15 Common Food Storage Mistakes To Avoid

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
15 Common Food Storage Mistakes To Avoid

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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.

15 Common Food Storage Mistakes to Avoid | Backdoor Survival

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.

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.

Win win.

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. And don’t forget about the benefits of edible bark!

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?  And 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 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.

If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to email updates.  When you do, you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-Book, The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

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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!


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 for very cheap.

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

Sharpie Permanent Markers: Sharpies were invented for preppers!

How to Live on Wheat: Everything you need to know about wheat. I recommend this book for every survival library.


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25 Responses to “15 Common Food Storage Mistakes To Avoid”

  1. honestly, If you don’t have 25 years worth of food you don’t need food that lasts 25 years.
    In my mind a 2 year (approximately) supply of food should be enough. If you haven’t figured out a thrive strategy after 24 months you probably never will. after stocking a 2 year supply and rotating it as necessary your attention can/should go towards other things. tools, seeds, clothing etc “Eat what you store store what you eat” is a great motto.

    the other key is to balance your supply while your building it, 100lbs of rice and one can of soup is not a great plan.

    • Having long lasting food should be a part of everyone’s plan. Obviously it shouldn’t be the only food storage, but having food that lasts 15, 20, 25 or more years means I can stick them in behind my current rotating food storage and not worry about it. That way if you have a bad harvest 10 years from now you won’t need to eat your seeds to survive, at least if you had some long lasting cans put away for just in case…
      Having two years of food on hand makes sense (and I’m pretty much there), but some of it should be longterm storage capable since it gives you more flexibility in planning for the future. I have plenty of food to last until the next harvest and if that isn’t good then I have my long term supplies to fall back to. Rice and lentils are a big part of the plan if I have two bad harvests in a row, then I have cans of FD food to supplement and take me to a good harvest. Hunting small game is also part of my plan, but given the population density around here I doubt I can do that for long or gather much protein that way once things really get bad…hence the longterm food storage.
      The only folks who have no reason to buy 25+ year food are those who don’t plan to be alive in 20 years and who don’t have anyone to share it with after they pass. But since my grandpa was 99 when he passed away, I know there is a chance I’ll last just as long and try to plan accordingly.

  2. there’s something i’ve been wondering for a while, but can’t find any info about: canned food is supposed to be pretty much immortal; is that true for easy-open cans (you open by pulling the lid off instead of using a can opener) as well as the standard kind? it seems logical that scoring the aluminum would make it thinner, thus maybe allowing air/bacteria/mold/whatever to get in. but if anyone has studied this, their results aren’t showing up online. have you run into any info about this?

    • I would like to know too, about regular cans v pull top cans.

    • This sounds so familiar that I must have researched this in the past but darned if I can find my notes or a response to an earlier comment. I will keep looking.

    • SOME canned foods may be immortal, like Spam, but I have first hand experience that even well sealed cans don’t last forever. I had some baked beans in a sealed can that were 4+ years past date and when I opened them up they had turned gray. Now, the food may have been safe to eat, but I wasn’t taking any chances and tossed it out.
      And I haven’t seen any studies on the longterm storage impact of the pull top cans rather than the fully sealed cans. If anyone has some info I’m all ears!

    • i read that it’s not uncommon for food to turn darker, or be discolored, after long storage, and it’s supposed to be safe, but i think i would’ve tossed it too unless i had nothing else to eat.

  3. Something that is frequently recommended but that I think is a mistake is to store food in plastic buckets. They are NOT rodent-proof! I and others have had to throw away food that was stored in such buckets because mice chewed through them and got into the food. I now store food only in metal tins, such as those that are filled with goodies during the holiday season. I buy them at thrift stores, although not all thrift stores have a good supply. Right now I’m near a Saver’s that has loads of them, but I’ve been to other Saver’s that have none. You just have to keep looking. A bonus is that if you line them with something like cardboard, they can also be used as a Faraday cage for your electronics.

    I also have a tip for using beans. I recently read that beans don’t need to be soaked before cooking, which was contrary to all other bean advice I’ve ever seen. So I experimented with cooking unsoaked beans and found that, indeed, no soaking was needed. The beans cooked up nicely (in a pressure cooker) and I had no gas problem. This is a good water saver for hard times. Then, to save water and fuel later, I dehydrated the cooked beans before storing them. This is how “instant” beans are made, which is another thing I’d never heard of. So now they will only need to be rehydrated for a short time and heated for about 15-20 minutes, instead of being cooked for hours.

