The New Survivalist
Disaster Preparedness and Self-Reliance

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Chapter 5: Page 1


Food Storage Overview

After water, food is the next most important topic for the survivalist. It is possible to survive for weeks without food, but who would want to? During a prolonged emergency there will be a lot of work to do. Everyone will be better able to perform their chores if they are well-nourished and satisfied. A healthy and balanced diet will also help keep resistance to disease high—an essential part of preventative and survival health care.

The Golden Rule of Food Storage:

Store what you use, and use what you store.

All foods have a limited shelf-life, no matter how they are stored or preserved. It is imperative that you have a plan for rotating your food stash to keep it fresh. Even if your food doesn't spoil, through time it will lose much of its nutritional value and flavor.

Many survivalists spend a lot of money on specially prepared foods that they will never eat. An example is the highly-touted MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat.) MRE's were invented by the military for long-term storage of complete meals for survival situations when there is no means for preparing or cooking food. The problem with MRE's is that they are very expensive, especially if you are preparing for a prolonged emergency. I do not recommend that you rely on them for the bulk of your emergency food stash. A few MRE's in your bug out bag is okay. But forget about storing case upon case of MRE's in your home stash.

35 Survival Foods to Stockpile & How to Get Started

In Ground Storage

The simplest method for short-term food storage is your garden. Certain root vegetables, like carrots, turnips, parsnips and horseradish, may be left in the ground through the winter. After the ground begins to freeze, cover them with mulch, such as dry leaves or straw, to protect them from hard freezes. They can then be dug up as needed in the kitchen. Other cold-hardy crops, such as lettuce, cabbage, beets and cauliflower, may also be left in the garden, protected by a heavy mulch, for several weeks after the growing season.

Root Cellaring

In the old days before canning, people relied heavily on their root cellars, which allowed them to store fruits and vegetables through much of the winter. Most fresh foods need a very cool and slightly moist environment. Dirt floors are ideal, and the procedure works best in areas where the winter months are very cold. Most basements today are too warm and dry, especially if they are equipped with a central heating unit that is used to heat the house, so root cellars may not be practical for many of us. There are several ways around this problem, including insulating off a portion of your basement, or even better, digging outdoor pits for storing your vegetables and fruits. To learn more, check out the excellent books mentioned in the Additional Resources section at the end of this web site, including Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel.

Common Methods of Food Preservation

Before we take a look at the various methods of food preservation, it will be helpful to discuss the factors that cause food deterioration and spoilage. Chief among these are microorganisms, which consist of bacteria, yeasts and fungi (molds.) Microorganisms, or "microbes," require the presence of water to grow and multiply. Most microbes, including molds, also require the presence of oxygen. Some anaerobic microorganisms, including botulinum—the causative agent of botulism, an extremely dangerous form of food poisoning—can thrive in the complete absence of oxygen. Enzymes, which occur naturally in plants, will cause foods to deteriorate in time resulting in the loss of nutritional value, flavor and palatability. Enzymes also require the presence or water or moisture. Exposure to light will cause the destruction of some vitamins, and the rate of all chemical and biological reactions, including the actions of enzymes and the growth of microbes, will increase as the temperature increases. So all preserved foods will keep better and longer when protected from light and stored at cooler temperatures.

Dried Foods

Drying or dehydration is an excellent way to preserve food. Without moisture, the microbes that are responsible for food spoilage can not thrive and the enzymes that lead to deterioration are inactivated, so the food is preserved in a form that is suitable for long-term storage. Properly dehydrated foods do not require refrigeration. They can be stored in airtight containers or plastic bags and will keep for a year or longer—the dryer the food the longer it will store. When dehydrating food for long-term storage, care must be taken to insure that most of the water is removed, otherwise spoilage, particularly by molds, could become a problem. As with all preservation techniques, some nutritional value is lost during the drying process, but dehydrated foods retain most of their nutritional value and dehydration remains one of the best ways to prepare food for storage without the need for refrigeration or sterilization. Since water is responsible for much of the bulk and most of the weight of any food, dehydrated foods are lighter and more compact, making them ideal for backpacking or for your bug out bag. If you want you can restore dehydrated foods by soaking them in water for a few hours before eating them. Dehydrated vegetables are great to use in soups and stews. Many dehydrated foods, particularly fruits, are delicious right out of the bag without rehydration. We will discuss food dehydration in more detail later in this chapter.

Storage of dried fruit

As seen in the photograph above, dried foods are stored in airtight containers made out of plastic or glass. Survivalists prefer plastic because glass can can be easily broken during a disaster such as an earthquake. Glass containers should be protected from breakage and light. You can put them in a brown paper bag to protect from light.

More on Food Dehydration including my instructional video.

