Survival Basics: The Six Enemies of Food Storage

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When it comes to stockpiling survival preps, two items are always near the top my list: food and land to grow food.  Those, in my opinion, are the two most valuable commodities to have if the world and society goes to heck.  As I say that, I realize that the land portion of that equation may be unattainable for many.  On the other hand, almost everyone can acquire food and a place to store it.

By now you have read over and over again ad nauseam that during a disaster or a SHFT disruptive event, the grocery store shelves will be barren within a day or two.  In addition, there is a strong likelihood that amenities such as electricity and refrigeration will no longer be available. That’s why having food, and an extensive knowledge of food storage techniques, is so important to long term survival.

The Six Enemies of Food Storage - Backdoor Survival

Since the beginning of Backdoor Survival, I have explored many areas of preparedness, from basic preps, to more extensive studies of self-sufficiency and the psychological aspects of survival.  Beyond all else, however, I have taken a keen interest in food and food storage.

With the rapid escalation of food prices, I want to reintroduce you to the six enemies of food storage.  They are important to understand and, even if they are sometimes unavoidable, the six enemies are good to keep in mind as you invest in food for your prepper pantry.

The Six Enemies of Food Storage

Storing food for the long-term is a daunting task. For the short-term, you can usually find a spare shelf or two in your kitchen cabinets and call it a day. Beyond the short-term, things start to get more complicated.  The reason is that most food products have a shelf life which is pretty much limited by some common factors, referred to as the Six Enemies of Food Storage:


As you will see, each of these factors are interrelated in such a way that there is a domino effect with all of the tiles falling upon each other and ultimately affecting your stored items in a cumulative fashion. I will briefly address each one so that this becomes clear.

Temperature:  Long-term food storage is best achieved by maintaining cool, constant temperatures. Ideally, temperatures between 40 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are best for long-term storage. Anything warmer or cooler results in loss of color, nutrition, texture and taste. A common rule of thumb is that for every 18 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature (10 degrees Celsius), your food’s shelf life is cut in half.

The second factor when it comes to temperature is consistency.  So if you have a location where the temperature is 40 degrees one day and 70 the next, there is going to be some loss in quality and shelf life.  Let me put this another way.  If you have stored your food in a garage where the temperature fluctuates between summer and winter, the shelf life will be based upon the highest temperature not the lowest.

Oxygen: Many food nutrients can oxidize in the presence of oxygen. This creates rancidity and off flavors. In addition, bacteria and microorganisms (larvae and bugs) thrive in an oxygen-rich environment. Fortunately, the use of oxygen absorbers can suck out the oxygen in your food containers, leaving only product and nitrogen (which is not harmful).

Moisture:  Moisture comes in many forms, but the most typical are humidity and condensation. When stored food becomes moist or even slightly damp, molds and bacteria begin to grow, causing spoilage. If this food is consumed, illness will occur. In addition, moisture can cause packaging to break down, exposing the food to further degradation.

The ideal level of humidity for your stored food is 15% or less.  I live in Washington State where the humidity is typically 60% or 70% or more. The way around the humidity and moisture issue is proper packaging. And with packaging, there are lots of choices including Mylar bags, food grade buckets with or without gamma seals, vacuum seal bags (such as the FoodSaver), Mason or canning jars and more.

What you decide to use to package your food will dictate how much light your food is exposed to (remember those dominoes?)

Gamma seal lid protecting against the enemies of food storage - Backdoor Survival

Light:  The easiest way to explain how light affects your stored food is to equate light to energy.  When the energy of light zaps your food, it transfers some of that energy to the food itself, degrading its nutritional value, taste and appearance.  This is especially true when it comes to the fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamins A, D and E as well as proteins.

Pests: Pests are another problem.  Moisture and humidity provide a breeding ground for bugs and larvae of all types. Pests come in many forms. From bugs to rodents, pests are not only a nuisance, but also a major factor to eliminate when storing food for the long-term.

It is important to be aware of the pests that are particular to your geographical climate and further, that you set a barrier between your food and the critters.  In addition to a physical barrier, the use of oxygen absorbers will eliminate the oxygen (air) that most pests need to survive.

Time: Over time, food will degrade in nutritional value, appearance and taste. Time is the final enemy of food storage.  And while there are many items that have an extended shelf life of 20 or 30 years, unless they are properly packaged and stored, the optimal shelf life will be considerably less.   If you really do desire products with a 30 year shelf life, I suggest you look at some of the commercially packaged alternatives at Emergency Essentials, Buy Emergency Foods, and others.  These days you can even find products packaged for 20 or 30 year storage at Wal-mart and Costco.

