Coming to terms with a realistic food storage strategy can be tough. Everyone seems to have an opinion whether it is to focus primarily on store-bought canned goods, commercially packaged freeze-dried products, or food that is preserved at home using a pressure canner. Each has advantages and disadvantage in terms of space, cost, portability, and convenience.
Regardless of your stand on food storage, there is a common thread among all preppers. We want our food storage to remain viable and nutritious for the longest period possible. The very last thing we want is to be in a situation where our stored food is no longer palatable or worse, spoiled.
By now you most likely know about the six enemies of food storage: temperature, oxygen, moisture, light, pest, and time. Conquering these factors is a constant struggle but over time, each of us learns to cope with them the best we can, and over the years, many books and blog post articles have been written to help you achieve optimal storage conditions.
On the other hand, what about some of the other factors that can impede food storage? In our journey to save for the future, and whatever that future holds in store for us, I have made a number of 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 goofs too; it just kind of rolls of my tongue.
Along those lines, 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.
15 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs
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.
All that being said, if desperate, you will likely eat anything. Still, we are talking about preps you are putting in place in advance and not a scrounging effort after the fact when the pantry is bare.
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 Not rotating out of date food items.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 if you are so inclined. I find it easier simply to clean out my pantry annually.
However you keep track, rotate your stored food items the best you can without getting paranoid about it. Many of the “use by” and “best by” dates on canned and packaged goods are put there by the manufacturer but relate more to taste and texture than actual spoilage.
Additional Reading: What You Need to Know About Eating Expired Food
Let your eyes and nose be the judge. If the outside of a can is dented, rusted, or shows signs of leakage, toss it. If you open it and it smells off (or even if you THINK is smells off), dump it. Just be mindful that you will want to secure and dump bad food in such a way that children or curious pets can not get to it.
3. Storing everything in the same place.
Think about it. If everything is stored in your basement and the basement is flooded, you are going to have a problem. I know, you are thinking that everything is packaged in moisture proof packaging, right? If you have 3 feet of water in your basement, that will not matter since you will not be able to get to it.
Canned goods should be on a shelf off the floor, and mason jars filled with home canned items need to be secured to their shelf with a bracket or cordage. The last thing you want is for your precious food jars to fall to the ground and shatter during in an earthquake, hurricane, or other disruptive event.
These are just a few of the scenarios that cause your food storage to be inaccessible or unusable. Think about the disaster risks where your live and plan your storage locations accordingly.
4. You don’t know how to cook it.
Remember when I wrote about wheat in Why You Should Store Wheat for Survival? 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 the only problem being that it is so good you may eat too much and gain 50 pounds which would be another problem entirely.
If you are new to wheat, consider reading John Hill’s book, How to Live on Wheat. To this day, I refer to it frequently.
But wheat is not the only survival basic that may be unfamiliar. Beans of all types, as well rice, are two food storage staples. Learn to cook these items now, so you have an arsenal of recipes ready to go when and if the time comes. Both beans and rice are inexpensive and work well with a variety of condiments making them ideal additions to the survival food pantry.
Additional Reading: How to Make a Survival Casserole
5. Storing a lot of basic foods but omitting comfort foods.
This happens to me all the time. In my quest to eat healthy 100% of the time, I sometimes go for weeks eating basic, blandish food. By that I mean no fresh fruit, no cookies, and no Kettle Chips.
Eat well, and eat healthy but be sure to allow for a splurge once in a while, too. (Kettle Chips are a definite splurge and since I like the hard-to-find non-salt variety, I purchase them by the case on Amazon.!)
6. Improper storage temperatures.
Temperature (mostly heat), is one of the enemies of food storage and yet it may not be 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.
One other thing to keep in mind: temperature fluctuations can be as bad as a sustained high temperature. I don’t claim to know the science but what I have found is that food stored at a constant 80 degrees will hold better than food stored at 30 in the winter and 90 in the summer. Anecdotally, this is especially true of canned goods I have stored in my home.
Additional Reading: Survival Basics: The Six Enemies of Food Storage
7. Not storing liquids to reconstitute your dried items.
Have you every tried to cook rice without water or broth? How about pasta? As much as I feel freeze-dried foods have their place, the liquid in canned fruits and vegetables will provide you an additional source of hydration. In addition, the drained liquid can be used to re-hydrate freeze-dried foods.
8. Not planning alternate fuel sources for cooking.
This should be a no brainer. When the power goes out, you will need a fire, grill or portable stove. Rocket stoves and even propane stoves are inexpensive. Just keep in mind that you will also need fuel for your stoves, whether it comes from sources you gather (such as biomass) or from purchases.
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.
Another best practice is to store a variety of foods in a single bucket. So, for example, instead of creating a bucket filled with a single food type, create a bucket that include a variety of foods plus appropriate condiments. If you are ever forced to use your food storage, you can pull a single bucket with everything you need to get by instead of riffling through a dozen or more buckets to gather what you need for meal-preparation.
As a bonus, if you are forced to evacuation, your DIY meal bucket will be ready to go.
Additional Reading: Best Practices for Using Mylar Bags
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!
Seriously, though, 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? Also 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. Being totally dependent on food storage for all of your meals.
Regardless of how robust your food pantry, it is prudent to consider other sources of food. If you have adequate light conditions, you can supplement your stored food with fresh vegetables from your garden. At the very least, you can grow some herbs that will not only provide nutrition, but will also have medicinal qualities.
In addition to a garden, large or small, learn about local bounty that may be available by foraging, fishing, and hunting. Most areas have some sort of local bounty, whether berries, trout, deer, or even the common dandelion. Learn about them know and practice all of the ancillary skills needed to safely turn them into edible fare.
15. 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.
What About Waste?
Whenever I purchase an item for food storage, a little light goes on in my mind fretting about waste. The last thing I want to do is waste money on something that will never be used. This is the prepper’s dilemma because our food storage, as with the rest of our preps, is a form of insurance, right? An we hope never to have to us it, right?
Still, 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.
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 or disruptive event.
Mentioning this now is important lest you think that food storage is a minefield, littered with potential mistakes that make you want to give up before you even start. Stay with the program, be cognizant of what can go wrong, and do your best to mitigate food storage issues in advance.
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!
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Note: This article is an updated version of a similar article posted on Backdoor Survival in April 2014.
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A Practical Guide to Storing Food For the Long Term
99 cents for the eBook – also available in print!
When most people start thinking about family preparedness, they focus on food. Not shelter, gear, sanitation, power, self-defense or the myriad of other concerns that need to be addressed following an emergency or disaster situation. Quite simply, food is the number one concern people have second only to their concern for having an adequate supply of water.
The Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage is a book about food: What to store, how to store it and best practices. It is a roadmap for showing ordinary citizens that long-term food storage is not something that will overwhelm or burden the family budget.
This book is based upon my own tried and true personal experience as someone who has learned to live the preparedness lifestyle by approaching emergency preparedness and planning in a systematic, step-by-step manner. 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 book: 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 jars. See Fast Track Tip #4: How to Use a FoodSaver for Vacuum Canning.
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.
Sharpie Permanent Markers: 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. I recommend this book for every survival library.
For over 25 years Emergency Essentials has been providing the highest quality preparedness products at great prices. Plus, each month they feature sales that quite honestly are fantastic. This month the focus is on items that will maintain your good health so you can safely weather any type of disaster or disruptive event.
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