14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs

Waste is not in my vocabulary.  Even before it was considered environmentally responsible to recycle, I would snatch paper out of the trash and re-use the back side before sending it off to the trash bin.  The same thing applied to food.  I simply hated to waste those bits and scraps of leftovers and eventually found a use for them in what I call “garbage soup”.  To this day, the dibs and dabs of leftovers are combined to make the most delicious soups you can imagine.

14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs   Backdoor Survival

For many of us, an aversion to being wasteful is the a result of having too little money in our younger days.  Like many of you, I have worked from the time I was a teenager and never took anything I had for granted.  Scrimping and saving for rainy days is ingrained in my DNA.

I believe that is the case for a lot of preppers; we have always had a mindset that dictated that we save during times of plenty to cover ourselves for those rough patches in life.  The only difference is that now we save for more than a rough patch or two; we save food and supplies to last us for six months, a year, a decade and longer as we wind our way through an uncertain economy, droughts, and the threat of an unexpected disaster.

In this journey to save for the future – and whatever the future holds in store for us – I have made some food storage mistakes.  I like to call them GOOFS for no other reason than I like to laugh at myself after the fact.  I like the word too; it just kind of rolls of my tongue.

Today I list some of my personal food storage goofs as well as some other common mistakes that are typically made in the quest to implement a long term food storage plan.  I hope you can learn from them.

14 Common Food Storage Mistakes

1.  Storing food you don’t enjoy.

Number one on the list is storing food you don’t like or will not eat no matter what.  We have all done it:  purchased an item when it is on sale because it was a great deal.  If you won’t eat it now, what makes you think you will eat it later?  Spending money and using your precious storage space on food you will not eat is just silly.

2.  Not rotating out of date food items.

This has happened to me.  A number of years ago I purchased a few dozen boxes of cake mixes because they were really cheap.   After a couple of years, the leavening was dead so I wasted good eggs and a half cup of oil on a cake mix that only rose about a 1/2 inch in the oven.  My recommendation?  Label everything with the date of purchase.  Sharpie pens were created for this purpose.  Keep a log, or a notebook, or reminders in your Outlook file.  However you keep track,  rotate your stored food items well in advance of the pull date.

3.  Storing everything in the same place.

Think about it.  If everything is stored in your basement and the basement is flooded, you may have a problem.  I know, you are thinking that everything is packaged in moisture proof packaging.  If you have 3 feet of water in your basement, that will not matter since you will not be able to get to it.

4.  You don’t know how to cook it.

Remember when I wrote about wheat in Wheat 101 for Newbies?  For heaven’s sake, do not purchase wheat if you do not know how to use it.  Of course it would not hurt to learn about wheat; freshly ground, it makes a heavenly loaf of bread.  Check out the book How to Live on Wheat.

5.  Storing a lot of basic foods but omitting comfort foods.

This happens to me here at my home.  I may be here by myself for a few weeks and am too lazy to go to the store in town (20 miles round trip).  So I go for three weeks eating basics – no fresh fruit, no cookies, and no Tim’s chips.  Eat well, and eat healthy but be sure to allow for a splurge once in a while, too.  (Tim’s chips are a definite splurge!)

6.  Improper storage temperatures.

This is something you may not think of.  I recently purchased 6 jars of mayo on sale for less than half the normal cost.  They are being stored in my crawl space cellar and not in the garage where the temperature can reach the 80s in the summer.  This will prolong the shelf life considerably.  The same thing applies to almost any food that you want to store for longer than 6 months or a year.

7.  Not storing liquids to reconstitute your dried items.

Have you every tried to cook rice without water or broth?  How about pasta? Enough said.

8.  Not planning alternate fuel sources for cooking.

This should be a no brainer.  When the power goes out, you will need a fire, a grill or a portable stove.  Rocket stoves and even propane stoves are inexpensive.  If you can swing it, consider a tea light oven.

9.  No condiments or spices to wake up the taste buds.

Salt, pepper, some chili powder, mustard, sugar, honey – the list is endless.  These items do not need to cost a lot nor do they need to take up an extraordinary amount of space.  When push comes to shove, however, your eating experience will be greatly enhanced by having a few things on hand to enliven the taste of your stored food stuffs.

