June 24, 2017

Building Food Storage

Building Food Storage

In terms of cost and scope, food storage is probably the biggest branch of preparedness. The larger your family and the more food you want to store, the costlier and more complex planning how to build your food storage can get. Having been at this a while, I thought I would give some advice that some of you might find useful. I’m also hoping some of you who have been at this a while as well, will chime in with your $.02.

Food storage might not be the most exciting topic but it is an important one. The stuff hit the fan for us when I lost my job a couple years back. Because of our food storage, we were able to get by on $50 some weeks at the grocery store.
How Much Food Should I Store?

Because of family size, budget, space and other concerns, this is completely subjective. Please forgive this lame answer but; as much as you can! I used to set goals; 90 days, 6 months, a year and so on, but have changed my thinking since then. I still think those goals are great and, if possible, we should strive for them, but why stop when you reach one goal?

If you’re following the “golden rule of food storage”; eat what you store, store what you eat, the majority of food you store will be consumed on rotation, so it is not money wasted.

You will also have the added comfort of knowing you can provide for one of your family’s five basic human needs for an extended period of time. If you choose to share, it will give you that much more to assist those you choose to bless.
Expiration Dates

Most expiration dates you see on packaging is a marketing ploy. Pay heed if it is perishable food, but my research has shown that the dates listed for canned goods, most dry goods and bulk staples are, as I said, marketing ploy. I wrote two articles touching more on this. Feel free to read Expiration Dates; Fact or Fiction? and Shelf Life of Comfort Foods for more information.
Getting Started

Getting started with food storage can seem overwhelming, but if you keep the “golden rule of food storage” in mind, it becomes much more manageable a task. What I recommend is that you start a food log. Any time any shelf stable food is used in the kitchen, you enter it in the log. A shelf stable food is one that can last for months without refrigeration. After a couple weeks, you will have a good idea of the storable foods that your family eats on a regular basis.

I recommend setting a low, very achievable goal to start with. Go for two weeks of shelf stable food on top of what you’re consuming regularly. For example, if you eat green beans for meals twice a week, you would want four cans total; the two for normal use, and two for storage. You’ll lump them all together and rotate through them.

Once you have two weeks of food stored, aim for a month, then two and so on. A great tip for building food storage is called “copy canning”. When you take one can of green beans for a meal, buy two instead of one when you go to the store next. Remember to put it at the back of the row in the pantry!
Adding Bulk Staples

Once you’ve got two to three months of the foods you normally eat stored, you can really increase your food storage by adding bulk staples. Things like the various kinds of rice, beans, wheat and so on. Rice and beans are a prepper staple, but if the stuff hits the fan and your food storage is primarily rice and beans, well let’s just say I hope you stocked up on the Pepto and the BeanO! However, if you have three months of foods that you normally eat, and add in beans and rice or other meals made from bulk foods once or twice a week, you’ve now greatly extended that food.

One other thing you can do is see if there are long term substitutes for meals you regularly eat. For example, a favorite here is Trudee’s chicken stir fry. She used to buy fresh chicken breast, but once decided to try it with canned chicken and we actually liked it better. That is a meal we enjoy, and is primarily from our LTS (long term storage) foods.

I think continuing to add to your stockpile of foods you normally eat is a good idea, but adding in bulk staples can help you reach up to six months or more of food stored easily.
Long Term Food Storage

By this I mean freeze dried or commercially dehydrated food. These types of foods replace the oxygen in the food with nitrogen, thus giving the food a very long shelf life. Many manufacturers claim 20+ years.

Because this food isn’t consumed on a regular basis, it can seem quite expensive. However, it isn’t that much more than if you were to prepare the dish fresh.

I don’t recommend buying a #10 can of something you haven’t tried. Many manufacturers offer pouches that are 1-3 servings and are far cheaper.

Depending on the entrée, many #10 cans have 10 or so servings in them. Once opened, the can must be consumed relatively quickly. This isn’t something you would eat every day, but would add once or twice a week, again extending the “eat what you store” foods.

