In a world in which we are raised to rely upon refrigeration, preservatives in our packaged foods, and easily accessible grocery stores, more traditional food preservation know-how can be rare and elusive.
DIY Food Storage for Needy Times
If you are putting away foods today for crisis preparedness purposes, then you are looking to your food storage to be viable on the shelf for as long as possible—years and hopefully even decades. If you regularly rotate and consume the foods in your larder, then maximizing shelf life is less of an issue.
There are many ways, of course, to preserve the harvest from your garden or even the fresh produce and meats from the local grocer. Done properly, foods prepared for storage can be there for a long, long time.
Some common options for the do-it-yourselfer include home canning, dehydration, smoking, pickling, root cellaring, and bulk grain storage. Each has its own advantages, disadvantages, equipment requirements and knowledge.
Actually, none of it is rocket science, but you do need to learn the ins and outs to ensure your food stays safe, nutritious, and tasty for as long as expected. Do the research, narrow your choices down based on your household tastes, budget, and ambitions. Discover the best approaches for your goals and circumstances and don’t be afraid to experiment and try several different methods.
Commercially Available Options
Not everyone has the time or energy to devote to growing or processing their own food storage. As a result, the long-term food storage business is growing fast today. Fact is, when figuring out the cost of equipment, what your time is worth to you, and the inevitable food inflation over time, many people today simply opt for commercially prepared foods that are delivered to the door, ready to store for decades.
For instance, canned freeze-dried foods are well-known for retaining nutritional value and taste for 25-30 years. Also available are canned dehydrated foods, wet-pack meats, cheeses, butters, and most any other kind of food you can think of.
Many food storage companies today offer dry foods in vacuum-packed cans or moist foods in cans in which the contents have been fully cooked in those sealed cans, all of which will last a minimum of 10 years on the shelf.
The general rules for food storage of any kind are going to be the same—whether for home-canned goods in jars, dry food in food-grade buckets and mylar bags, or industrially canned or vacuum-packaging. Ideally, to maximize shelf life of any stored foods, you want to keep those foods …
- Dry: Keep food containers off the ground away from traffic, and most importantly dry—that means not only away from wet floors, but also away from high humidity. Moisture ultimately compromises some food containers like metal cans and encourages the development of mold and the proliferation of harmful bacteria.
- Dark: Sunlight can penetrate glass jars and some opaque containers and then break-down the nutrients. Sunlight also will heat the contents of any food container to some degree, causing internal temperature fluctuations.
- Cool: Ideally, you want to keep your food storage at a cool, stable temperature. Room temperature is fine, but the cooler the better. Do not allow your foods to freeze, and certainly do not allow for freezing and thawing cycles. That will cause container failure and food spoilage faster than anything else. Also, do not expose your foods to very high temperature, such as in an attic or garage in summer heat.
These are guidelines for any most any food storage. Following this advice will maximize the length of time your food will remain viable.
That said, there are plenty of examples of some types of commercially canned foods in particular that have been stored for decades through freezing and thawing cycles and they have come through just fine. So in the end—the proof is in the pudding.
Test any storage food before disposing of it. Make sure the container seal is unbroken and that after opening, there is not a rancid smell or visual deterioration in food quality. Even if there are “best-by” dates that are long past, you may find that those foods are just fine—especially if they have been stored well.