*Storage Ideas for Basic Food Stores*
This article covers storage of dry foods and oils specifically for long-term food storage plans. I donít cover storage of wet-pack foods at all.
At the start let me tell you that we have the vast bulk of our family food stores in simple foods: grains, beans, etc. It works for us and so we keep it that way. Itís cheap, nutritious, and workable. Iím the past food storage advisor to several thousand members of my church (LDS aka ĎMormoní for those who want to know) in E TN and surrounding areas. I still get calls occasionally for advice. Iíve seen a few hundred food storage plans, and still prefer my overall approach for my family and current circumstances. You have to decide what works for you and that requires some experimentation and an open mind.
That said, I wish Iíd done some things differently. This article also lays out what weíve done and how weíd do it if I could wiggle my nose today (Jan 2006) and do it all over again.
Our Current System
Hereís approximately what we have today for 2 adults and 2 teenage girls:
Wheat, hard red: 900 lbs Wheat, hard white: 600 lbs Oats, rolled (mix of quick-cook and regular (aka old-fashioned)): 175 lbs
Rice, white: 190 lbs Corn, whole dent: 300 lbs Pasta (macaroni): 80 lbs
Sugar: 200 lbs Soup Base (lentils & split peas): 50 lbs Dry Beans (total): 235 lbs
Milk, powdered non-fat: 100 lbs Shortening, vegetable: 84 lbs Cooking oil: 13 gal (about 91 lb)
Salt, iodized: 65 lbs
Add to that small amounts of a variety of luxury items such as powdered juice drink mix, carrots, onions, powdered eggs, hot chocolate mix, TVP, etc.
Grains: We started storing wheat before hard white wheat was available. After trying some hard white wheat, weíre in the process of switching over to it. The corn is for cornbread and hominy (an excellent source of niacin). The oats, rice, & pasta are for convenience and variety. The rice is polished white rice because brown rice goes rancid too quickly.
Beans: The beans we store are predominantly pinto beans and pink beans because of price and accessibility at the time we bought them. What weíre aiming for here is to store protein in quantity. In addition we store small quantities of several other legumes (soup base, split peas, TVP, lentils, blackeye peas, & lima beans) which are rich in particular amino acids that are lacking in pink & pinto beans. Amino acids is a topic for another article, but suffice it to say that you have to have a proper balance of a number of different ones, and no vegetable source (according to my professional nutritionist friends) provides enough of all of them. You have to have multiple planned vegetable sources or use animal protein (meat, milk, or eggs). We store the small-quantity legumes in mylar pouches, with each pouch holding a 1-lb package of each legume. That way we use them in a balanced manner.
Containers: If itís dry (the vast majority of whatís stored) itís probably in #10 cans with either CO2 or an oxygen absorber packet (depending on when I stored it). Our churchís cannery converted to packets in 1997. I prefer them for almost all dry storage. Shortening and cooking oil are stored in their original containers, mylar-lined paper cans and plastic bottles, respectively. I have a small number of 5 or 6-gal buckets of wheat in a large mylar pouch as a liner, called a super pail, which I love!
A small amount of dry food is stored in 1-gal mylar pouches. Our churchís cannery introduced this as an alternative method of storage in 1999 so I tried it. I like certain aspects of this method and deplore others (see below).
Water: I store water in both a 275-gal tank I bought for $50 (static storage) and a lot of 2-litre bottles reused from my growing soft-drink dependency (mobile storage). The big tank was simply too good a bargain to pass up since it stores a large amount of water so conveniently. Be extremely careful in picking up a used tank. Sometimes the previous contents makes the tank permanently unsuitable for storage of drinking water.
The pasteboard boxes containing the cans, pouches, or bottles are stored in our basement on wood pallets with a sheet of plastic between the pallet and the box. This allows air circulation around the food, reducing moisture problems, and allows me to keep rat poison under the pallets away from kids & pets.
A Primer on Storage Methods
There are several major methods of storing foods for several years. Iíll cover the most-used ones with major advantages & disadvantages.