I know various manufacturers have sales throughout the year. Mountain House, for example, allows vendors to have a 25% off sale once a year. If you plan to buy cases, I would recommend saving up and taking advantage of a sale of this kind.
Storage Examples

Finding room to store everything can be a challenge. A very common way to store bulk foods is in Mylar, and then in food grade buckets. However, Mylar is food grade, so you can store it in other containers. I have some in buckets, but I wrote a post about storing food in 31 Gallon Garbage Cans. I can fit roughly the same amount of food in them, but they are a heck of a lot easier to find and are far more rodent resistant.

If you have any other tips or ideas please post a comment.

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  1. I have built my food storage according to milestones. The milestones I have used are: 1) FEMA says 3 days and I have extended that to one week for minor event (power out/storm); 1 month (fractional year increment and major local event), 3 months (fractional year increment and regional event), 1 year (next harvest major national+ event). Since then, I have decided to use the biblical reference of 7 years (just to be safe).

    I agree, you should rotate and store what you eat. However, supplies must eventually be replenished so I’ve also been learning gardening techniques and permaculture. This past weekend I planted 5 fruit trees (southwest) and started germinating heirloom seeds.

    Enjoy your site Chris!

    • Chris Ray says:

      7 years is an impressive goal.

      I think gardening, permaculture are an extension we can only store so much food, but knowing how to grow and the seeds to do so give us the potential for so much more.

  2. Thanks for posting this. As my wife and I are nOObies at preparing it was very timely. I look forward to what some of the other comments are.

    • Chris Ray says:

      my pleasure Ron, glad to help. email if you have anything I can help with.

    • GatorGeek21 says:

      Hey Ron….as a relative noob myself…well maybe a bit more then a noob…one thing I have found a common mantra from any quality prepping site/resource is to make sure you are doing what best suits YOUR needs, situations, etc. What works for Joe may not work for you.

      Another peice of advice is a concept I introduced in my last job & have used somewhat in my new one is called “Eating The Elephant.” No matter hungry you are you can’t eat a whole elephant in one sitting. Take small bites & work your way from start to finish. I leave it up t you if you want to start with the trunk or the tail. :-)

  3. Something else I have been looking into is aquaponics. If u can have a stable electricity by regular or solar is a great way to have food for your family by fresh veggies and fish. It is relatively inexpensive and great for supplying food for the winter. I would appreciate any feedback anyone has.

    • Aquaponics is good for producing fish (protein) and editable plants. It does require pumps so some thought needs to be given for maintaining that in a grid-down no supply-chain situation. There are commercial indoor farms using red/blue LED lights and Aeroponics for fast growth and harvests. It too requires pumps to spray/mist root systems with water (uses less water). These are high production systems but use a higher level of technology.

      I have been learning traditional gardening and permaculture. I will be experimenting with Aeroponics to quickly clone plants and germinate seeds. I may get into Aquaponics but have to consider EMP safe storage of spare parts for electrical components and power systems. These techniques have a higher cost but have potential for underground shelter food production.

  4. I suggest sitting down and planning a week’s worth of meals that contain only shelf stable ingredients. Think of meals your family will actually eat and be sure to include bulk staple items as primary ingredients for several meals. Make a list of each ingredient you need for those meals and, after multiplying for whatever your goal is (2 weeks, 30 days, 6 months, 1 year), begin purchasing items and storing them as you go. Be sure to include spices, snacks and beverages. Keep an inventory of your purchases to track your progress. At first I kept an inventory on my computer, but then ultimately figured out how to do it on my smart phone so when I saw a sale, I could stock up on particular items without wondering what I needed or already had.
    My “week of meals” planning method turned into a year of food storage for our family. We actually eat these meals several times a week so rice and bean based meals will not be a shock to our system when we HAVE to rely on our food storage. It also allows us to rotate our canned food items so they don’t expire.
    Most importantly, this allowed me to work on my food storage over time and not be overwhelmed by the task placed on my heart. It also kept me from spending money willy nilly on things I don’t know how I would ultimately put on the table. Now that I have a year under my belt, I feel I can turn to developing a sustainable lifestyle including gardening, and raising chickens and, eventually incorporate these items into my long term food storage plan.

