Storing your food is an important consideration when living a completely or even just partially self-sufficient lifestyle. Being independent from grocery stores means that you are growing and creating your own food. Don’t let all that hard work go to waste by not storing it properly. Some foods will last longer than others—some need to be in certain conditions to last longer. Some foods will be dried, others frozen or canned. Storing everything just right is essential to making the most of your resources and avoiding waste.
Another aspect of food storage to consider is the fact that you may want to keep a supply of food and water on hand to keep your family fed for up to a year. In this day and age, being ready is a necessity. You have no idea when society will collapse or when the next great natural disaster will strike. Many emergency organizations will suggest that you keep enough food and water on hand for at least a week, but if the worst happens, that will not suffice. Really organized and prepared survivalists plan for a year. If you grow and raise all of your own food, you may not need to store so much, being completely self-sufficient already. However, you should plan for the event in which your garden or livestock are destroyed.
Storing food is a good idea for everyone, but it takes a lot of time and preparation to do it right. Before you start stockpiling random bits of edibles, take the time to make a real plan. You will need to figure out how much food your family needs, what types of foods you need, the shelf life of each item, how to determine the best storage to extend that shelf life, and where you will put it all. To do this properly really requires educating yourself about food and food storage. Below is a start.
What Will You Store?
The first basic question that arises when preparing to store food is what you will be storing. If you are simply planning to stock away the extra food that you grow or raise on your homestead, then you know exactly what you have. If, on the other hand, you are planning storage for survival purposes, you need to plan a menu of sorts. The best way to plan for what foods you need is to look at what you consume now. Utah State University has an excellent workbook for examining what you eat. The idea is to store what you use. It will help you determine what you eat the most. Your stockpile should consist of about 80 to 90 percent foods that you eat most often.
In addition to storing what you know you and your family will eat, you should also consider a well-rounded diet. You want to be sure to have enough of the basics so that your family will be eating a nutritionally sound diet for as long as possible. Think about having a balance of grains, like wheat, flour, oats, and rice, legumes and dried beans for protein, sugars for flavoring and energy, fats such as shortening, peanut butter, and vegetable oils, and cooking essentials such as yeast, salt, and vinegar.
How Much to Store?
Again, if you are simply storing your excess harvest, you will know exactly what you have. For survival purposes, you will need to do some calculations. One way to determine the amount of food you will need for a year is to document how much you eat in a week. Record the information for a few weeks to be sure you get a good average. Multiply the number you come up with by fifty-two and then by the number of people in your family. Or, you can record food consumption for the family as a whole and skip the last calculation. You can also find online calculators to help you figure this out. Remember that, depending on the scenario, you may not be able to count on your garden or livestock.
Where Will You Put it All?
If you are preserving foods from your garden, you will probably not need a large amount of space. If you are storing a year’s worth of food, you will. That much food takes up a lot of room. Basements are generally good for food storage. They tend to be cooler and drier than the rest of the house, both of which are important conditions for keeping foods longer. If you don’t have a basement, a room with no windows, or with the windows blacked out, may also work. If you can insulate it to keep the room cool, that will help.
If you have a basement with minimal space, you can store your foods with shorter shelf lives down there to help them last longer. Dried foods tend to last longer and can survive in a warmer location, if necessary. Freeze-dried foods are ideal, as they can last for up to twenty-five years and can be stored just about anywhere if they are packaged well.
How Long Will it All Last?
A very important part of your food storage plan is finding out how long each item will last. Foods that have a sell-by date can be misleading. With good storage conditions, many foods are edible past that date. You should do plenty of research to determine exactly how long various foods will be edible under the conditions in which you plan to store them.
There are four general sets of conditions to consider when attempting to extend the shelf lives of your stored foods: temperature, moisture, oxygen, and light. All four should be minimized to keep your foods longer. Basements and cellars give you a place with naturally low temperatures. If you plan to store in the basement, however, be sure it is dry. To minimize oxygen exposure, you can pack your foods with oxygen absorbers. These will take oxygen out of the air and will discourage the growth of bacteria. The lack of light is another good reason to store in the basement, but you can also store your foods in boxes or dark bottles to keep the light out.
If you are storing for survival purposes, hedge your bets by storing as many long-term food items as possible. These are foods that can last for years and still be edible. A good rule of thumb is dryness. The drier the food, the longer it will last. Dried beans and grains are especially long lived if stored to keep out light, moisture, oxygen, and heat. They can be edible ten years and more after being stored. Other items can be stored dry as well, like powdered milk and eggs.
Frozen foods also last a long time, but you may not be able to count on having working freezers. Freezing is a great way to store food that is not a part of your survival plan. Fruits and vegetables that you grow but are not canning will retain their nutritional value very well when frozen.
Will It All Have to Be Replaced?
Your stored food for survival purposes will not last forever, so it may be a good idea to consider a rotating storage plan. It makes more sense to rotate and use your stock than to store bulk foods for a few years and then throw them all out and start over. Find storage shelves that will make it easy for you to rotate your stock. Keep the oldest items up front. When you use it, replace it with fresh stock in the back. If you are diligent about checking what you have used and replacing it, you should always have a good, fresh supply of stored food.
What About Safety Issues?
Safety when storing food is crucial. Not only do you need to keep your food fresh enough to eat, you need to protect it from critters. Make sure you know what bad or spoiled food looks and smells like. Even if you take all the precautions to store your food well, some of it may get overlooked. You need to know how to identify food that is no longer safe to eat. For example, a can that is bulging means that the food is being decomposed by bacteria. The bacteria produce gas, which makes the can swell out.
Whether you are storing food for a long-term survival plan or simply keeping your preserved harvest, you need to plan in order to do it correctly. Badly stored food can go to waste, or worse, can cause harm if you try to eat it. With a good, well-researched plan, you and your family will be ready for anything.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Off The Grid News for their contribution. They have a comprehensive website to living off the grid. Check it out http://www.offthegridnews.com/