Food Storage for the Long Term

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A major part of prepping is building a stockpile of supplies, especially food, to be used in the event of a disaster. While there are many different ways of harvesting water from the environment around us and many sources that we can use, harvesting food from the environment is much harder. On top of this, many of the unprepared people around us are going to be trying to come up with food as well, making whatever food exists rather rare.

But for those of us who have invested in building a food stockpile, food shouldn’t be an issue… at least for as long as our stockpile lasts. But if we want that stockpile to last, we must make sure that it is packaged in such a way as to prevent it from spoiling.

Most of the food we buy in the grocery store isn’t packaged for long-term storage. By “long-term” I mean 10 to 20 years. Considering that most people only have three to five days of food in their homes, food processing plants don’t expect us to keep their food in our cupboards that long. Rather, the majority of it is packaged with the idea that it will be consumed in a matter of months, weeks or even days.

The only thing in the grocery store which is packaged for long-term storage is canned food. Food that is canned in either metal cans or glass jars will last for years, as long as the seal isn’t broken, as demonstrated by the lid popping up from the loss of vacuum. However, foods packed in plastic jars, such as apple sauce often is, won’t last like foods that are packed in glass jars.

Even in this exception, there is an exception. Most condiments have a high acid content. In those cases, the foods will keep, even though it is packaged in plastic containers.

The Enemies of Our Food

In order to understand how to properly preserve foods for the long-term, we need to also understand what causes it to go bad. There are actually a number of enemies to our food, each of which can cause it to go bad. To start with, we have living organisms that want to eat our food, specifically:

  • Bacteria and other microorganisms
  • Insects
  • Rodents

In addition to these organisms, our food can also be damaged by:

  • Oxygen (oxidizing nutrients)
  • Light (promotes oxidizing)
  • Heat (slow cooking the food, changing its form and structure)

Proper packaging of the food deals primarily with protecting the food from the three categories of organisms, as well as oxygen. Where you store that packed food needs to protect it from heat and light.

Of all these different enemies, the one that causes food to spoil is bacteria. Quite literally, spoiled food is food that has been eaten by bacteria, causing a multiplication of the bacteria themselves. This makes most types of food inedible, as the bacteria that have consumed the food can be dangerous to eat or may produce toxins as part of the process of eating the food.

The reason why canning is so effective is that it holds the food in a container that is impervious to oxygen, bacteria, insects, and rodents. At the same time, the canning process itself kills off any bacteria and other microorganisms that are already in the food, eliminating any risk of them eating the food.

Proper Food Packaging

Wet foods are typically canned for long-term storage. You can either buy them already canned or can them yourself. Canning is a well-established technology, with known results. There are numerous books written on the subject; but they all go back to research done by the FDA, who established the safe parameters for canning foods.

But dry foods can’t really be canned. Some people have tried, doing what is known as “dry canning” in the oven. However, this is an untested method. While it seems to be logically sound and the initial results are looking good, the very fact that it is untested means that we, as preppers, shouldn’t count on it. We don’t want to be using the lives and safety of our family for an experiment.

Nevertheless, we need some safe and effective means for storing dry foods for the long-term. Fortunately, such a method does exist. It involves sealing the food in aluminized Mylar bags, placed in food-grade five-gallon buckets. The Mylar bags seal the food away in a manner similar to canning, while the buckets provide a hard shell that insects and rodents can’t chew through.

In order to do this method, you’ll need:

  • Five-gallon food-grade buckets (the food grade ones are white) with lids
  • Six-gallon Aluminized Mylar bags (available online)
  • Oxygen absorbers (available from the same websites as the Mylar bags)
  • Vacuum cleaner with hose
  • Permanent marker
  • Hair straightener or clothes iron
  • Rubber mallet

One of the keys to this system of storing food is that the oxygen absorbers are very effective, removing the oxygen from the air inside of the bags. Without that oxygen, bacteria and insects can’t survive; and any insect eggs that hatch inside the bucket will produce larva that will also die. So, the oxygen absorbers are a key part of making this work.

There’s just one problem. The oxygen absorbers are extremely fast acting. So, when you put them in the bag, you need to seal the bag as quickly as possible, ensuring that the oxygen that gets absorbed is from the bag and not from the ambient air around you. It helps to have an assistant who is just responsible for the oxygen absorbers when doing this process. Other than that, it’s rather simple.

  1. Open the Mylar bags and place them in the plastic buckets, one per bucket, spread open like a trash bag would be.
  2. Fill the bags with bulk dry foods that you want to store. You want to fill each bag to about one inch below the lip of the bucket.
  3. Mark the outside of the bucket with the contents, before sealing the bag.
  4. Using the hair straightener or clothes iron, seal the top two inches of the bag, leaving just enough space at one end of the vacuum cleaner hose to be inserted.
  5. Insert an oxygen absorber into the bag. The person who does this should put the oxygen absorber in and reseal the package of oxygen absorbers as quickly as possible.
  6. Using the vacuum cleaner, suck out as much air from the bag as possible. Do not stick the hose very far into the bag, or you will suck up the contents. Rather, stick it in just far enough to get past the sealed lip you made.
  7. Holding the top of the bag closed with one hand, remove the vacuum cleaner hose from the bag.
  8. Seal the bag the rest of the way with the hair straightener.
  9. Fold the flap of the now sealed bag over, so that it will lay flat on the top of the bag.
  10. Place the lid on the bucket and drive it home with the rubber mallet.

It is best to only put one type of food in a bucket, filling it entirely. Combined buckets will create confusion. However, if you are putting ingredients together that will be used together to make meals, that wouldn’t be a problem.

You will notice that you have several inches of bag flap left over when you seal them. That’s okay. The extra material gives you the option of cutting off your seal, removing part of the contents and then sealing the bag again.

If you have foods that you will use in small quantities, such as dried fruit or jerky, you might want to consider buying some smaller Mylar bags, such as one-gallon sized ones. That will allow you to store a smaller amount of those foods. A number of the smaller bags can be placed together in one bucket, providing protection against knowing insects and rodents.

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