Products

6 Food Storage Lessons Learned over 21 Years

For the past 21 years, we've been storing food and eating our own food storage supplies. Here is what I've learned that you won't find elsewhere.

Food Costs

Food costs are still climbing. The food we stored decades ago cost me significantly less than what it costs now to buy the same food. As an investment decision, this one was really easy to make: food storage has a greater return on your investment than almost anything else you can imagine. Years later after starting to store food, we found out just how great food storage really was over investments in gold and silver.

1 year food units purchased 10 - 20 years ago cost less then half of what they now cost today. Many individual food items have gone up in price 3 - 4 times as much as they used to cost. It is no exaggeration to state that food costs have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled in price. The purchasing power of a dollar in 1996 was a lot more then it is today, and the same applies to your food storage, it is a lot more valuable now then ever before.

We've been able to eat our food storage anytime it was needed. In the beginning, we didn't eat our food storage until several years had passed. By then we had accumulated a pretty decent supply of food, adding to it every year. We started eating our food storage once we realized that the constant trips back and forth to the supermarket to buy the same foods over and over again didn't really make a lot of sense. We already had some of these products stored safely away in our food storage supply. It was especially gratifying to stop spending money at the grocery store and simply turn to our food storage. Even more gratifying was to find out how good it really was to eat!

It's hard to calculate what the cost savings have been, but words like "enormous" definitely come to mind without any exaggeration. Food prices have gone up every year but food storage actually avoids all that. Once purchased, the price of your food storage remains "fixed", it doesn't go up or down, while what you find at box stores or at supermarket is almost always going up. The only trade-off to this is you have to store the food somewhere, but with a little careful planning this was easily solved. You will make far fewer trips to the store once you start eating and rotating your food storage, so there is also savings in time and gas money.

Nutrition

Our diet changed as a result of storing food too. We found ourselves eating better quality food with less preservatives and additives, making meals, bread and various soups and stew mixes from scratch. Our dehydrated foods that we'd stored were "single ingredient" items like spaghetti, potatoes, beans, rice, wheat, vegetables and so forth. These products don't have any preservatives, they're simply whole wholesome foods stored in airtight containers. They're all dried or dehydrated and placed in cans, buckets or pouches with oxygen absorbers.

The same is true with all the grains, mixes and wheat. You aren't getting or buying anything else. Many of the foods you find in the supermarket are simply unhealthy to eat because they're so packed full of additives and chemicals. There is a huge number of unhealthy ingredients added to make it last on the supermarket shelf due to the poor packaging techniques. It seems as if the goal is to get people to buy more while getting less. This helps their profits but it isn't the healthiest choice for you.

In today's world, healthy eating is your the best health insurance plan of all. What you consume has a life-long impact on your overall well-being and health. It's too easy to ignore this, but I found out the hard way as most people do. Eating right and eating healthy really is very important.

We found that our food storage was truly handy especially in times when money was tight, or when my daughter moved back home and was out of a job. It was simply no problem at all to open up our food storage and make sure everyone had plenty to eat at "yesterday's prices".

Over the years we've tried almost everything out there for food storage, some products we really favored, and some we didn't like at all. Quality products are very important and so is a reputable company. My own experience with the food storage industry is quite extensive now and it is unfortunate that it needs to be mentioned, but "buyer beware". There are a growing number of companies that simply produce inferior quality food. These products, while edible at first, are totally undesirable and have short shelf lives, going stale almost as quickly as the food you can buy in the supermarket. They don't use quality packaging like heavy Mylar bags or come packaged in cans at all - in fact, several companies don't even use oxygen absorbers. It is a proven fact that food can become stale from osmosis - when oxygen molecules pass right through plastic bags and containers.

Packaging

We also packaged up our own food, purchasing large boxes and bags of food including wheat, mixed grains, various kinds of potatoes, vegetables, sugar and salt. The process of "doing your own" isn't hard, but it is a time-sensitive effort when using oxygen absorbers. We didn't find this to be much of a cost savings considering the actual effort and preparation involved and would not do this again.

Storable foods can be found online packaged in mylar pouches, cans, buckets, plastic bags and boxes.  The latter two packaging types are not airtight and need to be repackaged to gain the long shelf life. Shelf lives of 10 to 30 years for most food products is certainly possible if the food is sealed up in quality airtight containers. Only Mylar pouches, #10 or #2.5 cans, and Mylar bags in buckets ("Super Pails") offer this type of airtight container that you need. It should be noted that the vacuum seal "food saver" type storage bags made from plastic don't work and are not recommended. We tried these extensively and gave up on them in short order. In a matter of months (even when we tried to double-bag and double-heat seal the seams) we found that virtually every single one of them leaked from osmosis. Subsequently, our food saver machine was then sold as it was never used again after this discovery.

