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What to Look for When Shopping for Food Storage

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
What to Look for When Shopping for Food Storage

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With all of the varying complexities of food storage and food storage companies, it may be difficult to sort through and prioritize what is important and what is not.  I don’t know about you but with the dizzying array of things to take into consideration, you just might want to throw you hands up in dismay and yell “help me!!”.

I do not claim to be an expert but over the years, I have learned some things about food storage and food storage companies.  Setting aside the very real concern of where to store everything which is a separate topic altogether, today I want to break down what you should look for when shopping for food storage.

What to Look For When Shopping for Food Storage - Backdoor Survival

13 Tips for Shopping for Food Storage

How many calories are needed per day to feed your family

Before you even begin to investigate specific food storage products, you need to do some homework.  How many calories per day will it take to sustain the caloric needs of your family?  You may already know the answer but if you don’t, try one of the many online calorie calculators.  I happen to like this one on the American Cancer Society website.

Resource:  Free Online Calorie Counter

All you need to do is answer a few question based upon your age, current weight and lifestyle, and you will get an approximation of what you need to maintain your current weight.  Do this for every member of your family.

Two things to keep in mind are that if you are currently robust in size,  you can use your optimal weight instead.  If you do however, keep in mind that if you are ever called upon to use your food storage, you might transcend for a moderate activity level to a high activity level.  Your calorie needs will increase accordingly.

Be mindful of the stated “Servings per Package”

This is important.  If a meal packet states that it contains 500 calories total and is contains 3 servings, then know from the get go that is probably not realistic.

Say your calorie needs are 2,100 calories per day.  That would break down into 700 calories per meal.  Will 500 calories adequately feed 3 people in that situation?  Doubtful.

Of course add-on items such as beverages and snacks will add to the overall calorie count.  So, using this example, a 500 calorie meal packet or pouch is not a bad thing but rather something to be mindful of.

Note:  for the purpose of this article I may refer to a meal packet but the same principal applies to servings per tin, per box, per package or whatever.

Shelf life is important but not the be all end all

There is more to food storage than shelf life.  Sure, it is great to purchase items that are already packaged for the long term but don’t get caught up with purchasing 25-year food items.

Price, the availability of space, and the environmental aspects of that space may dictate a more aggressive rotation of your food stores.  Also, the ages of your family members will play a role as well.  Remember that tastes, eating habits, and calorie need will change over time.

All that being said, unless it has turned rancid or is contaminated by vermin, most foods are still edible well beyond their stated shelf life.  This, by the way, applies to canned goods used day to day and not just food storage.  So, although a consistent food rotation program is a good practice, don’t beat yourself up if that can of peaches is 5 year beyond the “best eaten by” date.

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Consider Portability

Do you plan to shelter in place, head to a well-stocked retreat, or bug out?  Or combination?  If there is any possibility that you will need to evacuate your home, consider portability for at least of portion of your food storage.

Consider a a minimum, a three day provision of freeze dried meals in lightweight pouches.  The last thing you want to have to do is cart around a 40 pound bucket of food as you bug out following a disaster.

Compromise and find a happy medium.  Purchase the more pricey freeze-dried meals to stow in your emergency kit.  You may also want to store a three to five day supply of freeze dried meals for post-disaster bug in use.  But beyond that?  Consider the value of having beans, rice, oatmeal, instant powdered milk and other bulk food items.

Be informed of the nutritional value of your food storage

During times of stress, you want food that is as wholesome as it can be given the circumstances.  Seek out nutritious calories from many different food groups.  An occasional treat or sugary dessert will help mitigate food fatigue, but at the end of the day, protein, vitamin and mineral rich foods will be better for you and help you keep a leg up on sickness.

Another question to ask is are the nutritional claims verified?  If you are seeking non-GMO foods, are they Non-GMO Project Verified.  Likewise, if organic foods are important to you, are they USDA Certified Organic?

There are a lot of claims companies make that take advantage of loopholes or unregulated area in food law. The GMO-Free one especially. If it is not Non-GMO Project Verified, and they claim GMO-Free, then you know they aren’t doing it correctly. Go in with your eyes wide open to ensure that you get what you pay for.

Is the meat in the product real?

Does the food advertising and packaging imply meat content but lack a USDA mark? I recently learned that you can track down the final company of origin of a meat product from the number on the USDA mark on the packaging. The mark is only there for foods that contain real meat or poultry.

Resource:  How to Find the USDA Establishment (EST) Number on Food Packaging

Does it taste good?

This is often perceived as a stumbling block.  That said, many food storage companies offer sample packs for very little cost, and sometimes for free.  If you have any doubts, purchase a small quantity and do a taste test.

Is the taste acceptable?  Or is it too salty or too bland?  How does it smell?

Before making a huge investment in food storage, if you have any doubts, try before your make any large quantity purchase.

What is the quality of the packaging?

