Food: Storing FoodsFebruary 4, 2011
Are you preserving foods for another day? Do you have some prepared meals sitting in your pantry, ready to heat up for a quick meal?
If you are concerned about the rising cost of food or the quality of food, you are probably storing some extra foods. Perhaps you have begun to buy some foods on sale or in bulk sizes, too. Maybe you have plans to grow more food, maybe increase your garden plot this year.
If you purchase your foods, your food cupboards or kitchen pantry might be restocked on a consistent basis. When the kitchen pantry is restocked with foods that have been consumed, the pantry can remain fairly stable. If you have a food pantry filled with your home-grown jars of foods, the pantry fills up at harvest time and is depleted towards the end of Winter. In our household, our food pantry always had bare spots by early Spring — but we have realized the lack of food security within our household and made some big changes. With our troubled economy, we have moved away from depleting our food pantry during Winter. We are now restocking foods, just to keep extra food on hand. Now, instead of running low or running out of food in the kitchen pantry, our food is replenished periodically.
Are you also storing more foods than you used to? Did you just buy a few cases of canned food on sale? Are you buying flour or grains in bulk quantities? Perhaps you have more food than what your kitchen can hold. If you grow your own food and had a bumper crop, or even a bountiful harvest, some of that home-grown produce was probably preserved. If the cupboards fill to capacity, where is the excess food stored? Maybe you grow root crops like potatoes or carrots and store the harvest in a cool, dark place in your basement or an outdoor root cellar. If so, your household is involved with some long-term food storage. Whatever food ‘plan’ you have chosen for your household, foods need to be stored until they are used. Some homes have the space to store foods, some don’t. This is when we get creative or even plan a food storage area.
Most of us have learned how to store our foods and we use our refrigerators, freezers, cupboards, shelving units, and pantries. Some of us have root cellars or basement storage areas where we can store foods, too. Sometimes, space requirements to store those extra foods may be an issue. Some folks will put their furniture to full use by storing canned foods. A dining room hutch or a cupboard, even a vintage record cabinet, can hold cans of foods. I have read of people storing extra canned foods under beds and in bedroom closets and jelly cupboards. Whatever works!
Long-Term Food Storage. With an extended food storage plan, or a long-term food storage plan, foods that need to be stored require even more space and a cool, dry environment to minimize deterioration. With long-term food storage, foods might not fit in the cupboards and pantry shelves. Is there an area where excess foods can be stored? A shelving unit in a basement, closet, or spare room are the most typical places for most people who are involved in long-term food storage.
When we began storing foods for the long-term, several factors needed to be considered. Food containers, temperature and humidity, and expiration dates are considerations that are important for stored foods. When storing foods for a year or more, rotate the foods: use the oldest foods before the freshest foods. If you are home-canning food, label your jars or lids so that the dates can be easily noted.
Here in our household, we have been adding to our food storage in a number of ways:
- preserving more of our garden harvest
- buying more foods
- buying in bulk quantities
- buying organic foods when offered on sale
- preparing meal-ready home-canned foods (meats, soups)
Building up our household food supply has taken time and money ‘up front’ but we are content with our decision to store more food. Many people have routines for extra purchases such as buying 2 and putting 1 into food storage. Some DIY types are buying foods on sale, then preserving them at home. There are many ways to increase a household food supply! Lately, I have been pressure-canning some of our frozen meats for home-cooked shelf-ready meals.
Why Store So Much Extra Food? Anyone who has stored food, even if there is only enough extra food for a few weeks or a month is better prepared for situations like an illness, a disaster, inclement weather, or a family hardship. Food that is put away and stored is a smart way to insure that your family will be fed during hard times.
Maybe a household has a pantry of stored foods in cans and jars. Maybe there is a cupboard of soups and tins of meats, too. In many households, there is a freezer with frozen meats and vegetables, even leftovers or some ready-to-bake food. Wherever food is stored, those foods are preserved in some manner, protected until ready to use.