Food Prepared

I almost forgot to mention a really big reason to consider food storage in every home: in their non-cooked form, dehydrated and freeze dried foods do not require any refrigeration! This makes them perfect for long-term storage, or whenever there is any emergency and there isn't any power. Your food storage will stay safe while the food in your refrigerator may go bad in an extended power-outage.

Storage conditions can vary quite a lot, but the general rule of thumb is that cooler and less direct sunlight are always best. You can even freeze your food storage if you like (dry or prepared) to maximize the already long shelf life. Shelf life varies depending on product, but generally it's a minimum of 5 years to 25 or even 30+ years.

There is a common misconception promoted by apocalyptic Hollywood movies that people can eat "old food" found in abandoned stores or supermarkets years later. This is not true. Many of these foods will terribly sicken or even kill you if eaten far beyond their expiration dates. Other foods have such poor packaging that they will disintegrate from their exposure to oxygen, mold, mildew, UV exposure or be contaminated from rodents which can (and will) chew through paper or plastic packaging. The reality will be very different if there is any kind of massive crisis like this as starvation and hunger will set in very quickly (mere weeks from the onset of a large crisis).

I have studied this topic extensively, looking into economic crisis, war zones, famines and areas stricken by drought, refugees and environmental disasters. In virtually every case, people survived by first consuming what little food they could find in their area, then becoming almost totally dependent upon imported food from outside the crisis area by relief agencies and aid, as well as black market enterprises. Few to none could grow enough of their own food and were not able to meet even a fraction of the calories they really needed. This also increased conflicts from theft and violence as the food shortage increased acts of desperation. In a major crisis many people simply starved to death because no food could be found. They'd already long since eaten all the local wildlife, including house pets, and no food imports arrived in time. Crops failed or were stolen or confiscated.

This led me to study the whole notion of "bugging out" and "living off the land" which put me into contact with survival experts and teachers. Many do not advocate anyone bug out to the wilderness with the expectation that they will survive. Neither do I. This is another Hollywood fantasy that doesn't match reality. The few who've tried this died; lacking the skills, experience and fortitude required. Eventually, I wrote several articles on this topic, "The Fallacy of Bugging Out", "The Fallacy of Bugging Out - Part II", "Survivalist Challenge – Putting the B.S. To The Test", "B.O.B. - The Reality" (bug out bag). Deliberately making yourself a refugee is a bad idea. The whole "bug out" notion is seriously flawed and not recommended.

Storage Location

Food storage requires a location, be it a pantry, basement, shelf or closet. Our kitchen lacked a proper pantry, so that was the first thing I built. I installed removable metal shelving racks so that I could adjust the shelves the way we liked them. Once adjusted for height to accommodate different size containers, you never really need to adjust them again (but could if needed). Into the pantry went both buckets, cans and pouches from our food storage, with buckets on the floor and cans and pouches on the shelves. It was surprising just how much food our pantry could hold. The difference is very obvious - the foods found in a supermarket use large boxes and packaging with generally small quantities of food. You're buying a lot of empty air and advertising in a box that is 4 or 5 times larger then it needs to be.

Dehydrated or freeze dried food is different - there's little advertising on the package other than a label and some instructions, ingredients and nutrition information. The container itself is actually full of food with little wasted air-space. The number of servings in the container is also significantly higher too. The industry standard #10 can is a 1 gallon can often seen in restaurants and school kitchens. This container size holds an enormous amount of food compared to what you can find in comparable cans purchased from your local supermarket. It may easily take a month or more before you've emptied it. If your pantry is filled with these foods, you've achieved at least 500% more food in your pantry then filling it with the empty-air boxes and small cans from the supermarket.

There's no water in freeze dried or dehydrated food either, so this also helps the food be concentrated when you buy it. A single #10 can have over 40 full servings of food in some cases. If it's freeze dried food, there are usually 10 - 12 servings per can. It's a snap to make hot water whenever you need it to rehydrate the food. I've got a Kelly Kettle for outdoor use, but a gas range and a wood stove for indoor use.

