Store or Starve A beginner's guide to food storage

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Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.

~ Proverbs 6:6

I want people to store food not only for their sake, but for mine as well. I don’t want to decide which of my kids have to go hungry when you and your unprepared kin come knocking on my door. Contrary to progressive-collectivist thinking, every individual who takes care of themselves and their families benefits society by not becoming a burden. So take responsibility now and start today. Don’t expect the Feds to come by to hand you your ration of government-issued cheese. You could be in for a long wait. Wait too long, and you may end up with a green-stained mouth from eating grass, like the poor Irish during the potato famine in the mid 1800′s. Or seriously reevaluate your aversion to cannibalism. Compared to those desperate methods, dumpster diving comes off as luxury cuisine.

An adult needs a minimum 2500 calories a day. More if you are physically active. This translates to about two pounds of food, plus a gallon of potable ("drinkable") water. To get started, follow this cardinal rule; Store what you eat, and eat what you store. Do not expect to suddenly acquire a taste for powered eggs or a jalapeno-spiced chili MRE in a long-term disaster. If you have children, they will be even more reluctant to eat such stuff. The next rule is not go into debt by spending thousands of dollars for pre-packaged foodstuffs. It kinda defeats the purpose if you have to eat your food supply because you have no money left after buying it.

Begin building your food storage by buying 2—3 extra items every time you shop at the grocery store. A few cans here, some bags and boxes there, and it will begin to add up. Look for sales, two-for-one specials, and coupon items. Set aside some space, and put the oldest stuff in front, and the newest in back. Rotate from back to front as you use it. If you have food items that are going to expire soon that you don’t have time to eat, donate them to a local food pantry for Karma points. There. You now have established a simple but effective short-term food storage system. Everything from here on will expand upon it.

The next step is to create a larger, stable environment to preserve your food supply over the long haul. Regardless if you live in a country mansion or a studio apartment, you need the following conditions to preserve food:

  • Keep it airtight
  • Keep it cool
  • Keep it dark
  • Keep it dry
  • Keep it protected

Exposure to oxygen degrades food. I’ll cover one method to deal with that later. Temperature is the next concern. The goal is to keep food at 70° or below. For every 10 degrees cooler, food life doubles. Every 10 degrees warmer, it halves it. But at the same time, you want to keep it from freezing. Maintaining a stable and consistent temperature environment is the key. Avoid temperature extremes, like storing food in an unheated, un-insulated garage in a four-season environment. Basements make good root cellars. Real root cellars are even better. For those in suburban homes and apartments, a closet designated as a food pantry will serve. Metal trash cans, plastic tub containers, or buckets all lined with a 4-mil black trash liners will help insulate food from temperature extremes. They will also protect food from sunlight, which destroys nutrients, from moisture, which creates mold, and rodents, who will grow in swarming numbers as modern society falls apart. Buckets can be obtained at bakeries and food delis for free or at little cost. Hard pressed for space in you domicile? Put a trash can full of food in your living room, throw a nice cloth over it, add a lamp, and it doubles as an end table. Make a media center of boards supported by food buckets. Who said food storage isn’t fashionable?

Now back to the oxygen problem. As long as the can does not have a tell-tale bulge, signaling spoiled contents, canned goods are viable for many years past their expiration dates, notwithstanding a loss in nutritional value. Dry food packed in paper, cardboard boxes, or plastic are subject to oxygen spoilage over time. One solution is to repackage dry food items using food grade Mylar bags. These bags are an inexpensive method for those on a budget to customize their food storage to their personal needs and taste. Mylar is an excellent air and moisture barrier. It is said one can jump on a filled sealed bag and it won’t pop. But they need protection against punctures and gnawing verminu2014hence they need to be stored in a protective container, like those mentioned above. The recommended base foods for long-term storage are wheat, oats, legumes, pasta, honey/sugar, and salt. These will easily last 2030 years if packed and stored properly. Flour and dry milk are more finicky, and have a shelf life of only 5—10 years. If you or members of your family suffer from Celiac disease, and cannot consume gluten type foods such as wheat, substitute white rice instead. I do not recommend brown rice for long-term storage, as it contains oils that break down over time that causes it to spoil. Supplement your long term food with canned goods, MRE’s and others sundries. The eventual goal is to build a diverse storage of food for health, variety, and if necessary, portability.

Items needed for packaging food:

Food grade Mylar bags. I recommend minimum 4.5mil thick bags in one-gallon size. These will hold about 4—6 lbs, depending on the bulk of the food products. Besides commercial vendors, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also sells them online, along with other preparedness supplies. Their bags are 7mil thick. However, they only sell them in bulk, so 250 bags for $94 is probably more bags than you need. The Church also has food canneries throughout the US that sells these in smaller quality. One can purchase pre-packaged food or bring their own food to seal at cost at these centers.

500cc Oxygen absorber packets. It takes two of these for each one gallon, 11" x 13" or similar sized Mylar bags full of food. These packets come in a sealed bag with all the oxygen sucked out. If the bag is not flat, but puffy with air, the oxygen packets have been compromised. You will need a glass jar with a metal (not plastic) lid to store them after you open the bag. Or you can seal them in a Mylar bag. Ordinary plastic bags are no good for storing oxygen packets — they provide a poor air barrier. Oxygen packets will start to feel warm when activated by exposure to air. Take them out only when you have everything else all set to bag and seal. Make sure to close the lid to preserve the others.

