If you have sought out this Wiki page, you probably already have some reasons in mind to embark on a food storage program, but if you are still on the fence about acting on your concerns, here are some questions to consider:
- In the event of a local natural disaster, such as a severe winter storm, hurricane, or earthquake, do you really want to be part of the chaotic rush of people flooding your local grocery store and fighting over the last box of mac-n-cheese?
- In the aftermath of a local natural disaster, do you really want to be dependent on FEMA to feed your family?
- What if you are forced to shelter-in-place because of a viral outbreak or chemical contamination in your area? Would you have enough food in your home to stay there for an extended period, or would you be forced to expose your family to the threat to obtain food?
- What if an economic or credit crisis shutdown the banking system (and all commercial trade and food transportation systems) for an extended period? Are you confident that you would be able to find someone willing trade their food for your dollars (or silver and gold coins)?
- What if you lost your employment and/or income for several months — could you still feed your family during this period?
- What if food prices soared for any reason, be it a major drought, a geopolitical event, an energy crisis, or just old-fashioned Wall Street profiteering. Would you be able to cope?
All of these are legitimate concerns for any conscientious person, but there is one other reason to embark on a food storage program that has nothing to do with any “doom or gloom” scenario: It can save you a significant amount of money over the long term. How much money you save depends on which approach to home food storage that you take, but before we delve into that, let’s take a detailed look at the three different types of food products used in home food storage.
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The Three Primary Types of Food Storage Products
Most home food storage plans use a combination of foods that have been preserved in one of three ways: by canning, by dehydration, or with the use of a retort oven. Below you will find a description of each of these preservation methods, as well as the pros and cons for each.
Description: These products need no introduction as they are firmly established within our modern daily life. These goods are often criticized because the canning process destroys many of the micronutrients in the food, but the truth is that significant nutrient loss occurs with many of the other commercial preservation methods as well.
- Good Selection & Availability: Many types of fruits, vegetables, and meat are available as canned goods, and can be easily obtained at your local grocery store.
- Price: Canned goods are generally much cheaper than other types of preserved food, and sometimes are cheaper than their fresh counterparts.
- Easily Traded: During a worst case scenario, canned goods can be easily traded for other goods, and because nearly everyone is familiar with them, they may even serve as a default currency in some situations. Full details can be found here.
- Shelf life: Research studies have shown that canned goods have a shelf life from two to seven years, depending on the food that is canned.
- Ease of Preparation: Canned goods can be eaten right out of the can, either cold or heated, and don’t need extra water for cooking.
- Heavy & Bulky: Because of their liquid content, canned goods are heavier and bulkier when compared to other products, such as dehydrated and retort foods.
- Nutrient Retention: Though there is significant nutrient loss during the canning process, canned goods retain their nutrients well during storage. A study at Bringham Young University showed that canned goods only suffered a 10-30% loss in micronutrients (vitamins), and no significant loss of their macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) over time.
- Quality: While their quality might not be great as compared to fresh foods, most people are at least familiar with consuming these goods.
Description: Another common commercial preservation method involves drastically reducing the moisture content in foods to create an unfavorable environment for spoilage. Dehydrated foods can be either air-dried or freeze-dried. The air-drying process exposes the food to air heated to 140-400°F to dry it out, while the freeze-drying process first flash-freezes (at -50°F) the food and then utilizes a special process to remove the water crystals from the food. Air-dried foods shrink significantly during their processing, becoming brittle and hard, while freeze-dried foods are typically spongy in texture. Full details can be found here.
- Reduction In Weight: Both dehydration methods can reduce the weight of fruits and vegetables by 80-90%, and meats by 30% (as compared to their fresh equivalents).
- Space Saving: Air-dried foods are often marketed as taking only one-fifth the space as canned goods, but this assumes that you don’t have to store the water needed to rehydrate them.
- Shelf Life: At best, dehydrated foods remain viable (edible) for about twice as long as their equivalent canned goods, though many companies selling these products claim much longer shelf lives for their products.
- Price: When compared to canned goods, expect to pay two to three times more for air-dried foods, and four to five times more for freeze-dried foods.
- Nutrient Retention: Dehydrated foods are often marketed as being superior to canned goods in retaining nutrition, but this is not really true in the most practical sense. When you take into account the nutrient losses associated with blanching, drying, storage, and preparation, the total amount of nutrient degradation in dehydrated foods is about equal to that of canned goods.
- Preparation: These foods need to be rehydrated in to be consumed. As a rule of thumb, one pound of dehydrated vegetables or fruits needs 1 gallon of water for rehydration, while a pound of meat or eggs need about one-third of a gallon. Air-dried foods can be soaked in cold water for several hours, or cooked in boiling water for 20-25 minutes to prepare them for consumption. Freeze-dried foods can be prepared in about 15 minutes by simply pouring boiling water over them.
- Quality: Most people equate rehydrated air-dried foods with the taste and texture of ordinarily cooked foods. Freeze-dried foods have an almost fresh-like texture, but are usually considered to have less taste than air-dried foods. Full details can be found here.
Description: Retort foods are typically packaged in multilayer laminate pouches that are vacuum sealed and then heated to 240-250° to sterilize the contents. The U.S. military makes extensive use of this technology in their MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) products. Many juices and beverages are preserved using this method as well.
