You would think that stockpiling food would be easy, right? Just buy a bunch of food, stash it away somewhere where it won’t be eaten, and you’re good, right? Uh, wrong. Building a stockpile and making it last is a lot harder than it looks.
The basic problem is that food, as it grows naturally, isn’t intended to be stored for years. For that matter, food the way it’s package at the grocery store isn’t intended to last for years. The manufacturers of that food assume that you are going to eat their products within a few months — and they pack it accordingly. So, if you want to keep your food around longer than that, you’re going to have to do something with it yourself and not trust their packaging.
The good news is that people have been hoarding food for millennia. Preserved food has been found in the various tombs of the pharaohs, demonstrating that mankind has been preserving and storing food for much longer than we would expect.
Fortunately, you and I don’t need to make our food stockpile last for thousands of years. It behooves us, though, to make sure that we store our food as well as possible, ensuring that we will have something to eat when everything suddenly goes wrong.
Here’s 10 ways to make your food last as long as possible:
1. Rotate Your Stock
One of the easiest ways to ensure that your food stocks last is to borrow a page from the stores you buy your food in. They have a rule called “first in, first out.” This merely means that they sell the oldest first. You should use the oldest first. If you are stockpiling a year’s worth of food and you always use the oldest can, box or bag of a certain item, you’ll never have anything in your stockpile that’s more than a year old.
This is especially useful for things you use all the time, like spaghetti sauce. To ensure that you’re actually using the oldest first, make a habit of marking the month and year of purchase right on the label. That way, you have a quick reference and don’t have to try and remember which style label is older than which.
2. If It’s Wet, Can It
Canning is one of the most effective and long-lasting means of food preservation out there. So make good use of it. The basic rule of thumb is that if a food item is wet, it can be canned. So, start canning meat loaf, extra produce from your garden and the fish from your latest fishing trip. If canned, it can stay usable in your survival stockpile for years. Some canned foods that are over a century old are still edible and nutritious.
3. Salt Does More than Flavor
Salt is nature’s preservative. So is sugar for that matter, although we use salt for preserving more than sugar. Other than fruit, just about anything you are trying to preserve probably needs salt added. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about canning food, dehydrating it, making your own cold cuts or smoking a ham; salt is the key to ensuring that bacteria don’t spoil your food.
4. Overdo it With Oxygen Absorbers
If you’ve heard about packing dry food in aluminized Mylar bags and five-gallon buckets, then you’ve probably heard about oxygen absorbers, too. These are added to prevent food from oxygenating and losing its freshness. But oxygen absorbers also make an inhospitable environment for bacteria and insects, both of which need oxygen. So, when adding oxygen absorbers to dry foods that you’re packaging for your stockpile, go for a bit of overkill. Don’t just use the minimum recommended; step it up a bit and ensure that the oxygen has really been absorbed.
More than anything, this is about ensuring that insect eggs can’t hatch, creating a population of insects inside your preserved food. Any insects which did manage to hatch from their eggs won’t be able to survive without oxygen.
5. Don’t Forget the Silica Gel
Few people mention it, but adding a packet of silica gel to dry foods when packaging them for long-term storage can help ensure that they stay fresh. These foods turn stale when they absorb moisture. While you probably already try to make sure that there is no moisture in the container, when packaging those foods, things can happen. The addition of a silica gel package can ensure that any moisture which does get into the package is absorbed by something other than the food.
6. Keep Track of it All
Make sure that you develop and keep a good spreadsheet of everything you’ve got in your stockpile. This should mention package size, quantity and the location or locations you have it stored. Always be sure to update your list. Don’t just have that spreadsheet on your computer, either. Print a hard copy and keep it in a notebook.
7. If You Use it, Replace it
This is one I have to keep after my wife about. It’s easy to just dig into your stockpile if you need something and pick an item without realizing it’s the last one. Make a note so that the next time you’re shopping, you can pick up a replacement and put it in your stockpile.
8. Keep it Cool
Heat will cause many foods to alter while stored. It speeds up chemical reactions and in extreme cases can slow-cook the food. Always try to keep your food stored in cool, dry places rather than in hot ones. The attic really isn’t a good place for food storage for this reason. You’re better off hiding it under the bed or putting it in the basement.
9. The Tougher the Better
When it comes to packaging, the tougher the better. Never settle for “just good enough.” Go for something that’s overkill. I can show you five-gallon bucket lids which have been gnawed through by rodents. Bacteria and insects aren’t the only things that want to eat your food stockpile; there are plenty of mice and rats in the world that would love to have a picnic at your expense, too.
10. Spread it Out
Whatever you do, don’t store all your food stockpile in one place, or even all of one type of item in one place. Let’s say that your basement is your main food storage area. That’s probably pretty good. But if your basement floods, you aren’t going to have access to that food. So, make sure that some of it is stored under the bed or in the upstairs hall closest.
For that matter, you should have one or two food caches off-site, as well. You never know what could happen. The people of Southeast Houston probably weren’t expecting to have to abandon their homes before Hurricane Harvey came along.
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