14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs

Avatar Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
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.

Food Storage Mistakes | Backdoor Survival

For many of us, an aversion to being wasteful is the 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 off 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 Not rotating out of date food items.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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If you have not done so already, please be sure to like Facebook which is updated every time there is an awesome new article, news byte, or link to a free survival, prepping or homesteading book on Amazon. You can also follow Backdoor Survival on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ and purchase my book, The Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage from Amazon.

My 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 jars. See Fast Track Tip #4: How to Use a FoodSaver for Vacuum Canning.

FoodSaver Accessory Hose: 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 for very cheap.

60 – 300cc Oxygen Absorbers: This is one area where you want to make sure you are getting a quality product.

Mylar Zip Seal Food Storage Bags: 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 Markers: Sharpies were invented for preppers! And without question, Amazon is the cheapest place to buy them.

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



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63 Responses to “14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs”

  1. In regards to the comments about what will or will not be eaten in a pinch…

    I spent 22 years in the Army and I was fortunate enough to attend the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) course. I say I was fortunate because it was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. You will be very surprised at what you are capable of in the right (or wrong) circumstances. To those that claim they cannot or would not eat a dog, all I can say is that perhaps you are unaware of how hunger can motivate. That’s not a bad thing, but one must consider all possible circumstances – as preppers that is something we all do routinely anyway. This scenario should be no different.

    I have begun making batches of Hardtack (which my 3 young boys love!). A simple recipe:

    4 cups flour
    4 teaspoons salt
    2 cups water

    Dissolve the salt in the water, mix it up. Roll it out to about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into whatever shape/size you prefer. Bake at 375 for about 30-40 minutes. Flip them over halfway through.

    This simple staple has an estimate shelf life of about 20 years if stored properly. Adding tasty ingredients would decrease the shelf life, but honey does not go bad either so I have a stock of that ready to drip on the hardtack when times comes to eat it. Also great for hunting and camping trips. Easy to carry and stops hunger pangs.

    • Have you tried making pemmican? Between hardtack and pemmican, then adding a little foraged greens, survival is more than possible even if you lose your prepped stores for any reason/event. This is why I keep some in several caches away from my home.

  2. Gaye, your 12 month prepping plan is very good and I just hope people will do this for their families. Just a generation ago people always prepared all their food in the summer for the coming year…no fast food or grocery stores and we could be without the GRID is a moments notice..read the book “ONE SECOND AFTER”. For those with limited money..get the beans(I also prefer pinto) and rice and water FIRST and be sure you get bullion cubes (seasoning). Another great food is dehydrated soups like BEAR CREEK $3 makes about 8 qts soup and its good. We need to get our house in order both temporal and spiritual..God Bless!

    • Great Book..I re-read it often when I find myself lacking motivation. I know it is fictional…but I love the part where John is talking about if everyone had just a little stored…a month of food in their pantry…how different the senario could have been. It could so easily be our story.

  3. this site has some great information. I have been prepping for 6 yrs and at first was overwhelmed but when you get your LT storage where you have 3 or 6 months (more is better) for your family then you relax and just add as you can. Do not throw expired cans away. They will last much longer than the use by date. I just made soup with canned veggies that were 1 and 2 yrs after best buy date. My grandparents farmed & canned to get them through the year or 2 and they used veggies that had been on shelf for many yrs. The smell test and sample before using but I have not found a bad can yet! I also can chicken and beef (roast and ground) better than any store brand.

  4. I’m a novice prepper. We (my hubby and I) have 7-day bug-out bags for each of us and a 30-day supply on our “Survival Shelves” in case we “bug-in”. I appreciate the tips listed here, as some of these I have learned the hard way and some I can use to prevent problems.
    But the real reason I am commenting is about eating dogs.
    I was in the Peace Corps on a remote island in the Pacific for two years. We often experienced famine and did have to eat the dogs. Not pet dogs, but stray ferals. While I would not like to kill and cook my own puppy, I can tell you from the real experience of starvation, YOU WILL EAT A DOG! and I survived.