  5. Malcolm Foster says:

    Many thanks Chris for the practical guidance given. Now retired and with the roof over our heads paid for, 25% of our savings converted into gold/silver (50/50) ready for the coming financial crash, my free-standing pre-cast garage recently refurbished inside/outside with timber floor, fully insulated and fitted out with steel shelving, today I have started purchasing our emergency food supply and my plan is to follow your (and other helpful peoples’ online) advice and aim have sufficient supply to see us through at least 6 months. My storage area is hidden behind a false wall with no obvious entry so as to keep unwanted eyes from seeing it, for security.
    Being in the UK, unfortunately I cannot stack up on ammo (only the armed forces, the police and criminals have guns) so I will have to improvise. I believe wasp repellent, etc, in the eyes at close quarters can be quite effective!
    This year, I hope to convert my back garden lawn into a small vegetable patch (no restrictions like those seemingly in the U.S) and perhaps a small chicken run. I am not a meat eater so canned fish will predominate although I will obviously eat it rather than starve! I have a petrol (gas) generator and will store some fuel for it and for my 140mpg m/cycle along with some bottled propane gas and cooking burner.
    I will look at aquaponics if I can find the time. Essential medicines (my wife has Parkinson’s Disease) are a big concern as, although we get them free monthly, that means we cannot easily build up a stock yet we cannot buy with confidence online. I can do no more to protect me and mine – expect pray of course. Thanks for your take on Prepping from a bible point of view. God bless all who feel they are following his wishes in taking such precautions in these perilous times.

    • Chris Ray says:

      I like the false wall idea and have considered where I could do something like that here.

      Wasp spray is one option, but there are also other legal means as well. I’m thinking of things you could use to strike with, baseball bats and the like.

      It sounds like you are fairly well squared away, thanks for sharing.

      • Malcolm Foster says:

        Chris, considering the distance, I think I can mention what I did. My garage is 20 ft long (in 2 ft wide concrete panels) and when I covered the floor with rot-proof decking boards strips.I made up a skeleton 3×2 dividing frame and bolted it up to leave a 2 ft deep x 8 ft wide x 6 ft high cavity at the back. I then did walls, ceiling and frame in 1″ thick 8×4 builders quality insulation boards (faces finished in a silver foil effect) but left a 2 ft wide removable hatch at each side for access – each just clear of a central 4 ft wide bench. I have fitted a 6 ft long shelf above to help the illusion which can be slid to either side to permit 1 access panel removal (shelf bracket acts as a handle). Most people would think they are looking at the true back wall of the garage, it now being 18 ft internal.
        To be honest, I constructed it to provide a bolt-hole in the future where 2 or 3 could hopefully hide safely if there was civil strife (as looks likely, to me) and there were marauding gangs on the streets – we have a lot of Islamists in our area. I then decided to fully shelve it with 15″ deep shelves which I can just squeeze past or access halfway from each end but which I can take out if needed.
        I hope that is clear and perhaps of use to others as an idea.

  6. Chris –
    Good inspirational post with good thoughtful comments!

    As you already know, I’ve been at this food storage for decades. Back when, we just called it Puttin’ Up. As a matter of fact, I can attest to the shelf life of food packed for 25 years because I have used things 30 years old, some of which I even packed myself.

    Just like clothes for different occasions, we need food for different situations. If you are stuck in your car for 30 hours in a snow/ice storm, energy bars and water packs would be best because you don’t even need hot water to prepare them.
    Having your kitchen cupboards full of the things you eat all the time could easily get you through 6 months or more depending on how big your kitchen is. But even then, why not have some “just add boiling water” meals put away for times when the power is down or for spur of the moment camping trips.

