As preppers, we take great measures to make sure that even when SHTF, we would still have something to eat. Ask around: every prepper has or is building a survival stockpile somewhere in their home.
But there’s one thing more important than actually acquiring food: storing it.
Proper storage can make or break your survival stockpile. Do it wrong and you’ll have a pile of useless food products that you will not be able to consume. That’s a lot of time and money wasted in the process. Do it right, however, and you’ll enjoy your stash for a very long time.
So, how do we do food storage the right way?
Picking the Right Place
Picking a strategic place to store your food is essential. There are at least 4 major factors in choosing the right storage space: temperature, oxygen, light, and moisture. They all play a big part in keeping your food safe and viable, so make sure to take these factors into account when choosing your location.
Rule of thumb says that for every 18 degrees F increase in temperature, you cut your food’s shelf life in half. This is because heat fosters the growth of microorganisms and encourages chemical reactions in your food. You must choose a location that is not prone to fluctuating temperatures or exposed to direct heat.
Oxygen exposure changes the chemical composition of food. Take a potato or an apple for example. They turn brown after being sliced and exposed to air. This process, called oxidation, leads to deterioration and eventually, spoilage. Oxygen absorbers help mitigate the effects of oxidation.
Moisture not only breaks your food down, but it also fosters the growth of molds and fungi. Warm, damp spaces are a big no-no when it comes to storage.
And lastly, the energy from direct light can deteriorate both solids and liquids, leading to changes in appearance and flavor.
Given these factors, you should always choose a dry place with constant, cool temperatures away from direct sunlight, like the basement, crawlspace or pantry. You can also use the extra spaces beneath your bed or stairs.
Once you’ve picked out the right place, you can now add extra safety precautions. For example, if you’re living in an area prone to floods, you want to make sure that your food supply is stored in food grade buckets in a secure, elevated location. Living in an earthquake-prone area? Secure your shelves and make them earthquake resistant.
Picking the Right Storage Supplies and Materials
Now that you’ve picked the right place, it’s time to consider the storage supplies and materials you’re storing your food in.
Mylar bags are a survival storage staple. These bags are generically called BoPET (Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate) and are made from the same lightweight, flexible material as space blankets and insulators. They're very good in protecting their contents from light, moisture, and extreme temperature changes. They also protect food from oxidation and aroma loss. These properties make them excellent for long-term storage. Mylar bags come in different sizes and shapes--- from pint-sized to six-gallon pouches.
Food Grade Buckets
Food grade plastic buckets are a great way to store food in bulk. They do not contain dyes and are specially made for food storage. They usually come as five or six-gallon buckets with lids. You can purchase them at any hardware store or buy them for cheap from your local bakeries or fast food chains. These buckets are light, durable, waterproof, and can protect your food stores from pests.
How do you know they're food grade? Check the very bottom of the bucket for the triangle recycling symbol. Inside the triangle, you should see the number 1,2,4 or 5. These numbers represent the four most common food-grade plastics: PETE, HDPE, LDPE, and polypropylene, respectively. Don't use food grade buckets if they've been previously used to hold chemicals.
Cans and Jars
Some food products come in boxes or plastic packaging that can deteriorate over time. Transfer these food products to cans and jars instead. You can use your mason jars to store your pasta, beans, or condiments. Increase the shelf life of your meat and produce through food preservation methods like canning, pickling or jellying.
Tips and Tricks
Rotate Your Supplies
It’s always important to take note of your purchase and expiration dates. Employ a First In, First Out (FIFO) strategy with all your supplies. This way you can make sure that you consume the freshest food available on hand. This eliminates waste and makes for a more organized storage system. Here’s how you can make your very own DIY FIFO rack. Also, make sure to restock your supplies as often as every six months.
Make an Inventory The Things You Need
You don’t want to just chuck everything you can think of in your survival storage. That’s impractical and very costly. To maximize space and efficiency, as well as your budget, you have to come up with an inventory of things that you use throughout the year.
Once you’ve got that list going, try to eliminate the things that you don’t regularly consume and narrow that inventory down to the essentials. This way, you can focus on what you can use and get rid of unnecessary expenses and clutter.
Label Everything Properly
Keep an organized shelving system. Organize your supplies by type and remember to put labels on everything. Most importantly, note the expiry dates on your supplies so you know when to restock.
Protect Your Food From Pests and Insects
You might have enough food to get you through a catastrophe but they’ll all be useless if bugs and pests get to them first. Not only will they consume your stash, they can also contaminate it with their saliva or excretions, exposing you to multiple health risks.
Protect your food from these threats by inspecting your storage area first. Make sure that it’s free from rodents and insects by fumigating it beforehand. You can also use oxygen absorbers to ward off pests. Keep your storage area clean and get rid of spoiled food that may attract the presence of these pests.
Use multiple physical barriers and containers for your food; for example, before you put your grains away in a bucket, you might want to seal them first in a mylar bag. You can also put mouse traps in your storage space.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
Consider multiple places for food storage. Sure, storing your food all in one place makes for easier organization but it can also pose a risk. What if your basement gets flooded or if your pantry catches fire?
Your food stash will disappear with them, too. So, try to diversify your storage spaces. This article even suggests using a commercial storage unit. We’re not entirely sure how that would work without exposing you to looters or non-preppers but you might want to look into that. You can also check out these creative storage ideas for a small home.
Store Food You Like
A lot of debate usually surrounds this tip. Some parties argue that when SHTF, you’re not really in a position to be picky with what you eat. True, in an extreme survival situation you’ll be forced to eat just about anything, like Bear Grylls and those poor critters. But that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid, by preparing food before disaster strikes!
So here’s our two cents: since you’re stocking up food for an emergency---food that you might have to eat for days on end---make sure you’re stocking up on nice, familiar food. Focus on shelf-stable food that you and your family normally like to eat. This is especially important for families with little children or elderly, who tend to be picky with food.
Plus, unfamiliar food may not agree with your body. It also doesn’t hurt to throw in some comfort food, like chocolate or peanut butter. Comfort food brings a sense of normalcy and boosts morale in really dire situations.
Store Multipurpose Food Items
Food items that serve multiple purposes can save a lot of space in your survival pantry. For example, vinegar can be used for cooking as well as for cleaning. Stock food that you can get creative with, like rice or beans. These food items can be prepared in various ways and can be mixed and matched with other food in your pantry.
Store Easy to Cook Food
Make sure you know how to cook your food. Sounds simple enough, but a lot of preppers make this mistake. For example, some people tend to store a sack of flour or wheat but don’t have any idea how to bake bread from scratch, or would not have access to baking implements at all. Store food that is easy to prepare, like cereal or ramen noodles.
Correct food storage can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. Choosing a strategic location, using the right storage supplies and developing an organized system all contribute to efficient food storage.
Don't have a survival stockpile yet? It's never too late to start one. And no, you don't need to buy huge crates and sacks of groceries all in one go. Try to add a couple of items with each trip to the grocery. With as little as $50 a month, you can slowly build your basic food stash into a veritable survival pantry that can see you through tough times.