  5. 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

    • You might want to start with this article: //www.backdoorsurvival.com/20-items-to-kick-start-your-food-storage-plan/

      Also take a look at my Prepping One Month at a Time series. Go slow and try to not to stress. You will be surprised at how quickly your stock pile will grow. //www.backdoorsurvival.com/12-months-of-prepping-year-one/

    • With each day bringing more bad news about droughts affecting beef, most vegetables, pig viruses, is it wise to advise one to go slow?
      I have been prepping food and other supplies–for over 5 years.
      I am at a comfortable level now.
      I shudder when I hear of those just starting.
      Folks, not to scare–but get going.
      Pork, beef, vegetables and fruit prices are soaring.
      It isn’t going to get better.
      Disconnect the tv/cable (just one example)to save 70-120 a month.
      Kids will scream you say?? Oh, not having your kids scream is soooo much better than starving.

    • That is the never-ending balance. Live for now, or prep for later? It is human nature to want to live comfortable now, but at the same time have all realized that to adequately prep for TEOTWAWKI, one will probably have to sacrifice something financially now. Should I make another contribution to my IRA…? Or should I spend that money on something prep related? When SHTF, that money will not be available to use. If SHTF never happens, I am trying to life my retired life without funds to be as comfortable as I like. What is the balance? The answer would be different for each of us.

    • No, I don’t see it that way.
      A large percentage of income each week IS spent on food and supplies–so I see it as I spent that money wisely, on food, and now can relax knowing I need less for the IRA.
      Imagine what we are buying now will cost in 2024!!

      That’s just my take on the matter.
      Oh, yeah, not only the costs of food in 2014–do you want a fat, juicy IRA that can’t buy food…because the shelves are bare.
      I’m not a seer, but looks like Luke 21 is coming soon.

    • First thing I suggest is sitting down and figuring just how much money you have to spend on extras; what are you willing to do without as opposed to what you need to live. Plan for a month’s worth at first. If you can do that then plan for 2 weeks. A minimum of 2 weeks will get you past whatever the disaster event is and that’s about all. Gaye’s list for that works well. 🙂 I’ve had to restart often but then it wasn’t called ‘prepping’, it was provident living as in storing in times of plenty for those lean times.
      I was a military wife. When rotation time came, we couldn’t take our plenty (too much)so we worked with our church and gave it to those who needed it. Once relocated, I would begin by buying a can or two each time I went to the store. It adds ups. A big difference is how much you are able to commit to buying the extra you’re going to need. Coming from a larger family than 6, I know your food bill must be large. One important thing is to make it a family decision/action. So, instead when that child ‘wants/asks’ for that soda, or candy or whatever, suggest instead that (s)he go get an extra jar of jelly or peanut butter. Since you’ve had the family discussion, it will lessen any argument. It also gets the children involved so everyone can also learn more about prepping in addition to food etc. They can also be learning bushcraft, outdoor cooking, foraging. Hope this helps.

    • I always said we couldn’t afford to store food either. About 6 years ago I read a great book called “One Second After” that scared the hell out of me. I debated for a year and put it off, but started having this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that time was getting short to start. You don’t have to get expensive with it. I have been storing for about 5 years now and I am at a comfortable level. First, I asked all my family members to give my gifts of thrive food. It has been wonderful…I now have over 300 #10 cans…I saved up the funds (for those who just wanted to given me $$) and caught sales (black friday anyone). My family thought me slightly crazy, but they lovingly indulged me. I actually got freeze dried strawberries for valentines day and a bucket of wheat for my birthday! Thrive food can get $$$$ but I was able to obtain a variety of grains (wheat, barley oats, etc), pasta of all varieties, fruits (mango, pineapple, berries, banana chips, apple slices, apricots, etc) veggies (carrots, green beans, onions, carrots, broccoli, corn, potatoes, peppers) dairy (4 instant milk buckets on sale cheap!), all types of beans, egg powder, sour cream powder, butter power. I have a great stockpile and most of it has a shelf life of 10-25 years. I saved my recycling money and bought a food rotation system that fits perfectly into my walk in closet. (Costco has them cheaper with shipping included).

      Adding to this I got cheap. I started spending about $10.00 extra a week on groceries and hit up the bulk food bins at my local Winco. They have used, but clean food grade buckets and lids on sale for cheap in the bulk food isle. I found a used food saver on ebay (super cheap). I break the bulk food bags (you pay by the pound so I only buy what I want) into smaller bags and seal them with the food saver. They have a variety of lentils, popcorn, white, red, pink, pinto, great northern, and black beans. I also can get 11 bean soup mixes. They also sell all types of rice, dry pasta (don’t use the foodsaver because the sharp pasta edges will poke holes in the bag and it is wasted). They have quick oats, and fruit punch mixes. Baking soda, baking powder, and yeast that I store in the freezer once I seal it. I take several packages of beans, rice, TVP, etc and seal them airtight, then place them in the food grade buckets. I then add sealed packages of salt, season salt, soup mixes and all variety of other spices in small packages to the bucket then slap a label on it.