    Many people garden and dehydrate or can the harvest. Initially this activity is done for enjoyment and to supplement the food budget. Eventually it turns into a production that sustains the family for at least a year. This ‘renewable resource’ is clearly the way God intended things to work but since earlier generations got away from it, the initial cost of equipment, jars and lids makes stocking up at the grocery store LOOK more cost effective.

    Foods professionally packaged for long term storage are excellent for the long term plan and most of us need to acquire them incrementally. Putting a bucket of wheat, rice, beans, potatoes, milk, salt or sugar away every couple of months with the intention of getting into them only when you are in dire straights is like starting your retirement fund when you start your first job at 16. These ‘long term’ foods are, of course, common and can be purchased at the grocery store in 2 pound or smaller bags. Using these items, we can lower the food bill NOW by simply ‘cooking from scratch’ – as well as learning how to use what you’ve got in the bank. Other ‘single ingredients’ such as dehydrated or freeze-dried vegetables, fruits and eggs are available in #10 cans as well. And believe it or not, they really are less expensive to use than canned fruits and veggies available at the grocery store. I use several of these products as a matter of normal routine. “Just Add Water” meals are a nice addition but as the sole long term storage option there is a lot of draw backs.

    I am compelled to advise you on what NOT to store too long. Highly processed foods containing flour like cereals (I have a great Cheerios story), crackers, snack bars, cookies, etc. The “Best By” Date on these items is only off by a few months! Even flour properly packaged and stored at a consistent 55 degrees really only tastes good for about 7 years. Nuts also require proper packaging and consistent cool temperatures for greatest longevity, less than 10 years.

    Amazingly enough, I found a can of peanut butter from WWII in 1988 that was thicker than new peanut butter but had no hint of rancidity – go figure.

    • Chris Ray says:

      lots of good info Pam, thanks for sharing.

    • Malcolm Foster says:

      Hi Pam, Thanks for your input. I am interested in you having mentioned flour and it’s proper storage. Could you (or anyone) please advise on how best to do this? I like to make home-made bread (in a bread maker, I should add) occassionally and would like to store bread flour but I understand would suffer problems with weevels, or such, already being present which will contaminate it in time – so storing in an air-tight container would not help. Someone suggested freezing it first before storage will prevent this, although I would have thought this would add moisture which cannot be good. If not, I guess you can only rotate usage by replacing the older packs first, not too long after the sell-by date is passed, say 2-3 months.

      • Hey Malcolm –
        Freezing flour for 48 hours will kill the larvae that sneaks in. The humidity exposure for that short length of time isn’t enough to hurt it. To store it for 5 or so years … place a chunk of dry ice about twice the size of a silver dollar in a small paper bag and put it in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. Then fill the bucket with flour and put the lid on loosely so the gases from the ice can escape. Eight hours later, seal the bucket burping out the excess air or tighten the lid if you are using gamma seal. The real key to any food storage, no matter how it’s packed, is consistent low temperature. Humidity will affect the packaging but if it’s properly sealed the contents will be fine until the can (or jar lid) breaks down, humidity can’t get it where air can’t. To the contrary, higher temperatures promote ‘aging’ causing rancidity, changing consistency of some products and diminished nutritional value. Another problem for some folks is temperature cycling which is what happens in a shed or garage where it gets hot in the summer then freezes in the winter (try it with a raw hamburger patty).
        Flour stored in it’s original bag after freezing, kept at a consistent 50 – 60 degrees in a low humidity environment, will last a year past it’s “best by” date. We must always use the oldest pack first even if it’s only a few weeks older, maintain that habit! If you find that you can’t keep up with your storage, ie. you aren’t using it soon enough, start storing smaller bags – these can be dropped unopened in your bucket with dry ice. And in a pickle you can bake extra batches and freeze the bread which will last 5 – 6 months.
        Last and definitely least; eating rancid weevil left overs beats cannibalism :)
        I sure hope this helped.

