducing foods we are not accustomed to eating at the same time will further compound this and cause some gastrointestinal issues. And this is very important for kids. Food is not only nourishment but comfort. And introducing alien foods in a stressful time will only make matters worse.

That’s why it is not a good idea to go out and simply buy one of the years supply of freeze dried food. It will be full of things that you don’t eat and probably some stuff you sincerely dislike. Plus, if the pallet you bought contains prepared meals, you will quickly begin to suffer from menu fatigue. Yes, it’s a real thing. If you’re having to eat the same things for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day, you will tire of it quickly. Meal time will cease to be a comfort and turn into a dreaded necessity conducted out of sheer need.

Remembering that, during an emergency, we will probably be more physically active than we are now, we need to make sure we’re storing food that can provide the calories we need. And this can be a problem. Of course, sugar stores well, as do starches like pasta and potatoes. But these simple carbs will not get the job done. We need complex carbs, we need fat.

Fat is very hard to store. You have to get a little creative to get the job done. I recommend storing pure lard. Not vegetable shortening, but lard. Stored properly it will last for many years and is cheap. The lard will be used in nearly everything you cook, to add the fat your body will need. It can also be used for other things.

Let’s say you killed a deer and dressed it. You have some of it in the smoker, some hanging to air dry. But you also wanted to eat some fresh. So, you kept a rear ham and cooked it whole. Everyone ate their fill, but there is still meat there and you don’t want to waste it. You can take the meat from the bone, put it in a bowl and pour rendered lard over it until it is completely covered. In this condition, it can sit on the counter, without refrigeration, and will not go rancid. The lard keeps the air away from the meat, as well as insects.

But we can’t live on just lard, we need other food as well. Canned meats are a good option. They contain fat and store well. There are no special considerations to using them, just pop the top and it’s ready to go. The downside is it’s heavy and worse, expensive.

This is where looking at the viability of freeze dried meats comes into play. They store longer and are lighter weight. They can be used in any method of cooking as well. Downside, this too is expensive.

Now, if you have your own freeze dry machine, like I do, you can freeze dry all the meat you want. The cost versus the return is something that will have to be carefully considered. But, it is the best method of laying in a solid source of protein at a reasonable cost. Conventional pressure canning can be used to store meat as well. This will produce a better product than commercial meats and you can control what’s in it. Decide what method works best for you and get started on your meats.

canning and storing food with a silver dehydrator in a kitchen with pineapple

A proper diet needs more than just meat. We also need fruits and vegetables. Here again, dehydrated and freeze dried are the best options. Of course, you can get canned varieties as well. But the fruits will be packed with added sugar or fructose and the veggies will be loaded down with salt.

The freeze-dried varieties will not have either of these in the single product offerings. I mention this because the prepared meals and desserts offered by a number of companies will have added sugar and salt. And some of them are packed with salt. Consuming a lot of salt when you’re very active outdoors isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your body will sweat it out and it needs replaced. But too much salt can cause a host of other problems.

Additionally, we should store the kinds of fruits and vegetables that your family enjoys now. Canned vegetables and fruits have the same issue as canned meats, weight and contents. Commercially canned products will have preservatives, no matter how organic the label claims it is. A good option for adding veggies to your diet is to store any one of the numerous vegetable concentrations commonly called super foods. I use a couple different varieties.

comparison of dried green drink mixes

A single scoop of most of these products contains numerous fruit and vegetable varieties. Since they are already powdered they are perfect to store for long term. They can be added to anything you’re cooking to increase your intake of greens. And if times are hard, you can just mix it with water and drink it. It cannot be stressed enough, though, to store foods your family already like.

Then, there are the starches. These provide needed simple carbs and act as a filler. The addition of rice or pasta can help stretch an otherwise meager meal. But storing these products does not have to be expensive, these are among the cheapest items to store. And you don’t have to buy it from the expensive long-term companies.

freeze dried squares of pasta ready for reheating

Products like rice, instant potatoes, pasta or grits can be purchased at any grocery store. But when you buy these products, they are not ready for long-term storage. Pasta and potatoes come in boxes and composite paper bags. By purchasing these products and repackaging them at home, you can save money and get more for your money.