Canned Foods

Canning requires the complete sterilization of the food and container, completely eliminating all traces of microbes. The enzymes that would in time lead to deterioration are also destroyed by the heat used in the canning process. Special glass jars (e.g., Mason jars) and two-piece lids are used for home canning. The lids are designed to completely seal the jars with a vacuum inside which prevents the entry of microorganisms. Properly canned foods will keep almost indefinitely, but their quality begins to deteriorate after about a year so it is recommended that they are consumed within a year or two. Canning sterilized foods in a 10 minute boiling water bath in sterilized jars is adequate for high-acid foods such as fruits, tomatoes and foods pickled in vinegar. Nonacid foods such as meat, fish, fowl and vegetables require a higher temperature (240o F or 116o C) which is obtainable only in a pressure canner. A pressure cooker will double as a pressure canner providing it is large enough to hold the glass jars that you are using. We will discuss canning in more detail later in this chapter. Complete instructions for home canning can be found in the instructions that will come with your canning equipment or in any good canning recipe book. The instructions should be followed closely. Click here for More on Home Canning.

Commercially canned foods—the familiar items that we find on our grocery store shelves—usually come in either glass jars or tin cans. In my opinion canned foods, whether commercially prepared or canned at home, should make up the bulk of your food storage program. They are by far the least expensive option when it comes to food storage. They do not have to be refrigerated and they require minimal preparation before serving. Most can be eaten right from the can. Canned foods also contain a fair amount of water, which can come in handy in meeting your daily water needs. Due to their water content canned foods are heavy when compared to dehydrated foods, but you probably won't be hauling your home stash around anyway. Canned foods come in convenient sizes, so an opened can will probably be consumed without leaving leftovers which would require refrigeration. They also stack well making it easy for you to rotate your stores. You can gradually and economically build your home food storage stash by purchasing a few extra canned goods each time you buy your groceries.

In my opinion canned foods should make up the bulk of your food storage program.

Stash of canned foods

The metal shelf pictured above, which I use for storing canned goods in my basement, has been assembled with the shelves upside down. This gives each shelf a lip around the edges to prevent the cans from sliding off the shelves during an earthquake. Note also that I have used metal strapping tape to fasten the shelving unit to a wooden joist in the ceiling above, adding further stability and preventing it from toppling over. On each shelf I store a different type of canned food—starting at the top with canned fruits and continuing down with soups, vegetables, beans, fish and nuts, meats and finally sauces on the bottom. That way, a quick glance reveals the types of canned foods we need to pick up on our next visit to the grocery store, helping us maintain a balance of each food type.

Large number 10 cans

Special foods packed for long-term storage, like the powdered milk substitute and the whole powdered eggs pictured above, are produced just for survivalists. These foods are processed for very long shelf lifes and canned in nitrogen gas in large #10 cans. They have a recommended shelf life of at least 10 years. The only problem I have with them is they ignore the "store what you eat and eat what you store" rule. They are not as easy to rotate into your daily diet as regularly canned foods.

Storing glass jars

Since your home-canned foods are stored in glass jars, it is particularly important to protect them from breakage. Whenever possible, your jars of food should be stored in the original boxes that the jars came it, along with the cardboard partitions inside which will keep them from banging against each other. The jars that are not in boxes are wrapped with bubble wrap or separated with cardboard.

Storage cabinets

The photograph above shows how we secure the doors of the shelving units that we use to store our glass jars, to prevent the jars from falling out during an earthquake, by simply sliding a small board through the handles. To keep the shelving units from toppling over they are securely fastened to each other and to the wooden supporting beam behind them with screws.

Frozen Foods

Freezing is an easy and convenient method of food preservation. It is also very good at retaining the nutritional value of your food. There is one huge and obvious disadvantage to freezing: What happens when the electricity goes off? You can invest in a gasoline or propane-powered generator to keep your freezer running during power outages. But eventually you are going to run out of fuel for your generator. For that reason I suggest that you do not rely on your freezer for your primary method of food storage. If you are a hunter or have a garden and prefer freezing to canning that is fine. Hopefully you will have a generator and will be able to consume your frozen foods before you run out of fuel. But you should also have a stash of foods that do not require freezing for those longer emergencies.

When the power goes out the food in a full freestanding freezer will be safe for about two days, providing you don't open the door too much. A chest-type freezer is much more desirable than an upright freezer because it will retain the cold longer. Remember that the foods at greatest risk are meat, poultry and foods containing dairy products. We will discuss freezing in more detail in a later section of this chapter.

Freeze-Dried Foods

Freeze-Dried Foods are commercially prepared foods that have had their water removed by a technique that involves several steps: First the food is frozen. Then it is placed in a vacuum container and heated while the air is removed from the container. The heat causes the ice crystals to melt and the vacuum removes the moisture from the food and the container leaving only the dried food behind. Freeze-dried foods are preserved in much the same way as dehydrated foods and will keep a long time without refrigeration. Freeze drying is a good method of food preservation, but freeze-dried foods are too expensive to use as your primary stash. If you want you can include a few in your bug out bag. Like dehydrated foods, they are compact, lightweight and do not require refrigeration. But I do not recommend that you rely on freeze-dried foods for your primary food stash.