10.  Not storing a variety of items.

I confess that  I can go for days eating the same meal of baked potatoes over and over again.  That said, most people need and want variety.  This is especially true for children, the elderly and the infirm who may already be picky eaters.  Plus, you need a variety of foods items in order to get a full complement of nutritional value from your meals.

11.  Storing food in inappropriate or unmanageable packages.

Your mileage may vary, but I prefer to package food in small, manageable sizes.  In my own household, items stored for the long term (beans, rice, lentils, cereals, dog food etc.) have been stored in 1 gallon Mylar bags and not the larger, 5 gallon size.  I take four or five of these small bags and put them in a bucket or Rubbermaid bin so that I can pull them out for use one at a time.  For me this is more practical since there are only two in my family.  Plus, if there is a short term emergency, I can pull out what I need without having to repackage the whole megila.

12.  Improper storage containers.

This applies to a lot of things.  Here is an example:  do not store you rice in a bucket that previously held pickles without pre-packaging the rice in a Mylar bag.  Pickle-flavored rice may taste good if you are pregnant but practically no one else will appreciate this exotic dish!

Make sure your food storage containers did not hold toxic chemicals in a prior life and make sure your containers are moisture and pest-proof.

13.  Purchasing a kit without evaluating the contents.

This is another lesson I learned the hard way.  Before purchasing a kit of any type, look at the contents and decide how many of the items will be truly useful.  If there are items you don’t want, can you give them away to someone else?  Look at the total cost.  Is the kit still a good value even though you will not use everything?

This also applies to bulk sized products at Costco, Sam’s or other warehouse type stores.  In many cases, I will purchase a giant sized package knowing that a third will not get used.  Even so, the purchase is a good value.  But do not assume this – sometimes it is better to pay more per ounce for a smaller size.

14.  Don’t worry about a 25 or 30 year shelf life if you are 70 years old!

I am being a tad bit cynical and facetious here but really, if your lifespan is 20 years, don’t worry too much about 30 year items.  Sure, you can give them away, donate them, or use them in less than 30 years but the point is, don’t stress if the items you store away have only a 10 or 20 year shelf life.

Go back to mistake #10, “Variety”.  It is better to have a mix of items with varying shelf lives than to get hung up on extremely long storage life.

The Final Word

Are you guilty of any of these food storage mistakes and goofs?  Can you think of others?  If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Note:  This article is an updated version of a similar article posted on Backdoor Survival in July 2011.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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In addition, when you sign up to receive email updates you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs   Backdoor SurvivalMy eBook, The Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage will provide you with everything you need to create an affordable food storage plan, including what to buy and how to store it.

Nothing scary and nothing overwhelming – you really can do this!


Bargain Bin: Here are some of my favorite food storage items. Whether you are just getting started or a seasoned pro, here are the items you will need when purchasing food in bulk for long term, SHTF needs. And for help with your food storage questions, check out my eBook: The Preppers Guide to Food Storage.

FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer: As long as the unit has an accessory port (and this one does), and inexpensive FoodSaver will work just as well as the fancier models. That is my two cents, at least.

FoodSaver Wide Mouth Jar Sealer: Already have a FoodSaver? If so, check out this jar sealer which can be used to vacuum seal your Mason jars. This is a great option for short to mid term storage of items such as beans, rice, sugar and salt. Store your jars in a cool, dark place and you are set with the added advantage of removing a small amount for current use without having to disrupt your large Mylar bag or bucket of food.  There is also a version for regular sized jarsSee Fast Track Tip #4: How to Use a FoodSaver for Vacuum Canning.

FoodSaver Accessory Hose14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs   Backdoor Survival:  Most FoodSavers come packaged with an accessory hose.  If yours is lost or damaged, be sure to purchase a host to use with your Jar Sealer.

Mylar bags & Oxygen Absorbers: What I love about Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers is they protect against every single one of the food storage enemies. Prices do vary but for the most part, they are inexpensive and easy to keep on hand. And while you can seal them up with a FoodSaver, some tubing and a common clothes iron, I find it infinitely easier with a cheap hair straightening iron that you can pick up $20 or less.

60 – 300cc Oxygen Absorbers: This is one area where you want to make sure you are getting a quality product. Currently, a pack of 60 (in three 20 unit packs) is about $11 with free shipping.