Watch for sales, BOGO’s and look at your local Sam’s or Costco to buy in bulk. Bring these items home and repackage them in mylar. Include a food-grade desiccant package to keep moisture out. Seal the bags and they’re ready to be put away for that rainy day. Another method of storing these products without spending a lot of money is to reuse two-liter bottles. Save your soda bottles or get them from friends and family if you don’t use them. Wash them out and dry them. Fill them with your rice, instant potatoes or whatever else and cap them. They’re now ready for storage.

Dry beans should be another portion of your food system. They are a substantial source of protein. They store well and are cheap. Plastic bottles can also be used to store these as well. Beans are a big part of my storage plan. They are simple to cook and can be used in any number of ways. To stretch your stored meats, use the beans as the basis of your meals and add meat for flavor and texture. Beans and rice makes a filling and satisfying meal.

But, with that in mind, let’s talk about salt. While we want to store other spices, salt is very important and should be stored in quantity. Not only for seasoning your food, but it can also be used for food preservation. And what could be one of the best qualities, it’s a barterable commodity. Very barterable. That’s why I say, store it in quantity.

Salt is cheap and can purchased nearly anywhere. I store large quantities of sea salt, I prefer it to table salt. But I also store iodized table salt. Iodine is a vital element that our bodies need and cannot synthesize. It was added to table salt in 1924. Since salt typically comes in either cardboard cans or boxes, we need to repackage it for storage. I pour the salt into mylar bags and add a desiccant package. Salt, like flour, will cake if you include an O2 absorber. So, do not include them.

Since we’re on the topic of flour, let’s talk about that for a minute. Flour is another component of a well-rounded food storage system. The problem with flour is, it doesn’t store well. If you’re going to store ground flour, you should freeze it first. This will kill any pests or their eggs that are, and I do mean, are, in the flour. Flour needs to be properly stored like everything else.

As I previously stated, do not add O2 absorbers. It will cause flour, sugar and salt to form into a solid block. While that’s not a big deal for salt and sugar, it will ruin flour and make it unusable. For salt and sugar, a common kitchen grater will return them to a usable state. Sugar used to be sold in solid cones wrapped in paper, so it really isn’t a big deal.

If you don’t want to deal with the ground floor, you can always store whole wheat berries. If you go this route, you’ll need a quality grain mill to grind it into flour. This is the best way to have flour long-term. The uses of flour are obvious. And if you don’t know how to bake bread at home, you better learn before the time comes, if you intend to have bread. Same goes with fresh pasta, which can also be made from your home ground flour.

Just like in our normal diet, these are the foundational stones of our food preparedness. But there is one more part this very complex, but easily accomplished puzzle, the sundries. I mentioned salt earlier. Salt is a vital element we need in our bodies. It’s so important, that in times in history, it was worth more than gold. Salt is cheap and easy to store, so get it!

But there’s more than salt. Spices have been traded since at least 2000 BC. And there’s good reason for it. There is a real condition that exists called menu fatigue. In other words, you can very quickly grow tired of eating the same thing day after day. Salt and spices can change the taste and flavor of anything we eat.

Take rice and beans for example. Can you imagine trying to eat bland rice and beans every day? A little salt can easily turn this simple meal into a satisfying dish that will be enjoyed, as opposed to having to choke down the nearly tasteless mass. As will other spices, which is why we should store those we use daily as well as more exotic varieties.

Weeks into an event that requires us to live off our food supply things will begin to become mundane. Imagine your simple dishes being converted with some curry powder, Old Bay (yes Old Bay, I freeze dry shrimp!), Tabasco or any other of the countless spices that are so readily available. Do not underestimate the need to include spices in your storage system.

And in this line, there is yet more we need to think about. Baking powder and soda are both critical components that need stored. We talked about making bread earlier and if we intend to bake, we need these items. Another sundry that needs to be thought about is vinegar. This has so many uses, aside from food preservation, that it should be included. But don’t stop there.

Let’s not forget dairy. Short of having your own cow, the only way you’ll have any dairy is to store it. Freeze dried butter isn’t hard to get. Neither is canned cheese, which would be a real treat when the time comes. Cheese can be had in either powdered forms or canned whole. Instant milk is also very inexpensive and most of the large freeze dry companies offer it.

Give all of these categories careful thought. Store foods your family already likes to eat to make the transition to utilizing your food storage easier. Get creative, food storage doesn’t have to be expensive. It can seem overwhelming in the beginning, but once you’ve established a system for building your food storage system, you will see it’s not that hard. The hardest thing about food storage is getting started. Pick a spot in any of the categories I’ve listed and get started. You’re now on your way to a proper food storage system.

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