Resources to Mitigate the Enemies of Food Storage

Once you understand the six enemies of food storage, the challenge is to learn to store food in such a way that these issues are mitigated. The easiest and most manageable method for storing food for the long-term is to use Mylar bags, food grade buckets, and mason jars (if kept in a dark place) in conjunction with the use of oxygen absorbers.

Here are some articles tips to help you package your food products for the long term.

Survival Basics: What the Heck are Oxygen Absorbers?
Survival Basics: Using Mylar Bags for Food Storage
Survival Basics: Buckets, Lids and Gamma Seals
How to Use a FoodSaver for Vacuum Canning

You will find that once you get started, it is pretty easy to package up bulk food items yourself and while you may not be able to avoid fluctuations in temperature, your food will still be viable for longer than those items left in their original store packaging.

The Final Word

The intent of this article is to give you a top level overview of the considerations you need to keep in mind as you begin to acquire food products for long term storage.

I know from your many emails and comments that resolving some of these food storage woes will be difficult if not impossible.  Still, knowing what they are will help you be better prepared, and if nothing else, encourage you to set up an active food rotation program. And that, in my opinion, is not a bad thing.

Note:  This article has been re-written and substantially updated from the original version that was published in February 2012.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Bargain Bin:  For your consideration, some items related to today’s article.

Mylar bags & Oxygen AbsorbersWhat 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.

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.

100-Pack Oxygen Absorber, 100cc:  I always have these available.  At less than 10 cents each, I consider adding a 100 cc oxygen absorber cheap insurance that ensures that my vacuum sealed food will remain nice and fresh – even five years later.

Nesco 600-Watt Food DehydratorThis modestly priced dehydrator (less than $60) has over 1000 reviews and comes up as the most highly rated dehydrator on Amazon. 

Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook: The Complete Guide to Drying Food:  If you are interested dehydrating food, this is the cookbook you want.  Read the author interview:  BDS Book Festival 7: The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook.

Gamma Seal Lid- 6 Pack: If you can get your hands on some free buckets, this is the way to go.  Or you can purchase singles here.

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.

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.


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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.


Survival Basics: The Six Enemies of Food Storage — 27 Comments

  1. Not to be too picky but I’ve always heard that it’s more like every 18 degrees in temperature change to double/half the shelf life of foods, not 10 degrees. Regardless, I believe that a consistent temperature is more important than actual temperature to shelf life anyway. Good post. Thanks.

    • I double checked my references and yes, you are correct when we are talking about degrees in Fahrenheit. It takes 18 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature change to half the shelf life of stored foods and 10 degrees Celsius to do the same. Thank you so much for pointing this out – I will make a correction to the article.

  2. I have found out that most Survival Foods sold by dealers that they say will last 25 years can’t show me any food that old. From my research, most foods will last in good condition for about 5 years, if stored properly. The best idea for Survival food is to rotate your food regulary. I have also noticed that a lot of Survival Foods packs have a lot of junk food in them.

    • Top Cat. I recently opened cans of sliced potatoes that were nitrogen packed in the late 70’s, and they smelled and tasted good. I’m not sure of the nutritive content, but I’m not feeding them to the 4 legged critters yet.

  3. Do the items in blue lead directly to your website? I would prefer that you make the money rather than someone else. You are doing an outstanding job with this invaluble work. I would like to recommend Rodale Books. They cover everything about canning, gardening, trees, and so much more in several books. Also, Barnes & Noble has a LARGE hardback copy of the US Army survival, combat. etc manual that shows how to guild defensive postions 100 ways to Sunday, cook, build shelter, and everything else you might need in a SHTF situation. Much better than the little handbook, many diagrams, and more than woth the $20.00 they charge. I, as a old, tired, worn-out Marine have to give them credit,even though it hurts to admit, they got it right.

  4. It has been my experience with oxygen absorber, that the little pink tell-tale turns blue much faster than I can drop them in a bag and seal them. I am talking about 12 packets out of 20. Wouldn’t it be better to buy smaller quanities(sealed package of 5) rather than 20 and have them go off before you are finished?

    • Walter – What I do is get my food (in Mylar or mason jars) ready to go and lined up in an assembly line. I remove the quantity of O2 absorbers I need then immediately seal the rest up in a mason jar.

      I then bury the O2 absorbers I am using in the food and seal the filled packets and jars. I have never had a problem with the pink pill turning.

      Is this similar to your method? If not, please describe and perhaps I can help.

  5. Gaye- I do an assembly line as well, and will start burying the packets. I took out 12 packets out of a package of 20 and immediately sealed the remainder with my expensive heat sealer(bought before I started following you), then distributed the twelve and started sealing. When I picked up the eight remaining with the tell-tale, it had turned blue. Makes me wonder about the integrity of the 12 in the food.