    • The trick with plastic buckets is to pack your food in mylar bags and then store those bags in the plastic buckets. Mice won’t chew into buckets that don’t smell like food, and sealed mylar bags don’t smell anything like food to them. Yes, technically you can just put food in mylar then put it on a shelf, but the buckets add a lot of puncture protection in case things start crashing down during an earthquake or similar event.

  4. DON’T WORRY ABOUT 25 OR 30 YEAR SHELF LIFE IF YOU’RE 70 YEARS OF AGE. Obviously written by a young person. Ever hear of people reaching age 95 or 100?

    • Sure we have heard of that. But how many of those who hit 95 or 100 are able to live on their own and would be able to open the packaging that long term food comes in? And if it is a long term problem that would require them to use their 25+ year shelf life food happens how long will they live without their modern medicines? (I worked with Sr’s….without their drugs they would last less than a month….sure some would make it 2 – 3 months, but all would die LONG before they ate up their food preps)

  5. Great list. I constantly need to be reminded of the points on this list, because I have made mistakes along the way.

    There is a tip I would like to share. The usefulness of this tip depends on what exactly you are preparing for.

    Include many, many pounds of foods with the longest shelf life, and don’t store them on a pantry shelf! Hide your long-term food storage. Hide it in waterproof containers in the ground, with directions to find it again. And or hide it in your home, behind books in bookcases, behind false panels you build in your closets, be creative and find many hiding places. Also hide water!

  6. Having been preppers for over 10 years we have stored a lot of food. Recently we bought a freeze/dry (F/D) machine. It cost us $3,000 but when you consider “Mountain House” meals for one for a year costs $4,000+, it is cost effective. Freeze dry food has a shelf-life of 25+ years. We started by F/D our oldest canned preps and worked forward. You can F/D almost any food: sour cream, yogurt, raw eggs, fresh strawberries, hamburger and almost everything else. Imagine having ice cream sandwiches after the SHTF! The difference between home F/D food and store bought F/D food is that you know what went into the home made food; no extra sodium, pesticides or fillers. F/D food retains all the nutriments of fresh and tastes the same also. We store our F/D food in “Mason” jars and vacuum seal them with our “Food Saver”.

  7. Hi, Gaye, this is a great list. I just wanted to add something you or others might find useful, in #3. Whenever I purchase new canning jars, I always keep the boxes. These boxes are made for securely storing canning jars. The ones I purchase are shipped from across the country and arrive with no damage, so I know the box will protect my filled jars, as well. I refill the boxes as I can and store the boxes on bottom shelves, in my lower cabinets, as an added protection.

  8. Great tips Gaye, thanks.

    As to package size, I store LOTS of gallon and quart ziplock baggies and as many silica gel packs. So when I open some dry goods and don’t finish them, I can toss the leftovers into a bag with the silica gel pack and seal it up for use later. And the silica gel packs can be recharged in my SunOven, so no waste there. 🙂

    Growing your own food, even if it’s just to supplement stored foods is great. But if you don’t have reliable light due to the weather, sprouting seeds can provide a fresh boost for quite a while. I have mung beans that I use about once a month now, but I keep at least 5 pounds of beans on hand for sprouting. They just need fresh water and actually prefer no light…so if your water stores are decent they are an easy way to add nutrients to your diet.

    That leads naturally to variety…while I store lots of FD potato products and pasta, I also store powdered cheese as well as hot sauces, salt, pepper, vinegars, etc. The cheese lets me change up the pasta or potatoes to be cheesy variants and not just the usual, so one extra ingredient doubles the variety of potato and pasta dishes. 🙂

    One last thing to consider: do any of your alternative cooking methods work indoors? If you’re stuck inside hunkering down and your alternative cooking methods aren’t safe inside then you’ll have a problem. I recently added a Sterno brand camping stove that uses one of those chafing dish sized cans. While I won’t be making 5 course meals on it, I can easily heat up food or water with no risk of CO poisoning. During my testing I was able to make enough hot food for two people in less than 30 minutes, so I should be able to get away with one can per day for the two of us since you can extinguish the can by putting the lid on, then use it again later.

  9. Thanks for this article and it’s content. Important to keep these things in mind. Keep Looking UP

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