- Less Deterioration During Processing: The thin pouches allow for shorter sterilization periods than canning, which allows them to retain more nutrients.
- Lighter: Pouches weigh less than cans, providing for easier mobility and storage in some situations.
- Quality: Most opinions are that the food is equal or superior to frozen food in taste and texture.
- Price: Typically three to four times more expensive than canned goods, and about on par with freeze-dried goods.
- Storage: Storing large quantities of these products requires packaging to hold them in place, and this extra packaging negates much of their space-saving benefit.
- Shelf Life: Typically retort products have a shelf life equal to that of canned goods.
- Preparation: Like canned goods, retort products can be eaten straight out of their packaging, or placed in boiling water for a few minutes to heat them.
- Aseptic Foods: SAP (Sterile Aseptically Packaged) foods are very similar to retort foods, and thus share many of the qualities described above.
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- How To Store Your Food
So now that you know what you will be storing, you will need to decide how you will store it. Some items can be stored directly in their own packaging, while others will need to be repackaged to maximize their shelf life. Let’s look at some of the equipment that you will need for the repackaging process. Full details can be found here.
You will need food-grade buckets or containers to store some of the items in your deep pantry. While many people use buckets, if you want to use every inch of your available shelf space you should consider buying square or rectangular containers.
When storing loose dry products such as sugar, rice, and flour, always make sure that you add the newest product to the bottom of the bucket. Dump the contents of your bucket into a spare bucket first, then pour your new product in, then replace the older product. You will also need a smaller air-tight container for this product in your kitchen pantry.
For items such as bulk grains it is sometimes cheaper to buy them already packaged for long term storage. If you think that you will need to access the contents of a bucket on a regular basis, you should buy a resealable gamma-lid for it. Full details can be found here.
Mylar Bags & Sealers
Placing the contents of a bucket within a mylar bag may help to extend the shelf life of some food products. Be sure to buy mylar bags that have a quality foil layer to minimize the gas exchange through the material over time. You will also need a mylar bag sealer to properly seal the bag for long-term storage. For more information on mylar bags see Food Storage Packing: Facts and Myths.
Controlling the moisture level in dry goods is critical to preventing premature spoilage. Using desiccant packets in your buckets and bags is a cheap and easy way to minimize excess moisture in your food, especially if you store it in a humid environment, such as a basement.
The shelf life of some products may be extended by placing oxygen absorbers within the buckets. The effectiveness of O2 absorbers depends on several factors.
Many food products can be optimally stored in #10 metal cans. Although this is not something typically done at home, you may be able to visit a local cannery to gain access to this equipment (and products).
Canned Goods Rotation Shelving Units
If canned goods make up a large portion of your deep pantry, you might consider building or buying a FIFO shelving unit. These systems make easy work of rotating your canned goods through your deep pantry.
A chest freezer is an economical way to store frozen foods such as meat and vegetables. If you are concerned with losing electricity for an extended period, there are super efficient chest freezers that can run off a small battery bank, or even directly off of photovoltaic panels. These units use ample insulation and internal thermal mass to maintain temperatures when the solar panels, or grid, is not supplying electricity. Full details can be found here.
If you have large harvests from your garden, and/or egg-laying chickens, you might consider making a chest refrigerator for your deep pantry. By adding thermostat-controlled power supply to a chest freezer, you can convert it to a super-efficient refrigerator. For more details on this DIY retrofit please see A Fridge That Takes Only 0.1 kWh a Day?
Where to Locate Your Deep Pantry
Now that have an idea of what your deep pantry will contain, it’s now time to decide where you to locate your deep pantry. The ideal location is one that remains cool year round, has low humidity, and is easily accessible. It may be difficult to find one location in your home that satisfies all these conditions, in which case you may be forced to spread your deep pantry over multiple locations.
Basements, closets, spare rooms, and large kitchen pantries are all acceptable locations, but you will most likely need to build or buy shelving to make the most efficient use of your space. If you do add additional shelving to your space, be sure to first decide what will be stored on specific shelves so that you can size them appropriately.
Thoroughly clean and disinfect the space before you begin storing food in it. You also might consider placing food-safe pest control products, such as kitchen moth and roach traps, before you begin storing food. Full details can be found here.
Using & Maintaining Your Deep Pantry
As mentioned previously, to take full advantage of your deep pantry may require some additional cooking skills, recipes, and equipment.
If you plan to store bulk, unprocessed grains in your deep pantry, having a grain mill at home to make whole grain flours is essential. Amazon.com has a good selection of home grain mills ranging from manual to electric models.
Baking your own bread at home with fresh milled whole grain flour can be a very rewarding experience. And while you should learn to do it the old-fashion way, having a bread machine that can make whole grain breads can really save you much time and effort. Some sites that review bread machines for whole grain breads include wize.com and bestbreadmachinereviews.com, though keep in mind that these are marketing sites. Full details can be found here.
A pressure cooker can make quick work of preparing dried beans, grains, and dehydrated foods. They are also very efficient with cooking fuel if you find yourself in a situation with limited resources. With the right recipes, you can cook pretty much anything in a pressure cooker. See Recipe Books below for some pressure cooker recipe books.
If you have ample freezer space, a vacuum sealer can enable you to store precooked meals or fresh foods for up to a year. You can freeze meats in a marinade for quick grilling, or freeze whole grain flours in 1 cup quantities for baking.