        • Malcolm Foster says:

          Pam, Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to reply to me – it certainly has helped. My new garage larder that I mention will suffer wide temperature variation from winter to summer, possibly from 40 – 80 deg F, which may be a problem for other stored foods besides flour – unless I take steps to heat/cool it electrically by monitoring. Being windowless and insulated should help. Some might have to come indoors. I have just added some white and wholemeal bread flour packs to my growing food stock today so will need to find some buckets with sealable lids, where to buy dried ice and `gamma seal’, whatever that is – I will have to look online, with our different terminologies! At least being a PM collector/stacker, I do have some US Eagles for you size guide :-)
          Kind regards,

  7. I have found what works for me, is adding a little each week. Over the course of time we have built up a nice pantry. We rotate our stock, and of course each year we do our own canning, dehydrating and vacuum sealing to add home grown fruits, veggies and herbs to the mix.

  8. Rev. Dr. Michael E Harris says:

    ¢ Note that I have a cent sign. I noticed that you had to use $.02. I found a handy cheat sheet a few months ago, but have not had the opportunity to pass it on.

    I know that this is not really the place, but the $.02 triggered it. I cannot insert the image.

    Chris, speaking of image, is the pantry shown yours. It looks good. My problem is trying to establish food storage for one. Now that I have no income, it is becoming more difficult.

    • Chris Ray says:

      the picture isn’t mine.

      On a limited budget you might have to go against my advice and just buy beans and rice. It might not be enjoyable, but it will keep the belly full.

  9. I have daily contact with food scientists in many states. They all say the same thing: Canned food NEVER expires. You can open a can of soup from the 1960s and it’s still got its nutritional value. However, it will, the older it gets, taste a little vinegary. If the can is rusty or bulging, get rid of it. But otherwise, it’s still fine to eat.

  10. Great article, I am always trying to improve on my food storage.

  11. Good article!
    However, I would like to add that when planning meals out of your LTS cans, be sure to count calories and not the ‘servings.’ Some cans may say 10 servings, but when you calculate the calories in the can, it only adds up to perhaps 200-300 calories per serving. Figure your meals so that you will get enough calories per day to sustain a Post -SHTF life style which probably will be in excess of 2000 calories a day as a minimum.
    I looked at one of the 30 day LTS boxes at a big-box store and counted up the meals and the calories – and although there were serving enough for 30 days(as advertised) the calories per day came up way short of that which would be needed to maintain an active lifestyle (something like 900 calories per day total for 2-3 meals per day.) So make sure as you prepare and stock up your storage – make sure you not only have enough meals for your allotted time frame, but enough calories per day to subsist the entire time.
    Happy prepping
    Major Dad
    Major Dad

  12. GatorGeek21 says:

    Another great article & some excelletn ideas & insights from others. As my wife isn’t totally onside with the whole preparedness thing I am somewhat limited to what I can do without getting in trouble. :-) But she is warming up to things a bit & os cutting me some slack provided it doesn’t take over the house, blow the budget & all of the classics barriers to prepping. One thing that changes her mind a bit was last summer when I wasn’t working for 2 months. Having a months notice of thise we paid off the credit card, stcoked up on dog foor, bought as much as the stuff as we could for our summer projects & a few other things in preparation for the time I would be off work. This allowed us to go at least a couple weeks between grcery trips & only for the staples it seems. In the end we were fine & were even able to do a couple fun things (i.e. the zoo) & didn’t have to dip into the credit card once. This year we are changing things up a bit. As it is unknown if i will be working this summer again, from a financial perspective we are assuming I won’t be working so are hoping to do similar things to last year.

