One of the greatest assets to have in an emergency is a healthy and well-rounded food supply. Food storage isn’t just for preppers, though—it’s something every household should consider. Unexpected hardships, job losses, medical bills, or legal troubles can drain your bank account in a hurry. With food stores in place, your family will at least be able to eat for a few weeks (or months) until you’re back on your feet again.
Don’t think of food storage as paranoid food hoarding, instead think of it as a food insurance policy. And if you’re going to stock up on some staples, you might as well do it right. Here are ten of the most common mistakes that are made in food storage—and how to prevent the loss of your valuable food commodities.
This is one of the worst crimes in food storage, and one of the easiest to fix. If you forget about some of your shorter-lived food supplies, then it’s very likely they’ll expire. We can all be guilty of this. Just this week, I found some cartons of chicken broth in my food stash that expired about a year ago.
With dry goods, I don’t worry about expiration dates very much. But with wet products, especially in “soft” packaging, you can’t afford the risk of using expired food and drink. Use a marker to write the expiration date larger on your containers and packages, and use good rotation practices to actually use the food you buy for storage.
The temperature of your storage area can play a big role in the longevity of the food you’ve set aside. Cooler is better than warmer, and a constant temperature is better than a fluctuating one.
Take your food storage out of the garage, for example, and move it to the basement. The seasonal hot and freezing temperatures of the average garage can drastically shorten your food’s lifespan, but the steady cool of the basement can make it last.
Sunlight sure is handy for growing food, but after that the relationship takes a sour turn. If you can’t store your food in containers that are impermeable to light, then store them in a dark place. Those jars of home-canned veggies will start tasting pretty weird if you store the clear jars in a sunny area. They won’t last long, either.
Like sunlight, you need moisture to grow the food, but it doesn’t do you much good after that. A dry place is the best place to store your food, and for dry-food staples, the moisture should be low inside the packaging too. Place food-grade desiccant packs inside the bucket, jar, or bag of food to suck up the spare moisture and make the food last longer.
Low levels of oxygen can equate to low levels of spoilage. Purchase oxygen-absorbing packets from food storage specialty suppliers to use inside your food containers. These are sold in a variety of sizes and measured in CCs.
In a quart jar of dry goods, you could use 50 to 100 CC packets. Use 50 CCs for rice, flour, and mixes. Use 100 CCs for beans and pasta. In a five-gallon bucket, you’ll need about 1,000 CCs. Use more than that (around 1,500 CCs) if the bucket is full of beans or pasta. That’s a heck of a lot of pasta—more than 35 pounds worth and more than 60,000 calories on average.
Drawing a vacuum on your food containers is a great way to diminish oxygen and extend the food’s storage life. There are numerous home vacuum products that are designed to suck the air from jars and bags and seal them tight. If you don’t have the coin to spring for a vacuum machine, you can perform a different form of atmosphere modification with dry ice. This frozen carbon dioxide block can be chipped into ice cube-size chunks, carefully crushed, and placed in the bottom of grain buckets and other food stores.
Dump the grain or other food on top of the crushed “ice,” and loosely put the lid in place. Two or three ounces of dry ice is all you need for a five-gallon bucket of grain or rice. As the CO2 becomes a gas, it fills the spaces around the grain and pushes out the oxygen. Seal tightly after 30 minutes. Be extra careful with this oddly dangerous material, though. Wear gloves and goggles when working with it. It can create frostbite within a few seconds of contact with bare skin.
Using the wrong containers for your foods can certainly have an impact on their storage. Acidic foods like dried fruit should not come in contact with the walls of a metal can, as they’ll leach out some metal and take on a metallic flavor. Instead, store your dried fruit in glass jars or Mylar bags, which won’t create any leaching problems.
Like using the wrong container, using the wrong storage process can lead to spoilage or even botulism. No matter how much you wish it was true, butter should not be canned with your home canning equipment. The result is not safe for storage.
And cooked meat should never be turned into jerky. Once cooked, the only reliable ways to store cooked meat are canning, freeze drying, and freezing. Make sure you use the right process for the right food.
Insects, like roaches and pantry moths, will try their best to sneak into your food supply, though tightly sealed containers will usually halt their quest. Unfortunately, there are probably some bugs that beat them to it—pests that naturally live in the grain and other food-stuffs. An easy way to zap weevils and similar pests is to place the food in a deep freezer for several days prior to storage. This kills adult insects and larval bugs. Eggs might survive, and if you’re worried about that, there are several solutions.
The dry ice trick for oxygen removal will create a very inhospitable world for the bugs. You could also blend a little food-grade diatomaceous earth with grain and other dry foods. Just a few ounces in a five-gallon bucket of grain will do the trick. This material is edible by humans, but it scratches up insects and causes them to die of dehydration.
Plastic totes and buckets are no match for the ravenous appetite and chisel-like teeth of rats, mice, and other rodents. If rodents are even a possibility in your food storage location, place as much of your food in jars and cans as possible.
Large metal boxes, like job-site tool boxes, can also be placed in larger storage facilities and filled with plastic food buckets, MRE cases, and other vulnerable stores.
Got any good food storage tips or tricks? Tell us about them in the comments.