Food packaging is something very near and dear to my heart because the last thing I want is for my food storage to spoil.  For this reason, I often repackage food myself either in Mylar bags and buckets or more recently, in large mason jars stored in a cool, dark location.  Regardless of how I store the food, I always include an oxygen absorber.

When purchasing packaged food for long term storage, make sure the company states that oxygen has been removed from the packaging by using an oxygen absorber or by nitrogen flushing.  If you are purchasing a bucket or bulk food, ensure that the product is sealed inside a metalized bag.

So how do you tell if the food is packaged correctly?  One test is smell.  If you can smell the food when you open the pouch or bucket then you know that the packaging is not properly protecting the food. The molecules that cause smell are bigger than oxygen molecules. If smells get through the packaging, you know for a fact oxygen can too.

Recently there have been some studies of the various packaging methods used by different food storage companies.  The results, to me were surprising.  Although some companies fared better than others, I feel that regardless of the company or manufacturer, our overall reliance on Mylar or metalized bags by itself may be faulty.  More and more I am recommending that we place such bags or pouches in buckets or sealed tubs not only to decrease permeability, but also to keep out pests.

That brings up another point:  pests such as mice are attracted to smell.  If they can’t smell it, they don’t know its there.  As far as I am concerned, this is another reason to package food items in bags, and then in a bucket of plastic tub.

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Survival Basics: Using Oxygen Absorbers for Food Storage

The integrity of the company selling the food storage items

This may be one of the more difficult aspects of food storage to evaluate.  One of the first questions to ask is “How long has the company been in business? Are they looking to make a quick buck?”  Be weary of a new company that pops up with weeks of a major, public disaster or disruptive event.

Avoid fear-mongering at all costs

You might be surprised at the number of companies that started up right after Katrina, Sandy, and the more recent Ebola scare.  These companies used (and continue to use) fear-mongering to promote their products.  If you examine their web sites, you may find no mention of a physical location or corporate presence.

If a companies advertising is based on fear or you feel any sort of pressure, run for the hills!  There are plenty of credible choices out there both online and locally.  Move on.  Please.

Don’t ignore price but don’t become obsessed with it either

The only saying “you get what you pay for” does not always hold true when it comes to food storage purchases.  As stated above, some companies will prey upon your fear and charge you way too much for too little of an inferior product.

A better way to approach price is to look at price per meal or price per serving.  Just be mindful that the price per service will be based upon your own calorie calculation and not those of the company selling you the product.

After narrowing your choices, identify the other factors that are important: tastes, shelf life, packaging, and special nutritional considerations such as non-GMO, organic, or gluten free.

Be sure to also scrutinize shipping and handling costs and make those costs part of the total price proposition.  Free shipping is sometimes truly free and sometimes not.  You need to compare apples to apples and look at total costs.  The results might surprise you.

On the other hand, most companies have fantastic monthly sales.  Shop those sales and even with shipping costs, you will save a ton of money.

Resource:  Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials (as an example)

At the end of the day, trust your supplier

Read reviews, try small quantities before you make a large purchase, and most of all ask a lot of questions.  Any reputable food storage vendor will have knowledgeable staff on hand to answer your questions by phone or by email.

There are no dumb questions.  If at all in doubt, ask.  One other thing: ask about their satisfaction guarantee.  Look for a 30 day guaranteed and again, take advantage of it by taste testing a small portion of your purchase.  Just remember that once you open a can, bag or bucket, it must be property resealed with O2 absorbers unless it is going to be consumed within a year.

Free Food Deal – Get a 100% Free Sample from Mountain House

So here is a free food deal that is a little known secret.  Did you know that you can request a free sample meal from Mountain House (officially OFD Foods Inc.) just by asking?  I have confirmed this with my contact at Mountain House, and now want to share it with you.

To request your free sample, all you need to do is call 1-800-547-0244 and ask.  Or, if you prefer, reach out online via their customer service form here.  A hint though?  Calling is a lot simpler!

That’s it.  This is a free lunch. There are no shipping charges and no handling charges. Free is free.  I was specifically told that they would love to have Backdoor Survival readers new to freeze dried foods call them up and request a sample. Thrilled, actually.  Of course it does not hurt that Mountain House has received top scores in independent third party testing of emergency survival meals.

Why do they do this?  Their attitude is that companies can talk all the marketing speak they want but what really sells is the product itself.  I could not agree more.

Note:  I have no financial relationship with Mountain House and am sharing this information with you because I love their products. MH Chili Mac?  That is my number one freeze dried meal favorite!

The Final Word

If you have made it this far, congratulations.  You now know more about shopping for food storage than 95% of the population.  Just keep in mind that as you shop, taste preferences differ from person to person.  What is good to one person, may be mediocre to another.  Make an evaluation of what is best for you and your family based upon the tips I have outlines and you really can’t go wrong.

Finally, I do want to put a plug in for the many fine food storage companies and purveyors that support Backdoor Survival with their ads.  Because of them, this website is and will always be free for everyone.  I do not accept donations but instead, ask for your support by shopping with my sponsors.