Commercially-Prepared Dried Goods

This category includes just about every food on your grocery store's shelves other than canned goods, fresh foods and refrigerated items. They are prepackaged and for the most part ready to go directly from the store's shelves to the shelves of your home stash. Obviously shelf-life is an important consideration and some foods will keep much better than others. Good examples of foods that will keep well are sugar and powdered "instant" milk. Some items, like wheat flour for bread making, are best purchased in a less processed form. Rather than storing flour it is far better to store whole wheat berries. Flour has a shelf-life of only a few months, while whole wheat berries, when stored properly, have a shelf-life of a thousand years. (Viable wheat berries thousands of years old have been found in Egyptian tombs.) You will also need to stash away a hand-operated grinder to grind the wheat berries into whole wheat flour when it comes time for baking. (More on this in the next section.)

When considering which commercially prepared dried goods to store, and how much to store, remember our Golden Rule (which I repeat because it is so important):

Store only what you use, and use what you store.

Stash of dry goods

Most commercially-prepared foods have limited shelf-lives and you must have a program for rotating them into use on a regular basis.

Does your family use milk? If so, do you buy it in the bottle or carton or do you buy powdered "instant" milk? If you use the former, may I suggest that you start using the latter? Powdered "instant" milk is an excellent survival food. Milk is high in nutrition, particularly protein (which may be in short supply during a prolonged emergency.) Instant milk stores well and doesn't require refrigeration until it is reconstituted with water. You can easily reconstitute a little at a time, as it is needed, avoiding refrigeration entirely. If your family is used to drinking milk from the carton they will have to make an adjustment to the slightly different taste of instant milk, but the adjustment is easily and quickly made because instant milk tastes just as good as regular milk. It is just slightly different.

Stash of dry milk

My family does not drink a lot of milk, but we use some in cooking, I add a little to my coffee, and I use it to make homemade yogurt and frozen yogurt. I keep a full year's supply of instant milk in my stash at all times, which for us consists of nine 4 pound (1.81 kg) boxes. The key again is rotation. Whenever I empty a box of milk, I purchase another one at the grocery store, but I am careful to put the new box at the very back of the shelf, moving every other box toward the front so that the oldest box (which by now is at the front) will be used first.

All of your stored foods, including your canned goods and even your frozen foods, should be rotated in this manner. Always put the newest item at the very back, moving every other item forward so that you will use the oldest first. That way, as long as you are storing what you use, and using what you store, your stock will always remain fresh and your food will never go bad.

Other dried goods that you might consider storing include:

Dried beans, corn, rice, couscous and other grains.

Coffee - It is best to store whole roasted coffee beans rather than ground coffee. You will need a coffee grinder. (Don't use an electric one. What will you do when the electricity is off?)

Coffee grinder

You can grind your whole roasted coffee beans with a hand-operated coffee grinder, like the one shown above. Or you can use the same hand-operated grinder that you use to grind your wheat berries.

Sugar and Salt are important staples that should be stored in sufficient quantities. Both have a shelf-life of 100 years or longer, as long as they are sealed from air and protected from moisture.

Just about every food that you purchase from the grocery store, other than refrigerated items, fresh produce, and fresh bakery goods, can also be stashed away in quantity, as long as you remember to store what you use and use what you store.

More on preparing foods for long-term food storage including my instructional videos can be found on the next page.

Action Step 9: Food Check Lists - Food Storage

Turn to the page in you Action Planner where you have begun your "Get" and "Do" lists for Food and begin making your lists. As you progress through this chapter, and the remaining chapters of this web site, you will think of additional items to add to your lists. When you acquire an item or accomplish a task check it off your list. That way it will be very easy to see your accomplishments and to monitor your progress. This will give you additional incentive and motivation and you will accomplish your preparedness goals in a surprisingly short period of time, and in an efficient and almost effortless manner.

Here's a way to quickly and systematically build up a one-week (or longer) supply of emergency food:

Each time you buy groceries, for one or two of the nonperishable items on your shopping list, buy twice as many as you need. Instead of buying one bottle of ketchup, for example, buy two. Put the extra bottle in your pantry. When you are running low of ketchup, rather than using the extra bottle, put ketchup on your grocery list as you normally would and buy another bottle. Just don't forget to rotate the older bottle of ketchup out of the pantry, using it first and putting the new bottle on the shelf behind it. If you will do this each time you buy groceries, for just one or two of the items on your list, in no time you will have accumulated a one-week stash of emergency survival food. If there is ever an emergency, and the grocery store shelves are empty, or if you can't get to the store for a week, your family will not go hungry. When it comes to emergency preparedness you will already be way ahead of most people. You will also have taken the first step toward establishing your survival food stash. After your one-week storage goal is complete, you can work at increasing it to a two-week supply, or a one-month supply, or whatever your goal is for your home food stash. And while you are at it, you can use the same procedure to stock up on nonfood items like soap, toilet paper, personal items, etc.

Continue to Chapter 5: Page 2 Long-Term Storage of Special Survival Foods

Recommended Reading:

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Visit The Nature's Sunshine Products Site for:

Super Supplemental Vitamins and Minerals
Nature's Spring Reverse-Osmosis
Continue to Chapter 5: Page 2 Long-Term Storage of Special Survival Foods

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