A recurring theme in preparedness circles is food storage. After all, when faced with a disaster or crisis, the mobs will ascend upon the grocery stores and clear the shelves in a matter of days if not hours. It is no surprise, therefore, that having an extensive knowledge of food storage techniques is an important cornerstone of every family preparedness plan.
Storing food – whether for a month, a year, or ten years – takes a bit of care in order to maintain its quality, nutritional value and palatability. And while the proper packaging of food is important, avoiding the common enemies of food storage will go a long way to insure that your food will be good to eat when you are ready to eat it.
What are the six enemies of food storage?
The six enemies of food storage are temperature, moisture, oxygen, light, pests and time. As you will see, each of these factors is 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. Let’s briefly address each one so that this becomes clear.
Temperature: The optimal temperature for food storage is between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. And within that range, the lower the better. To give you an idea of why a cool-ish temperature is best, think about this: the storage life of most food products is cut in half for every increase of 18 degrees Fahrenheit (or 10 degrees Celsius).
The second factor when it comes to temperature is consistency. 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.
Moisture: The ideal level of humidity for your stored food is 15% or less. Here in Washington State, 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 will dictate how much light your food is exposed to (remember those dominoes?)
Oxygen: The presence of oxygen allows bacteria, microorganisms and pests to thrive and survive in your food. In addition, many nutrients oxidize 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).
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.
Pests: Pests are another problem. Moisture and humidity provide a breeding ground for bugs and larvae of all types. In some climates (such as ours) mice are a problem. 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 or diatomaceous earth will eliminate the oxygen (air) that most pests need to survive.
Time: The final enemy is time. 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 both available online and at big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco.
That said, once you get the hang of things, it is pretty easy to package up the bulk items yourself and there are plenty of tools and tips for doing so all over the internet and YouTube plus of course, on my website at Backdoor Survival.
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. There is so much more of the story to tell and over time, I will be going into far more detail on each of these storage considerations. In the meantime, I have already written quite a few articles providing how-to’s and other information that will assist you in combating these enemies of food storage. Depending on your interest and needs, you might want to check out the following articles posted on my website:
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!