Stored food is like money in the bank, but it tastes better!
Get Organized. Since we have increased our food storage and are now involved with a long-term food storage strategy, we must keep the foods in several different locations. Our kitchen just isn’t big enough. So our home has several food storage areas and we use several different methods of storage. Large jars hold some of our grains and legumes and these jars serve our everyday purposes.
Long term food storage can seem overwhelming, especially at first. Take it a step at a time. If you decide to purchase foods for long term food storage it is best to start with a short-term time-frame like 1 month or 3 months of food. Once you have determined the time-frame, then list the foods your household consumes and begin with a week’s worth of food. Once you have identified the foods you eat in a week, it is easy to plan for a month or a 3 month time-frame.
When you decide to begin storing more foods, you will need to determine if you will store dry foods, dehydrated foods, prepared meals, freeze-dried foods, or a combination of these.
As you decide on the foods you want to store, learn which foods will store the best. Identify foods that have short shelf-life dates and which foods will turn rancid in a short time-frame. (I will provide some information on these issues in another post.) Then you are ready to shop! You can shop bargains, use coupons, hunt for deals online, or simply add to your food storage as you make your regular purchases.
As a general rule, the best foods for long term storage are grains, legumes, sugars, and white rice. Since grains have a much longer shelf-life than flours, consider using grains that can be milled into flour. Also, grains and legumes can be used to produce very nutritious sprouts, making them a double-duty food.
Dehydrated foods can be stored for 1-2 years if the foods are processed at home and are sealed and stored correctly. Dehydrated foods retain a better shelf-life if they are stored in sealed vacuum plastic bags or in Mylar bags with oxygen packs. Professionally dehydrated or freeze-dried foods are also available. These are pre-packaged in sealed Mylar bags or vacuum-sealed metal cans.
In our long-term food storage, we have legumes, sugars, cocoa, powdered dairy products, white rice, and dry grains. Most of these foods are purchased in bulk, then transferred to lined plastic 5 gallon food buckets we have gotten free of charge. We have prepared the foods for long-term storage with sealed Mylar bags which will protect the food and provide a long shelf-life. Before sealing the Mylar bags, we add oxygen packs that will remove the extra oxygen from the sealed bags, keeping the food as safe as possible for long term storage. This video covers the basics:
From Pantry To Food Storage System. Our total food storage system includes the kitchen pantry, the basement shelving unit, our refrigerator and freezer, plus the long term food we are storing. The food buckets and canned goods have outgrown our shelving unit so I am now clearing an area for a basement pantry to house all of these foods in one location. This area will also store empty canning jars.
Our food supply didn’t happen overnight — we had to plan its growth. We did this slowly as we learned about long-term food storage.
First, we needed to know how much food we would consume in a specific time frame. We planned to only store the foods that we liked and foods that we would eat. For us, the most confusing part of food storage was learning how much of a particular food would be consumed by our family unit. Several online resources helped with those estimates and I have provided those at the end of this blog post.
As our food storage inventory grew, I began to track the inventory on a spreadsheet. I needed to know how much food was in each of the food buckets! The spreadsheet was updated periodically until the end of 2010 when I felt that we had come close to our year-end goal. Once that was achieved, food storage became a matter of replacing what we consumed: put food back in when you take food out — use and replace.
Establishing a food storage system meant that we needed to learn the proper ways to store the variety of foods we have. We also needed to learn how we could easily rotate foods so that we didn’t waste foods or forget certain foods because they were left unused for a long time.
I began researching food storage and have come across several worthwhile links that address food storage. There are many websites that discuss food storage and here are a few websites I located:
Captain Daves In depth, well organized
LDS Food Calculator Some basic info on foods to store
Food Storage Made Easy Learn along with the 2 gals (commercial site now)
Dehydrate To Store Organized, recipes (commercial site)
Are you storing more foods? Do you have plans for a bigger garden this year?