Mylar Zip Seal Food Storage Bags14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs   Backdoor Survival: These are the zip seal bags that I used to package up my spices, herbs and butter powder. These are extra heavy, 5 mil bags. I found that the zip feature made packaging extra easy although I still seal the bags with my hair iron.

Sharpie Permanent Markers14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs   Backdoor Survival: Sharpies were invented for preppers! And without question, Amazon is the cheapest place to buy them. Typically, the price on Amazon is less that $8 for a dozen.

How to Live on Wheat: Everything you need to know about wheat. 


Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials: The monthly specials at Emergency Essentials feature discounts of up to 35% off sometimes a bit more.

Do you need an emergency hand mill?  A number of readers have purchased this Victorio Hand Grain Mill14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs   Backdoor Survival as a backup to their Wondermill.  This month it is $47.99.  According to one reviewer, this mill ground two full cups of wheat berries in 10 minutes.  This amounted to just under 3 cups ground.

14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs   Backdoor Survival

I love my electric Wondermill but don’t have the budget to also purchase the manual version so I have ordered this one.  Once you start grinding your own grains, you will be hooked!


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14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs   Backdoor Survival

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14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs — 33 Comments

  1. The number one suggestion on most of these websites, and most preppers, harp on the “don’t store what you won’t eat” mentality. I just have to wonder if you haven’t eaten in 2 weeks and you are dying of hunger (literally), you come across a 5 gallon bucket of pinto beans and nothing else, will you stick up your nose and go Yuck!? Or will you only eat it once a week or every two weeks, waiting to come across other buckets of food because you need “variety”? The reason we can even have these conversations is because America – this generation – does not know what it means to be hungry. How many children raised in the depression wouldn’t touch the beans because they preferred McDonalds? We need to think realistically and get off our picky eater mentality rants.

    • I think you may have missed the point. When stocking up and filling your LT storage pantry, it is wise to store foods that you know, that you use, and that you enjoy. Over time, you should also LEARN to cook and eat some of the staples such as beans and rice. I have.

      For someone just getting started, I still stand by “store what you eat”. Then, once a basic supply is put away – be it 1 month, 3 months, or a year’s supply – branch out and learn to cook and eat the more esoteric items.

      Your perspective is right though when it comes to “eat this or starve”. Let us hope it never gets to that.

      • I’ve often upset co-workers by telling them that if it came down to either starvation or sating a dog – that dog betterwatch out!
        I doubt I could eat my dogs but a healthy stray is fair game.

      • I agree, Gaye. After a disaster hits, one would have to accept whatever one can get, but when stocking up in case of a disaster, we have the opportunity to stock what we like, and to learn what popular long term storage foods we might learn to like.

        I had never cooked dry beans until we bought the LDS (Mormon Church) Starter Kit. We bought it in order to figure out which things in it we would use, so I tried cooking the pinto beans. Best chili I have ever had. So we added cases of pinto beans, cases of white rice, as well as cases of quick oats from LDS, but skipped the other things.

        The expiration date on them is further out than our own, so we can just shove them under the bed and forget about them.

        We also added chili powder and cumin powder from CostCo/Sam’s.

        If we dip into our canned chili, I now usually add those spices as it really improves them.

        I have no idea what percentage of preppers prepare only for relatively short term problems, like the aftermath of a hurricane in Hawaii or Florida, vs those who prep for disasters which might last longer than several weeks.

        Most of us, though, probably would agree that any disaster, natural or man-made, which requires more than a year’s worth of food is pretty much an apocalypse.

        Since canned goods nearly all have a shelf life greater than a year, one could reasonably stock up for all of the likely disasters short of Apocalypse just by buying one’s normal canned goods, rice, pasta, spices, and the like.

        The key issue there would be rotating one’s inventory so that nothing gets too old to eat, and providing a reasonable variety. Canned goods, rice, and noodles will get old after several weeks, but the more variety, the more options for recipes.

        Thinking of recipes, we like Jon and Robin Robertson’s cookbook, “Apocalypse Chow”. It has a lot of ideas for using relatively few, mostly canned, ingredients to make a variety of dishes in a grid down situation. It got quite a few low ratings on Amazon, but in reading them, they were mostly from people who were outraged to discover than the recipes were all vegetarian.