There are other options too for different packaging types, and over the years, I definitely found myself appreciating these more and more. Food storage companies also sell quality foods in mylar pouches, which on average contain about two-servings per pouch. The good companies use oxygen absorbers here too - the not-so-good cut corners and leave them out. Pouches of quick meals are really handy to have on hand for instant meals, just add hot water and breakfast, lunch or dinner is served! If there are any left-overs, these can go straight into the fridge while still in the pouch!

Eventually, our food storage became pretty large because we realized how important it really was. The pantry wasn't big enough, so I built a huge root cellar. This isn't a required project unless you really need it, but there are a few lessons to be learned here. I made some mistakes during construction which didn't allow for proper drainage in wet weather. To fix this, we had to pull all of our food storage out and put it somewhere else, and then put it all back again. By then, we had nearly 500 buckets of food stored away and at least that many cans. My plan was to feed 10 people for 10 years.

When you plan your storage location, decide if you'll ever need to move your food storage. If your food storage is small, with just a 1 year food supply, it's a non-issue. That much food for one person takes up very little room, about the space of a small closet. But if you've got a large family and your food storage is also large, then plan for a semi-permanent location to keep it, where it will be safe, cool and dry.

Almost anyplace will do. Under the bed, in a closet, cupboard, pantry or basement. Keep your food away from direct sunlight so as to avoid temperature changes. If you are placing your food on concrete floors (such as in a basement), lay down boards to allow for air circulation or any dampness that may arise.

You can stack your food storage as high as you can reach safely. Most of my food is in 6 gallon buckets and I can get about 5 buckets high. I stack the heavier buckets on the bottom, lighter buckets on top. On top of these if I can still reach them, go the #10 cans, which I leave in the cardboard boxes.

Rodents have never been a problem for us. We once had a temporary location for about 9 months where pack rats had easy access to our carport where the food was stored. They never bothered anything because the containers were all air tight. We had to wash the lids off before opening them but that was all.

Meal Preparation

This is where I think people have the most concern. How do you use your food storage? It's very easy. Many of the products you can buy are single ingredient foods, so you simply select out the items you want, preparing your meal from these items. Opened containers can have their lids put back on and stored away for a pretty long time. If it's a bucket, simply force the lid back down to reseal it. I tap it with a rubber mallet if it's available, otherwise I can use my knee, heel of my hand or the lid remover tool to tap the lid back down tight. If it's a can, use the plastic lid that it come with. Simply take out what you need for the size of the meal you intend to prepare. Preparation is done with hot water, which rehydrates the food. It's that easy.

Meals generally use multiple ingredients. Freeze dried entrees already contain multiple ingredients for a meal. All you do is add hot water and wait 10 - 15 minutes while the food rehydrates and then it's ready to eat. Dehydrated foods are usually found as single ingredients. To make a meal, mix the ingredients together required and add hot water. Some foods like 16-bean mix require cooking to fully soften the foods and get them ready to eat. Dry mixes, like bread, pancakes, muffins, biscuits are just mixed with cold water and then cooked (baked or fried). Vegetables are easily rehydrated in hot water, or added into soups and stews. It only takes the slightest "cooking skills" to use dehydrated food, and even less to use freeze dried food. Anybody that can make hot water can do this.

Some of our cans of food are dented. Because the food is dry-packed, this has always been a non-issue, even if the rim is badly creased. If the can stays airtight, then dents are a non-issue. If they're not airtight, eat it. Check the food for bad odors or stale taste. So far, I've not found a single damaged can that didn't still protect the food and offer edible food once it was finally opened. There is a lot of misguided fear about dents that has no basis. The wet-packed supermarket dented cans are what most people have heard about to avoid.

You can open a can from the top or the bottom, it doesn't make any difference.  We use a manual can opener, but an electric one would be easier.

Always buy what you prefer to eat. Diets are very personal choices. It continues to surprise me that a lot of people don't actually know what they eat and seem mystified at the process of buying storable food. If this is you, simply write down what you have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What is in those meals and their ingredients is what you eat. Do this several times to identify the different kinds of food you eat all week, then all month. Almost all of these foods are available in freeze dried or dehydrated form. The only real difference is they are sold in bulk quantities and they don't have any water, which you have to add to rehydrate them. They're available in pouches, cans, buckets and even large sacks.

There are a few other points on the "buy what you eat" method which you can find here.

Food storage changed my life and how I approach eating, diet, preparedness and being self-sufficient. It's easy to get started and the benefits to you and your family are absolutely enormous.