5-gram silica gel desiccant. These absorb any residue moisture that may reside in your food, to prevent mold. I’ve talked to the people at our local LDS cannery, and they and others who have stored food for years have experienced no problems not using desiccant packets. Everything I’ve read online suggest you should put them in. Your call. I purchase mine on eBay for around 25 cents each.

Sealer. This is a very expensive piece of equipment. I like to use the one at our local church. Contact the local Bishop or a Mormon friend to arrange a time to use one. It comes with a foot pedal, making it easier to seal bags. An alternative is using a hot iron set on wool or cotton (Not the wife’s!) with a 2 x 4 piece of wood. Some find they can use conventional food sealers. But do your homework well, as it is for good reason that Mylar bags require industrial strength sealers compared to off-the-shelf food sealers.

Directions for sealing bags:

1. If using the LDS Church sealer, check that the settings are at Sealing: 3, Congealing: 6, Recycle: 2. Turn on the sealer and let it warm up for two minutes.

2. (Optional) Place two 5-gram silica gel packets at the bottom of the Mylar bag.

3. Pour flour, rice, grain, etc. in bag. This can be done single-handedly, but from experience, it is so much easier to have someone help holding the Mylar bag, as it is very slick and does not have a flat bottom to keep it upright. Flour and dry milk can be a pain because it "poofs" everywhere when pored in the bag. When it does, use a damp paper towel to clean up the inside of the top of the bags where it will be sealed together. Then apply a dry towel to remove any moisture. At this point, firmly bang the bag several times against the table to help settle the contents and reduce airspace between the food elements.

4. Place two 500cc oxygen packets on top of food. Be sure to keep the unused oxy packets sealed in an airtight container, so they will stay fresh.

5. Hold and pull tight both ends of the open bag, place in the sealer. Let the filled part of the bag drop down, to prevent food from coming up to opening and preventing a perfect seal. Hit the foot pedal. The seal bar will come down for 2—3 seconds to set the seal. I like to add a second seal to each bag for good measure. Check the seal by attempting to peel the opening apart. If the seal is secure, you won’t be able too. Also push on the bag and watch if any air leaks out. None should. For using an iron, place the Mylar bag opening on the 2 x 4, and press down. Some prefer to put a towel between the iron and the Mylar, but I’ve never scorched a bag yet.

6. Use a permanent marker to write the on bag the date, the weight, and the description on the bagged food. I like to include the brand name of the food, in case I have any problems with it, or is recalled by the FDA. For some things like powdered milk, I tape the mixing instructions on the bag.

Mylar bags may be cut in half or smaller to store smaller portions. Filled Mylar bags are very stiff and rigid. The bagged food will be a bit awkward to store in round containers like buckets and trashcans. Stack fragile food like pasta on top of the heavier, bulkier bagged foods. Large Mylar bags from vendors are available to store quantities up to 30 lbs in 5-gallon plastic buckets. Put one in, and fill up with the dry food product of your choice. Some recommend using dry ice on top of the food before sealing to displace oxygen in the bucket. I could not find any dry ice in my area, so put ten oxygen packets on top instead. Seal with a hot iron by pressing the Mylar against a 2 x 4 piece. Trim any excess from the sealed top edge of the bag with scissors to secure the Mylar bag into the bucket. This YouTube video gives excellent demonstration. Cover with a lid. I prefer Gamma screw-top lids on my buckets. They cost from $7—10 each, but are so much easier than popping and hammering lids off and on every time.

Other food storage methods include canning, both traditional glass jars and #10 metal cans. The latter can be done at a local LDS cannery center. Dehydrating food is another valuable storage method.

A few more suggestions with building your food storage. Include fun foods to help break the monotony and uplift morale, such as hard candy, chocolate, powdered drinks, and dried fruit. Pick up some recipes on cooking the food you store, to add variety to your diet. When possible, supplement your food storage meals with garden vegetables, home grown sprouts, or ordinary dandelion leaves. Be careful of depending on a diet of MRE’s. While they are portable and convenient for traveling, they are short on fiber, and can be hard on the digestive system, especially with children and the elderly. They also negatively affect those who are gluten intolerant. On storing water, bottled water is okay if you are going to bug out, but for hunkering down, you need to think much bigger. For the cost of two cartons of bottled water, you can purchase a five-gallon water container. These are more practical if you need to go out and get your water replenished. Add half teaspoon of bleach per five gallons to keep it safe. Be sure to use only regular bleach, and not those with special or extra additives. If in doubt, boil it.

Whether a global disaster strikes or one becomes unemployed, food storage is the best insurance one can have in uncertain times. You will garner a better dividend on your food storage than any other investment. There’s more to improve upon than mentioned here, such as progressing to the next level from food storage to food production. But you have enough info to get started. So no more excuses. Get working on your food storage today. And don’t forget the can opener.

Ron Shirtz [send him mail] is a transplanted Californian teaching Graphic Communications in Northern (Not “Upstate”) New York. His hobbies include arranging deck chairs on sinking ships, tilting at windmills, and being fashionably late.

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