        My response was that in a grid down situation we are not going have any fresh meat after about day three, and it is really easy to add canned chicken or beef to most of the recipes. We do. We have improved our short term emergency preps by experimenting with the recipes and then adding meaningful stocks of the canned ingredients to our supplies.

        We use several of the recipes in routine times, so we are not ever going to be in a situation where we have to eat unfamiliar stored food and find we detest it. Prepping is about expanding our post-disaster options, so we might as well opt for a variety of foods.

    • Firstly, the whole point of prepping and putting up long term food storage now is to not reach that starving “will eat anything you come across” point. If you prep and hit the point where you haven’t eaten in 2 weeks, then that’s likely on you. That’s poor prep and poor execution of whatever your SHTF plan is.

      Another way in which you missed the point is that only storing what you eat is that it helps with stock rotation in your day-to-day life so that you’re not letting something you simply would not eat unless you were starving go completely out of date and become worthless as a prep item.

      If you can’t look at the larger picture of this advice and choose instead to nitpick on once concept you’ve decide to remove from its context, don’t waste people’s time with commenting at all.

  2. You said:
    “After a couple of years, the leavening was dead so I wasted good eggs and a half cup of oil on a cake mix that only rose about a 1/2 inch in the oven.”

    To which I would say:
    “On a second box, I would have tried mixing in a packet of yeast.
    Or would that not be a good idea?”

    • I actually did actually try adding some baking powder to a second box and had okay results. Still, it was probably better to waste a 75 cent box of mix than 2 eggs and some vegetable oil. This is all before I really understood the importance of proper storage conditions without heat fluctuations, dampness, etc.

  3. When you plan for later food use think of meal menus. Breakfast, lunch and
    dinner. What would you put together that would be healthy and interesting.
    It would seem to be just plan common sense but as I read what others have saved
    it boggles the mind that anyone would think 6 tubs of wheat, a can of honey
    and some salt and sugar would be rations for a disaster.
    My question is, why not eat as usual? Why not variety? why not endure with
    style and goodness?
    Unless that’s how you normally eat-then OK.
    Give it some thought and plan accordingly please. Your family will thank you for it.

    • Hi Bebe: “My question is, why not eat as usual? Why not variety? why not endure with
      style and goodness?”

      Exactly! Part of the reason we prep is to reduce stress in inherently stressful situations. If we can reduce stress by eating our normal foods, that is a major benefit. It is a huge benefit for small children, who may refuse to eat food which is too strange.

      We used to cook almost entirely with fresh ingredients. That is great in normal times, but makes it pretty much impossible to store food for emergencies. That’s why we started looking for recipes which used more canned goods. They trend saltier than we prefer, but knowing that we have plenty of ingredients for meals we like is a huge benefit. And, of course, we still use lots of fresh foods: they just won’t be available in a disaster.

      That is also why we tried the LDS Starter Kit of canned dry foods for long term storage. Now we have learned to cook with some of them, do so regularly, and if we ever have to, can switch to long term storage foods without any stress from the unfamiliar.

    • Exactly Bebe–in fact my stores are such that I never need to go to the grocery.
      Beef and vegetable soup on the stove now using left over roast–not one thing is missing and it all came from the storage room. I just omitted the cabbage. I was too lazy to get it from my dehydrated vegetables.!!!
      I do not have one thing in my storage that we haven’t eaten all our married lives.

  4. I have some food stuff stored in buckets and bins. One day while I was out and about my husband needed some flour. He opened some of the buckets and did not find what he was looking for, soo he went to the store and bought more flour. lesson learned,1-have good labeling ( which is harder to do if you want to hide your stores in plan sight)2-the people in your house should know where to find what is needed.

  5. When I first started I used a couple of large plastic totes to keep all my extra goods in. I moved them around to work around them while doing other things and in the process wound up with some dented cans. While it’s generally not really a big deal, I prefer not to eat from dented cans.
    It was next to impossible to rotate by date, or even to find what I wanted, and when I wanted it, which led to buying too many of one item on more than one occasion and having to throw a few items out. I’ve since switched to small containers and never stack things inside them. Everything is one layer deep, and divided, like they do with bottles in boxes. Now I don’t have to worry about dented cans and if I need to eat a 10yr. old can of green beans someday I’ll feel ok about it.