    In addition to that we have recent bought a dehydrator & a Food Saver & so are hoping to start using these to store up some food. As well, we are hoping to start a couple of raised garden beds & do some container gardening as well. In all I am hoping for between 50-60 sq ft of growing space to start in the backyard focused on fruits/vegetables & looking at the 44 sq ft in the front yard to start some edible decoratives. I have also thought about possibly looking at the side of the house for additinal garden space…but maybe next year. I am also hoping to start phase 1 of my rain water catchment & continue with composting. We have also done canning for the last few years & are hoping to increase our yeilds there as well. We have done pickles, pickled carrots, apple jelly & last year added salsa from some garden tomatoes we were given & grew. We give some to family & friends but still maintain most of it for us.

    Some of the other things I do are to store larger water bottles (1.5 to 3 litre) in the freezer as well as some 1/2 litre bottles in the basement. The bottles in the freezer help it run more efficiently because it is fuller, but if the power goes out it will keep things cold for awhile. This actually happened to us a year or so ago. I think between all of that water we are at around 100 litres give or take. Food wise we have consolidated most of our food upstairs in the kitchen so we are more aware of what we have & can better plan our meals & take a look at what we actually eat. Along with this we are hopefully going to doing more meal planning; losing weight so we can exist on less & generally eating more natural & as healthy as we can. I do have a small store of canned goods downstairs that wife doesn’t know about but I am hoping I can add to that as well…slowly by picking up a few extra cans here & there or can-cloning.

    I think we are a little ways off from larger long-term storage such as 5 gallon pails & stuff like that as that is the type of thing the wife is uncomfrtable with. But hopefully her & I can come to an agreement on that.

    Some of the more practical things I am doing as well, it to look at & start creating what could be called an “off-grid kitchen.” Baically, non-powered essential tools (food processor, cooking appliances, grinders, etc.) that could be used to prepare food in a grid-down situation. And lastly…thanks to Chris’s involvement with Homespun, I am taking a deeper more serious look at water filtration.

    • Chris Ray says:

      You might consider making mention of the empty grocery store shelves on the east coast, and mention how you would be fine if you lived there because of your preps to your wife.

      If you need them once, or she can wrap her mind around the possibility of needing them, she’ll probably move a good distance toward being on board.

  13. GatorGeek21 says:

    I did that exact thing actually. Told her that it is reasons like that that I like to be prepared and that the average grocery store has about 3 days of food on the shelves at any given time. Like I mentioned if she can see logic of something then she is okay with it. But as far as a bunker…and buckets of food downstairs she isn’t quite there yet. I suspect she knows I have stuff downstairs but doesn’t say much. Right now with a bunch of stuff moving around it is a bit easier to store a few things. She may not agree with everything but I need to do what I think is in the best interest of my family.

  14. im new as well and have several questions. Where should I store my food? If I bury it, what’s the recommendations fort hat? Can I burry extra ammo? And can you give me tips for water storage

    • Lots of good questions, I’m pretty busy now, so I’ll be brief. If you still have questions email me chris (at) preparedchristian {dot} net

      Store your food where is will have a temp that ranges from 60-75, is dark and dry. How do you mean bury it? If you mean dig a hole and put it in, I personally wouldn’t do it. Temperature fluctuations would be harmful, as would moisture. Ammo stored in water proof containers should be just fine.

      Here is article on water purification and storage http://preparedchristian.net/the-storage-filtration-and-purification-of-water/

    • Bobby –
      I agree with Chris, digging a hole and burying a bucket isn’t a good idea – way to many things to go wrong. However, a root cellar is basically a big hole with a door. Root cellars are still somewhat common in the mid-west as storm shelters. If you have space on your property and no covenant against construction, you could build one and landscape over/around it like a fashionable berm (hardly noticeable). There are lots of plans/ideas/advise on line or there are books available teaching construction and proper use if you wanted to store food from the garden. Otherwise, the best places in the house are usually in the basement or crawl space, obviously away from plumbing that may create an unfortunate event. If, because of the heating system, the crawl space is too warm; use a corner and build insulated walls to separate it from the rest of the space. Another effective spot is in an inner room (no windows) or a closet in the coolest room in the house. The cooler the better but consistency is almost as important. You are better off at a consistent 68 degrees than fluctuating between 50 and 80 or 90.

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