      So fast forward I have 2/5 gallon buckets of pinto beans, 1 bucket salt, 1 bucket sugar, and 7 buckets filled with a variety of items that should last years to add to my gifted 4 buckets of instant milk, 2 of wheat, and quick oats. We signed up for an executive membership at costco and through the normal grocery bills was able to earn enough in cash back last year to pay for the membership and 2 emergency food buckets totaling 550 servings of 25 year shelf life emergency food. I also got creative and figured out how to use mylar bags with my food saver…it’s kind of a pain…but I managed about 25 mylar bags that I like because they can be stored on my closet shelves without having to wrap them up from the light. There is a video on youtube.

      Next I tried my hand at dehydrating. I have a garden…so I started growing and dehydrating basil, rosemary, thyme and sage. It dries quickly in a cheap dehydrator (I borrowed mine from an aunt who had never used it…she finally just let me keep it). I did banana chip, apple slices, peppers (garden grown), cucumbers are very tasty dried, sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, pinapple, and peaches. I bought the mason jar attachment for the foodsaver and sealed them in individual mason jars then found a shelf in the kitchen. I make mixes of dry beans and put them in mason jars as well. On week days my husband will make beans, chilli, and soups out of the ingredients. He soaks the beens in a crock pot then adds the dehydrated veggies and makes some great hearty meals. As he uses them, I fill them up. It may not be as nutritious as fresh, but sometimes I will find frozen vegetables on sale at the canned food store and buy them to be dehydrated. They dry out fast, cheap, and it would do in a pinch..plus there is almost no prep time. My shelf is always full.

      I have just began to try my hand at canning. So far I have been successful in canning apple pie filling (we actually ate it 5 months later and nobody got sick!), a variety of jellies, and wonderful spiced peaches. Since we live in California, we can always find somebody with a tree full of fruit who has no desire or ability to pick and eat all of it plus a variety of cheap and excellent roadside fruit stands. I also have some pickled plums from 3 months ago I will be brave and open really soon. I have only done water bath canning…I am reluctant to try a pressure canner but received one as a gift so I might brave it soon. I would like to be able to can and shelve leftover meat eventually.

      Maybe I didn’t read carefully, but has anybody mentioned seeds recently. None GMO seeds are not too expensive…I paid $30.00 for a sealed can with enough for an acre and have acquired several cans.

      It sounds expensive if you look at it all together…but if you find a bulk food store and spend $10 extra a week you can buy enough (and a variety) of dried goods to fill several 5 gallon buckets a month. Sometimes I buy them, seal the food, then place them in a heavy duty trash bag tucked back into my closet until I can get the buckets..if the world goes crazy in the mean time..my kids eat. My goal was a year and I believe I am well beyond that. I also buy extra regular canned food and keep my pantry stocked with about 3 weeks of canned soup, chili, tuna, refried beans before I get into my closet stock. I keep working at it to replace what we use, and because I realized about 2 years in that my family has seen my closet…and will be heading straight for me in a crisis! For my next birthday….water storage is on my list! My husband got a portable water filtration system for his last birthday that will filter 9,000 gallons of water with the extra filters.

      How much do some people spend on starbucks a month. If that money was spent on food…the world could go to hell and we wouldn’t miss a meal for a while.

      As to those that say only store what you eat…well that is great if you have the time and resources. Yes…why not only stock what you eat if you can…but I wouldn’t pass up a great buy on a 25 lbs of pinto beans because I don’t usually eat them. I’d say that 95%..probably more..of American has no idea what it is like to be starving. My kids have taken to saying that when dinner is late and I make sure I correct them. THEY ARE NOT STARVING! If you were truly starving…pinto beans would be the best you ever tasted. The grease scraped out of the grease trap at McDonalds would be the best thing you ever had. A dog wouldn’t look so bad and I would eat it happily.

  6. 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.

  7. ***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! 🙂

    • We thought the same as 25 year storage plan. I’ll never make it. So have been making this a life style choose. so our children know all this and practice this life style. So we are planning to leave to them in stead of cash… LOL on them. I say eat hardy at our celebration of life.. And a great start for the Grandchildren…

  8. ***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.

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