Whatever you decide, please know that building food storage is an individual thing.  Three months, one year, two years?  How much is enough?  Go with your budget and your comfort level.  You really can not go wrong as long as you just do something!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

If you enjoyed this article, consider voting for Backdoor Survival daily at Top Prepper Websites!  In addition, SUBSCRIBE to email updates  and receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

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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, get my eBook: The Preppers Guide to Food Storage.

Mountain House :  Not that they carry a comprehensive selection of Mountain House products at competitive prices.

FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer: As long as the unit has an accessory port (and this one does), an in expensive 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.

Ball Regular & Wide Mouth Jar Storage Caps:  I must have 30 or 40 of these.  I love to use mason jars for panty storage and for those items I go through quickly, I see no need to use the vacuum seal gizmo that goes with my FoodSaver.

Sharpie Permanent Markers: Sharpies were invented for preppers! And without question, It’s the cheapest place to buy them.

Conair Ceramic Instant Heat 2″ Straightener: An inexpensive hair iron such as this one is perfect for sealing Mylar bags.  It can also be used on your hair so it can serve a dual purpose.  For an even cheaper alternative, consider this one that works equally well but has smaller blades.

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.

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18 Responses to “What to Look for When Shopping for Food Storage”

  1. Thanks for the MH tip called and they are sending samples. You are right about the mylar bags not working in the vac sealers. Will purchase a hair tool today. thanks for all the great info.

  2. Can my Food Saver be used to seal mylar bags? I’ve got a couple of hair straighteners, but think the Food Saver might be easier.

  3. after I use something, I try to buy two to replace it, that way we have a lot of what we use and it adds to the supplies a little at a time

  4. Thank you for letting us know about the “free food” from Mountain House. I emailed them this morning. I think in an earlier post you said your husband liked the Italian Style Pepper Steak and you preferred the Chicken Fried Rice. I asked if I could receive a sample of one or the other before buying a #10 can. I received an email reply saying my “samples” were on the way. How awesome! Will be so nice to know if we like something before purchasing…. 🙂

  5. Gaye, as usual, a terrific article. The whole notion of long term (25+ yrs) only hit my radar toward the end of last summer. As I am prone to doing with all new things I did a ton of research. Everybody is personally accountable for identifying their own personal needs, and seeking out the solutions that fulfill those needs. In my personal situation, I have a thyroid disorder and need to be conscious of eating foods commercially prepared because most of them use salt that is not iodized. I contacted by phone several FD food companies and asked if the salt used in their meals was iodized or not. Not one rep I spoke with had any idea if their food was or not. Most said they have never been asked that question before, and would look into it and get back with me….none did. 🙁 It just proves your point that what is “good” for one may not be best for another, and what is important to some, means nothing to someone else.

  6. I am glad you brought this up:
    “Does it taste good?”

    My friend and I are always researching for great ways to store food as well as which products to store and one thing we both have in common is do we like to eat what we are saving?

    I am glad we taste test anything new. Could you imagine having to be sheltered in due to some type of emergency, only to find out that the food you have is horrible. A double negative whammy in my opinion.

    • Here is what we offer:

      This is the only product we have found on the market that is actually GM0-Free, many companies claim it, but don’t have any certs.

    • Yes, that does look like a good package for most people, but in addition to the above restrictions my husband is allergic to lentils! So I really need to be able to pick and choose individual organic storage items and I haven’t found anything like that.

    • Anna – I recommend you shop for the individual bulk food items yourself then do your own packaging. You may not get the variety that pre-packaged meals will provide but at least you will know what you are getting.

      I am working on an article on making your own DIY pre-packaged meals. Nothing fancy but good tasting and healthy. Stay tuned.

    • Gaye, about your upcoming article on DIY packing…I have a few tips that have worked for me. I have a neighbor who is a junk food junkie give me all their empty potato chip bags. I turn them inside out, wash off the chip crumbs and then use it as I would any other “mylar” bag. What I usually do with them is to put a bag of flour or sugar inside then seal it up with my flat iron. The other reusable thing I do is hard to admit. In my house of 95% homemade from scratch, I’m embarrassed to say that we buy lots of jars of spaghetti sauce :\ . When the jars are empty and washed out, I fill them with rice or beans and dry can using the original lid in the oven. I haven’t had any not seal yet.

    • learner–That’s a good idea about the chip bags. My roommate/brother and I are two middle-aged city guys who have been prepping for about 20 years now and are on a fixed income. I’m always looking at things we’ve used and see if there’s any way the packaging left can be reused or recycled. DS is always asking me if this leftover bottle or whatever can be saved to reuse some way. We both like soda, so I often wash the empty bottles out and either use them to stash drinking water away, or let them dry and put dry goods into them, like salt or rice. Our apartment complex is very well made and has no issue with bugs and such. And with four cats (all rescues, and Service Animals), no mouse or rat would dare try and set up housekeeping in here! Great ideas!

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