-Cans: Metal cans have been used for almost two centuries and are the most-familiar long-term storage method. While you can store dry foods in any size can, the #10 (approximately 3.5 quart) can is by far the prevalent container for long-term storage of dry foods. While they require special sealing machinery and are bulky to store when empty, they are rodent proof and highly-resistant to puncture and moisture. Even when the outside is rusty enough to scare off many neophytes, the food inside is most often in excellent shape. When kept in properly sized boxes they stack very well. They are also very portable, with a full case of wheat weighing less than 40 lbs.
-Mylar Pouches: A product of the polymer revolution following WWII, the mylar (a registered trademark of DuPont, but widely used as a generic term) pouches used in food packaging are metalized polyester and a polyethylene copolymer reinforced with vinyl acetate. For long-term storage they are almost exclusively heat-sealed, melting the two sides of the bag together into a seal that is as tight as the original bag material. Mylar pouches are tough, lighter than cans, and can be sealed and resealed with a home clothes iron on a smooth board. They are, however, relatively easily punctured (even by their own contents such as spaghetti) and are easily chewed into by even baby mice. If you maintain a rodent-free environment (and that means no critters at all at any time!) they are a good storage method. As long as no sharp objects are around (including dry spaghetti), the pouches are tough enough to jump on.
-Bulk: I lump in here methods of pouring large amounts of food into containers ranging in volume from 2 gallons to dozens of bushels (hundreds of gallons). These vary so widely that I can only give generalities. Make sure the container is clean and appropriate for containing food (both material and previous contents). Make sure it can be sealed (not just closed) and that you can change the atmosphere to keep the food dry and prevent bug growth. Either dry ice or oxygen absorber packets work great here (see http://providentliving.org/content/display/0,11666,2257-1-1147-1,00.html or http://waltonfeed.com/oxy.html ).
-Plastic Buckets: Arguably a sub-set of bulk storage, plastic buckets are so widely used as to merit a few additional comments, in addition to the basics of bulk storage. Some folks are fond of reusing buckets from a variety of sources. Do so with extreme care. While almost all plastic buckets in the US are polyethylene (which is safe for food storage), whatever was in it before may void any food-contact use of the bucket. Buckets are highly resistant to rodents, but nothing short of metal, which cuts up their wee little mouths, is considered rodent-proof by this author. Also, many folks are fond of putting bulk foods into buckets with oxygen absorber packs and sealing the lids. Oxy packs work by removing the oxygen from the air, thereby reducing the volume of the gas in the bucket by 20%. That means the bucket is under a significant partial vacuum, and Iíve seen lid seals broken and lids popped loose by the sides pressing in because the shape of the bucket was deformed by the outside air acting against the vacuum inside the bucket. Iíve also seen the buckets so deformed that you couldnít stack them at all. See the piece on "Super Pails" immediately below.
-Super Pails: I hope this isnít trademarked, but here goes. Super pails are a semi-generic description of food in a mylar pouch with the whole assemblage in a plastic bucket. The pouch generally contains an oxygen absorber packet to increase the shelf life of the food. If you want to do some research on them start with http://waltonfeed.com/sp.html or http://www.aaoobfoods.com/staples.htm . You can do this at home by buying large mylar pouches ( try http://www.storablefoods.com/catalog/price_list.cgi or http://www.y2knorth.com/printlist.html ) and oxy packs (try http://www.y2knorth.com/oxy.html or http://waltonfeed.com/oxy.html ). One reason I love Ďem is that I donít have to open so danged many small containers of stuff I use in large quantity. The empty bucket also makes a great container for any SHTF situation.
-Original Containers: While this is my choice for oils & fats, I never store dry staples in their store containers alone. The flimsy bags they come in from the store are simply too porous and prone to damage for me to trust my familyís food in. I will sometimes drop such bags into a larger mylar pouch with oxy packs and seal the pouch around the whole assemblage. Iíve found this to work well in a rodent-free environment.