    The other goof was thinking I could store butternut squash for six months or so. It *can* be done. It often *is editable*. But after a certain point, no matter how nice a butternut squash looks on the outside, after you take the time to clean it up and cook it, you find it just_does_Not_taste_good on the inside.

    As a result I try to be Very careful about how many squash I buy and have around at any one time. Pumpkins too, had to toss a few this Spring.

  6. It was a weight off my shoulders when I realized my husband and I were too old to worry about prepping for 25-30 years in the future. For some reason, thinking about prepping for 10 years seems like something I can do given enough time and money.

  7. Just a note to my previous comment about being old and not having to prep for more than 10 years…………thank you for making me face my upcoming death…lol

    • I don’t know what to day about that :) :) other than Shelly and I are over the proverbial hill as well. I think having a 10 year preparedness vision is a very fine goal indeed.

  8. I would have to be near death to eat kidney beans or pinto beans. All other beans are delicious. I think I may be allergic to them. Seriously, I knew beef was causing me problems, and I am allergic to beef! I am elderly and can eat the same thing for weeks if I must. Actually, I have chosen to eat the same things for weeks. As for eating dogs, maybe keeping hens for eggs might be a good idea.

      • Linda – eating a dog would be an absolute last resort thing to keep from starving to death. However, I understand that in some countries dog meat is not uncommon. So, it CAN be eaten, but for me, like I said, as a last resort. It’s just a bit difficult to overcome cultural prejudices.

    • Have you tried beef from grass fed cows? Feedgrain is generally loaded with pesticides wich it is genetically manipulated to withstand so it can be heavily sprayed, in order to safe the farmer from having to weed. Grass fed means no GMOs. GMO has been linked to perceived food allergies, diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s, etc.

  9. wow, I have much to catch up on here. been really busy. Since it is food related, thought I would mention that, there is some virus that has already killed off 6 million pigs in the last year. so if anyone one of you are pork eaters, now may be a good time to look for sale prices, before it spreads even more and the prices really go up. I currently have about 16lbs. and want at least 40lbs more. I have made many of these mistakes you’ve mentioned here, but with your articles have guided me immensely. I am thankful for you and all that you have done, and taken the time to share. now back to planting more garden stuffs

  10. I’m baking a cake with use by sept. 2011–will let you know if I throw it in the trash.
    Betty Crocker; Devil’s Food.

    • I tested the cake and it is okay. It isn’t the best ever but after icing, it should be okay.
      Now, I’m wondering if the generic brands will be better or worse??
      I’ll try that next week–my butt can’t stand two cakes in the same week.

      • Adding 1/2 tsp. baking powder to some of the older mixes does seems to help as does a bit of vanilla (to freshen up the flavor). I think the brand names are better when it comes to pre-packaged mixes.

        LOL on the butt comment :)

  11. ***do not store you rice in a bucket that previously held pickles**8

    I thought everyone knew–overnight hot water and baking soda–smell, taste gone.

    • Ive also done boiling water poured in with some vinegar overnight and managed to kick the smell and taste of hot peppers and pickles.

  12. ***Don’t worry about a 25 or 30 year shelf life if you are 70 years old!***

    Amen, praise the Lord for you saying this.
    I’m 63 and long term storage for me is 10 years, not 25 and I just ignore the ones insisting I am an idiot.

    Cake is in the oven! :-)

  13. I learned some wonderful tips from this, but had a question for you. I love to bake much more than cooking, and have hundreds of great recipes. In the past I’ve put all the dry ingredients for a favorite cookie, brownie, or cake recipe in a jar, then added a recipe to the outside that had the wet ingredients and baking instructions on it. I started this as affordable Christmas presents, but wouldn’t mind making them for longer term storage for my family. I know that boxed cookie or cake mixes will go bad after a while on a shelf, but do you know if sealing them in a jar with my Foodsaver would make their shelf life longer?

    • Yes – I do believe that would extend the shelf life considerably. You might want to toss in an oxygen absorber as well. They are cheap enough and it might give you an edge. My guess is your “canned” goodie mixes will be viable for 5 years, maybe longer.

      Any possibility that you can share one of your recipes? I would love a tried and true recipe for a jarred cookie or cake mix.

  14. I have been wanting to stock pile food for a long time, I just really have no idea where to start. We are a family of 6 and on a very limited splurging income. Can anyone give me tips on the first few things I should concentrate on. Thanks

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