    • It sure sounds to me as though the oxygen absorbers themselves were compromised to begin with.

      One thing you can do is open one of the packets and pull out the O2 absorber. If it is rock hard, or warm, then I would start all over – or simply rotate and use within two or three years.

  6. For those in the western US. There is a large chain which is employee owned called WINCO. It’s where I do my shopping mostly. Not only do they have bulk items, they also sell the buckets, lids, etc. O and they love to underprice Walmart. 😉 When I know I’m buying a bag of beans, oats, or whatever, I call to make sure they will have it. When they don’t, they let me know when they will. Some of their stores even take online orders. I have no connection with them other than being a customer. When you can’t afford to buy a lot, you can still buy in bulk on many items. Just do a search and see if there is one close to you. I have to admit, I live in the same climate as Gaye and never have found the need for the oxygen absorbers, but then I don’t plan for my food to last 25 years. hmm that would make me 99 when I used it all up. nahhhhh I’ll rotate even my survival stuff. 😉 Great update on your original Gaye. :)

    • LOL I never quite get the need for a 25 year shelf life when you are already in your 60’s. I have a number of #10 tins of freeze-dried food and I fear that upon my demise, they will be tossed in the trash.

      • Gaye, this is sad to say but I have purchased many #10 can of dehydrated food,and many cans of wheat at yard sales, estate sales, and small auctions. When I see this, I imagine someone is turning over in their grave. I know I will. Youngsters dont seem to know what their grandparents could possible do with a can of wheat. When I walk away from buying a #10 can of hard wheat for $1, the grandkids think I am the sucker.

  7. I live in AZ and do not A/C my entire house. To figure out the best place to use for long term storage, I opened up all the doors and closet doors at the side of the house I do A/C one summer day. I paid attention to where the cats took their naps. It turned out to be the master-bedroom closet. This made sense. It is backed by an interior wall (I have a cement block home) and away from any direct sun light. I then used a thermometer to check. The cats had it right. The closet also happened to be cedar lined.

  8. Hi! I’m with The Blogger Network. I’m just doing a test that involves your comment manager. I will send you an email with more details!


  9. Hi Gaye,

    I’m interested in knowing how you protect your stored foods and supplies from vermin. I’m adverse (in the extreme) to poisons because too easily a poisoned rodent can poison other animals and people. I’ve found snap-traps are only moderately successful. I’ve stuffed steel wool in every potential entry point (like where the siding meets the [wooden] walls…) but I live in the country and shrews, mice, rats……are all too common and a problem. I’ve tried “sonic repellers” (nope) and leaving a radio ill-tuned to an am talk station (so it’s a mix of static and raspy voices) and think maybe that helps some…… I would love to know your methods in use both currently and what you’d do “after” a disaster. Love your blog! All best wishes!!

    • Other than field mice, we do not have much of a problem where I live. Because of the mice, however, we do use d-Con. Yes, a poison. They type we use is a kibble and mice take it back to their nest. I realize this is not a solution for everyone so I asked my BFF who lives on a ranch in eastern Texas to write up some ideas based on his own experience. Stay tuned for that.

      The other thing is to use O2 absorbers in your sealed up bulk foods. Some recommend freezing the bulk foods (beans, rice, etc) to kill the eggs before packaging for the long term. I have not done that myself but plan to in the future.

  10. Try using mint to deter and rid your area of vermin. Mice hate the smell of mint. Dried mint or mint essential oil on cotton balls or sachets of mint work great. We live in a rural setting surrounded by agriculture, yet in 20 yrs we have been mouse free! Gravel is another mice blocker, they hate to dig in gravel, they don’t.

  11. I was wanting to know if the seal would be compromised with the gamma lids because it is not as tight of a seal as the regular lids

    • Kris – What makes you think that the seal is not as tight? I find them so tight that sometimes I have a tough time getting them off. I have to call in my husband and use his brawn :)

  12. You can figure 25-30 years storage for hard red wheat, stored at 60 degrees in a 55 gallon drum, using 1 pound of dry ice to drive out the oxygen before sealing the drum. 400 pounds in a drum equals 400 man days of calories, $100. Cheap insurance. Add a barrel of Rye for variety. Add a barrel of oats. Then a barrel of rice, and 2-3 barrels of pinto beans. The beans may be harder to rehydrate after 10-12 years without a pressure cooker, but then you just grind up the dried beans, and bake them in your bread. For under $1000, you can be prepared to feed your family for years, especially if you garden and have fruit trees. Honey is way too expensive on a dollar/calorie basis, but consider bee keeping.

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