How Iíd Do It Today
-General Notes on Storage Containers: Iíd store the stuff Iíd use a lot of (wheat and some of my other grains and beans) in super pails. Iíd do this so I wouldnít have to open so darned many #10 cans so often. My experience with these pouch-in-a bucket systems is universally positive. This will only work for items you use a lot of. Other stuff will go bad from exposure (mainly to moisture or bugs) before youíd use it up. Another advantage of this method is that the empty buckets will be valuable around any SHTF scenario I can imagine.
For low-use items (like milk, varieties of beans I store in small amounts, or TVP) Iíd use #10 cans or mylar pouches. The cans are strong and boxes containing the cans stack very well. Pouches work better if there are smaller containers in the package, like we do for our miscellaneous legumes. The amount opened at any one time is a few dayís to a few weekís supply of that item.
For very low use items (spices, etc) Iíd use small mylar pouches (see http://www.alpharubicon.com/prepinfo/custpouchosage.htm ). This allows me to open from a few cups to a few tablespoons of any particular item. Weíve used this method for some time now and find it works very well for us. An alternative to this is to use small plastic bottles, cans, or jars, though the jars are prone to breaking.
-Wheat: Iíd go with all hard white wheat in super pails. I find I prefer the taste and texture of products produced from it. It has slightly less protein than hard red wheat on average, but I can make that up with extra beans and TVP, or supplement with farm produce or wild game. The details on protein content are that hard red wheat is 12-17% protein while hard white is 11-14%. Donít be fooled into buying soft white wheat. It (reportedly) has too low a protein content to reliably make kneaded breads, running 7-11% protein.
If you want to read up more on wheat, try http://waltonfeed.com/rahn/wheat.html or http://food.oregonstate.edu/g/wheat.html .
-Other Grains & Starches: The grains and pasta are stored mainly for their starch (aka calorie) content. Iíd keep the mix of types and quantities about the same. This is a decision thatís very specific to your situation and tastes. If youíre allergic to gluten then donít store wheat. If you hate rice donít store any. Iíd put the stuff I have a use for (corn definitely, rice probably) in super pails and leave the rest in #10 cans.
-Beans: Iíd keep the mix of types and quantities about the same. This is a decision thatís very specific to your situation and tastes. Iíd store the large-quantity beans (pinto & pink) in super pails and continue to store the small-quantity beans in mixed packs in mylar pouches like I have now. Any beans work well for the main quantity of your beans, but store some each of lima beans, soybeans or soybean protein (I use TVP), split peas, and lentils for their complimenting amino acids to avoid dietary deficiencies.
-Milk: I believe that the value of milk, either as a familiar food or as a supply for infants, makes it a critical element of any food storage plan. Even if the mother breast feeds, the stress of TSHíingTF may make her milk dry up leaving the child dependent on whatever is stored. Weíll keep the amount about where it is, even though itís now double what the LDS church recommends as a minimum for our four people (see http://providentliving.org/content/display/0,11666,2006-1-1116-1,00.html ). Iíd stick with #10 cans for their rodent protection.
-Sugar: I consider this a critical item to make much of the rest of this stuff more palatable (see the "Mary Poppins" song ĎA Spoon Full of Sugarí for details). Even though Iím a beekeeper I keep dry white sugar around in #10 cans as an emergency supply. I also keep some sorghum syrup as a flavor treat.
-Oils: Iíd keep butter-flavor Crisco™ as a bit of a treat. Iíd keep a mix of shortening and liquid oil since they fit different ways dietary oil is used. Iím sticking with original containers. We use 13 year old shortening and 10 year old oil daily with no ill effects.
-Water: Our current system using one large tank and a bunch of small bottles works great for us. We have some portable stored water and a convenient method of storing the bulk of our supply. Thereís no way we can store a yearís supply of water, but we have enough to see us through until we set up a long-term supply.
So thatís my new recommended system: high-use items in super pails, less-used items in #10 cans, seldom-used stuff in small pouches, and water split between a huge tank and some 2-litre bottles.
Now, you go out and try some ideas and figure out what works for you.
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