Archive for October, 2015

In my prior two posts about food storage I addressed the basics (Food Storage Getting Started, Food Storage Beyond the Basics).  I’d recommend reading them if you haven’t already.

As a refresher…  The easiest way to get started with your food storage is to just buy a little extra of what you already eat every time you go grocery shopping.  Start with getting a weeks worth of food, then a month.  Next I would recommend getting bulk food stuffs like rice, beans, flour, and sugar.  Once you have a nice stock pile you’ll want to do a few things to make sure it lasts as long as possible.  It would be pretty sad to break into your food storage during an emergency to find it inedible or even dangerous to eat.

Lets dig a little deeper.  First, let’s discuss the threats to your food storage.

The Elements of Food Storage Destruction

Air – Oxygen is one of the main culprits here.  Oxygen causes oxidation which degrades food, causes it to go bad, and alters taste.  Oxygen also allows for the growth of microorganisms which can spoil food as well as make it dangerous to eat. Oxygen absorbers and nitrogen flushing are ways to combat this.  A vacuum sealer is specifically designed for this problem.  It removes most of the air in the bag.  I reiterate the word most because it does not remove all air.  It is therefore not quite as good as some other methods.

  • Botulinum toxin is the exception to this rule.  Anyone who has food storage should be aware of this.  This is a bacteria that grows in environments that lack oxygen, like canned foods.  The tell-tale sign is a bulging can.  Don’t even taste the food, even this miniscule amount can be lethal.

Water – Most of the time this is going to be moisture in the air (humidity) which is omnipresent.  Removing moisture and then storing food in air-tight containers helps avoid this.  Frank water intrusion is a reality as well.  If you store your flour, sugar, salt, etc in the original paper packaging it can quickly be ruined by a basement flood, fire sprinkler, or even a broken water container.  Store your food in water-proof, air-tight containers.  Dry goods like flour, salt, sugar all like to absorb water out of the air so you have to limit air exposure.

Light – Degrades food, nutrients, and vitamins.  Think about what the sun does to anything you leave outside.  It bleaches and fades everything overtime.  Your food storage is the same.  Dark is good.  Opaque storage materials like metal cans and mylar bags are good for this.

Temperature – in general cooler is going to be better.  Heat speeds up the degradation of nutrients.  Stability is important too, you want to avoid a lot of change in temperature.  Storage sheds, attics and garages are going to vary more than inside your house.  Basements are usually good choices as they are stable and cool.  A good example of this is MREs which have been extensively studied regarding temperature degradation.

MRE Shelf Life Chart

Pests – anything else that wants to eat your food!  Rats, mice, raccoons, insects, hungry teenagers… Part of this depends on where you live.  One example is weevils.  Their eggs are almost universally found in flour.  Don’t believe me.  Put some flour in a container and leave it for… a while.  At some point you will either see bugs in the flour or little trails and tracks all over the flour.  Rodents are a particular problem as they can chew through most containers.  Metal cans are effective at keeping them out.  Teenagers are very crafty, good luck keeping them out of your food.

Time – even if you manage to avoid all of the factors above time will degrade your food storage.  Under ideal conditions some things will last 30 years.  Commercially available freeze-dried foods often advertise 25-30 years.  There are a few things that can last almost indefinitely honey, sugar, and salt.  The take home here is that even under ideal circumstances your food has a “shelf-life.”  Part of this is due to the fact that you cannot completely remove or isolate your food from the above elements.  Nature abhors a vacuum for you science nerds.

Protection from the Elements of Food Storage Destruction

There are a lot of methods to protect your food.  Ziplock bags and Tupperware style containers are a couple widely available options.  These are better than nothing but will likely only add a couple of months.  Below are a few ways you can really kick things up a notch.  One thing to note is that as time goes by and food degrades it doesn’t necessarily expire or “go bad”.  Things are often still edible and nutritious but the taste and quality may not be as good.
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Vacuum sealing – this uses a heavy-duty plastic bag and small countertop device that uses a vacuum to remove most of the air.  I have this vacuum sealer, I got it at Sam’s for cheaper with some accessories and bags.  It works fine.  I bought an accessory that allows you to seal cans.  The bag of macaroni noodles below is sealed by this method.  You can see how tight the plastic conforms to the individual noodles.  There is very little air in the bag = longer storage life.  The bag is actually quite thick and durable as well.  One draw back is that the bag is clear so this does not help much with stopping degradation from light.  Luckily this is stored in a room that is almost always dark.  I used the can accessory to vacuum seal some M&Ms in a jar.  The noodles to the right came in a box that really did very little to stop or even limit DSC00115any of the above destroyers.  The noodles would have likely lasted six months.  Vacuum sealed they will last much longer.  Food saver says two years.
You could add an oxygen absorber to either of these and help remove even more oxygen and extend the shelf-life further.

Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers –   this is a tried and true prepper food storage staple.  Mylar bags are thick, durable

DSC00113and metalized so they block light.  Think of it as an improved version of the above bag.  Oxygen absorbers are little packets that… you guessed it, absorb oxygen!  Well not exactly from a pure chemistry standpoint, but I won’t bore you with the details.  Take the mylar bag, add food, add the appropriate amount of oxygen absorbers, remove as much air as possible, seal bag (the bag melts to itself with heat, like an iron).  You’ll notice later that the bag sucks in on itself after a period of time due to the oxygen absorber doing its job.

One limitation of bags over jars or cans is that they are easier for animals to get into, rodents can chew threw them.

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Mylar in buckets –  you can take something like the above (beans in mylar bag) and then put it in a bucket.  This should protect it even further.  I am not aware of rodents eating through plastic buckets (I am sure they can with enough time and motivation).  Many companies like Emergency Essentials will do this process for you.  To the right is a 5 gallon bucket filled with rice in a mylar bag that I did myself.  It is cheaper to do it yourself, but obviously requires the time, materials and know-how.  This picture also features the Gamma-Lid.  This product is an absolute must have!  This may be the best tip I have ever given you… seriously…  As you can see it turns your bucket into a screw top and is 1000 times easier to use that the traditional bucket lid.  Seriously, 1000x easier, scientifically tested…  Just do yourself a favor and buy some.  They also come in a variety of colors which you can use to color code your food.  Like here, white is for rice.  Red is for wheat, etc.

Canning – your grandmother’s (and yours DSC00112if you’re smart!) classic method of preservation.  It uses heat and an air-tight container to create a vacuum (incompatible for little baddies to live in).  Canning usually involves boiling the food in a jar which kills bacteria as well.  This process is pasteurization.  The discoverers of this process noticed that if you boiled beer or wine it would last a lot longer.  They were killing off the bacteria that would eventually cause spoilage.  All commercially available milk is required to go through this process.  This principle is useful for preppers to know and understand!  To the right are spiced apples that my wife canned.  Foods can last 4-5 years (and more) via this method.  The jars also keep out rodents.  They are heavier, bulkier, and more fragile compared to bags.  They are also quite a bit more expensive.  This process takes a bit of experience and equipment.  I would recommend finding a friend to mentor you.

Canning with cans – Well, there is canning and then there is… canning.  I know, confusing…  Metal cans are a great DSC00116storage option.  It requires a canning machine if you are going to do it yourself.  Or there are the really nice companies that will gladly do it for you… for a nominal fee of course.  #10 cans are very popular in the food storage world.  This is basically a mylar bag on steroids.  These are very durable and with the aid of something to remove oxygen can make your food last decades.  The picture at the left shows a #10 can of hot chocolate mix (which fyi does not store very long even under perfect conditions (couple years). This brings up the point that even under ideal conditions some things just do not store well (usually due to oil and fat content, as in the hot chocolate).  Freeze dried foods (process removes water, one of the major destroyers) are often stored in cans with an oxygen absorber.  Some companies use a process called nitrogen flushing to remove oxygen.  As you can see a can like this really hits all of the major destroyers.  This is how you hit the 30 year mark.  Some great companies are Wise, Mountain House, Thrive, Augason Farms, and Nitropak.  I have tried most of them.  I usually buy Mountain House because it is good quality and usually the best prices.  Companies like Thrive are great for odder items like blackberries, mangoes, and monterrey jack cheese.  The other companies will likely have one cheese option, cheddar.

Pickling – as we have learned bacteria don’t like heat or vacuums.  They also dislike acid and high concentrations of salt.  Pickling takes advantage of both of these concepts.  Take a cucumber, add a lot of salt and acid… and presto chango you have pickles.  Pickles will last MUCH longer than a cucumber.  You can pickle lots of things, eggs, beets, okra, and so forth.  Hey, I said you COULD pickle it; I didn’t say you would want to or for that matter that you would want to eat it.

Refrigeration and Freezing – this alone revolutionized the world.  The ability to keep things cool drastically decreased food poisoning and increased the life of foods.  We take this for granted, but it is a modern miracle.  It requires a fair amount of energy.  If you have access to it, use it!  You may not have electricity or very much of it in a disaster situation.  You can freeze things like oil (oil is really hard to store as it goes rancid via… oxidation!).  You can also freeze your heirloom seeds to drastically lengthen their lifespan.  Aside… don’t make the mistake of thinking you can just take the seeds of the apple you bought at the store, plant them and grow an apple tree.  You can’t. The vast majority of things we buy and eat nowadays are genetically modified.  This adds useful things like bug resistance but it almost always has a nasty side effect of making the plant sterile.  You must get heirloom seeds, plants with seeds that begat (getting Biblical here) like plants.  You may find this terribly bizarre and earth shattering but trust me its true.  Try it if you don’t believe me.  A lot of you already know this, but I thought I would throw it in.

Conclusion – You are now armed with the knowledge of the elements of food storage destruction.  Go forth and make your food impervious to these elements of destruction.  In future posts I may get more into the specifics of the actual step-by-step process if there is a demand for it.  Luckily, there is no shortage if information and some really nice videos via a quick Google search.  Keep working on getting your food storage.  Then do everything you can to maximize its shelf life.

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