As I’ve ventured down the road of becoming more self-sufficient, one thing has become abundantly clear: my skills for storing food are sadly lacking.
Because I never learned these things growing up, I have to learn it now. But I’m lucky – there are SO many people who have made it their business to help people like me learn how to ‘put up’ food for winter. The thing is, there’s more to food storage than just canning and drying, especially over the long term.
So today, I’m thrilled to introduce Noel and Jo Napolitan. Their website at millionthmonkeyfoods.com is a wonderful source for all things ‘food storage’ and he’s been kind enough to to provide us with some ‘storing food 101’ tips and ideas to help you get your foot in the door, so to speak, as it applies to storing food.
Noel was born in New York and at the age of 20 began a soul searching walkabout throughout the US, living out of his backpack. In the process, he experienced everything from having to locate water in barren stretches of Arizona, finding food in the hills of Tennessee, staying dry on the Northwest coast of Oregon, to feeling the crushing effects of a potential hurricane barreling towards New Orleans (long before Katrina). Then one day, after settling in the foothills of Colorado and watching a news story on the frenzied preparations in anticipation of the perceived Y2K ‘threat’, he had an epiphany. During his travels, he’d noticed that most people were living life oblivious to the fact that their world could change in the blink of an eye. They heaped large amounts of importance on their ‘stuff’ and almost no real importance on living. That night, he decided that his ‘job’ in life was to help folks realize that we can truly feel alive if we learn three things: 1) preparedness can be very simple and inexpensive; 2) being prepared can have a truly profound effect on your sense of freedom and concern; and 3) the ultimate way to be prepared for almost anything is to be self-reliant, self sufficient and sustainable. You can get your food storage supplies from Noel at millionthmonkeyfoods.com. You can also connect with him at his Facebook page, and his blog.
I hope you get a lot from this article, and that it helps you take one more step towards becoming more self sufficient.
Food Storage Preparation
by Noel and Jo Napolitan
The LDS Preparedness Manual by Christopher Parrett includes a master list of foods that is 463 items long and a seed list that consists of 49 different seeds. This is an extreme. Not that it’s a bad idea; it’s simply that most folks just do not have the space, time or money to put together that much. Let’s start by easing into it one step at a time.
The very first step in any preparation should be to have a ‘Go Bag’. It is a crucial backup to whatever food storage measures you use. It contains the very basics that you would want to have with you if you need to leave your home in a hurry, in a durable bag, or more than one if you have multiple people, which are easy to carry: Food, water, warmth and first aid. This would consist of the following:
- One week worth of food for all concerned
- Three days water per person
- Four days water purifying supplies
- Change of clothing based on current climate
- Temporary shelter such as blankets (wool if at all possible), tarps or backpacking tents or even just a few 50 gallon garbage bags
- Good quality first aid kit (add super glue to this)
- Copies of all your important documents
- Insurance papers
- Identification – birth certificates, social security cards and photo ID
- Bank statements
- Titles and deeds
- $100 in small bills and coins
- List of emergency contact information, both personal and for family and friends
Now, let’s cover the differences between types of food storage first. There are many ways to go including: freeze dried, dehydrated, MREs, store bought, home canned, bulk buckets and bags of ‘staples’ and much more.
Types of Food Storage
- Freeze dried: This is the method of preserving food that retains the flavor and nutritional value of fresh foods through freezing. Fresh or cooked foods are flash frozen and then put in large vacuum chamber that can remain as cold as -50°F. Next, a very small amount of heat is applied and the ice evaporates without ever turning back into water. This removes almost all of the moisture from the product. Then the food is canned or bagged, along with an oxygen absorber to maintain freshness, and labeled. This is good for long term storage and is easy to use at a later date because it only needs hot water to prepare it. This process produces a shelf life similar to that of dehydrated foods.
- Dehydrated: In this method, the water is slowly evaporated out of the food, without actually cooking it. There are three different methods: air-dried, sun-dried, or kiln-dried. Food from your home can easily be sun-dried with little to no store bought equipment, whereas the air or kiln method requires purchasing some equipment. All of these can be very cost-effective ways of storing food. After drying, they are stored in airtight containers. Commercially prepared products will usually contain an oxygen absorber.
- MREs: Meals-Ready to-Eat. These were originally designed for the US government. The compact pouches contain delicious, ready-to-eat foods. MRE’s have been used since the 1970’s in the US Space Program, Military, Forest Service and FEMA. More recently, many other governments have started using these foods. Today we have civilian versions of these foods and the military version is actually illegal to sell to the general public.
- Store-bought: pre-packed cans of vegetables, soups, meat products, dry noodle or rice mixes and other items purchased at a grocery store.
- Home-canned: These days this would mean those unlabeled jars of food you used to see in your grandmother’s basement or pantry. Recently there has been a rise of interest in home canning and there are many resources available for folks wanting to learn this lost art.
- Bulk buckets and bags: This would consist of large containers of things like flour, sugar, salt, grains, legumes (beans), rice and other ingredients you would use to make your own ‘fresh’ foods.
- Pre-made kits: These usually consist of a six month or full year supply of a variety of foods for your entire family. This will cost you between $4000 and $10,000 in one lump sum payment.
Many choices are available when it comes to purchasing long term food storage supplies. My suggestion is to have a mixture of these types of items in a variety of flavors but most importantly, you want to store what you normally eat, along with a few ‘treat’ type items. Also, anything you do store should be rotated out and used in your everyday cooking so that you have a constant long-term supply that will not expire all at one time suddenly.
There are a number of ways to go about getting yourself prepared without breaking the bank. To start with, every time you go to the store, purchase a few extra canned items, decipher the expiration date and use a permanent marker to write this date on top of the can along with the contents, this way it’s easy to read and even if the paper label disappears, you’ll know what it is and when it’s no longer good.
Next, once or twice a month, purchase one or two bulk items, again, making sure you know the expiration dates. Mixed in and among these steps, it is a good idea to purchase a few additional items. MREs and a few emergency food ration bars are good to have on hand in case you need to leave your home in a hurry. This brings us to the next topic: food storage.
Ultimately, the best place to store the bulk of your long-term foods is in a basement that is kept cool and dark: 60°F (15.5°C) or cooler. This will extend the shelf life as long as possible. The next best place would be a windowless pantry that can also be kept cool. Temperature is very important, the warmer it is, the shorter the time your food will stay good.
Remember, too, that all the long-term foods in the world will do you no good if you are forced to leave them behind and evacuate your home. It is for this reason, I suggest having some of the emergency food bars or MREs set aside in an easily carry-able pack or duffle bag. You can also put together what we call dry mixes. Assemble the dry ingredients for a meal into a zip lock bag or storage container. The shelf life of these will vary but including an oxygen absorber (these can be purchased by the case) will extend the life. Keep these in your “Go Bag”. This way, with the addition of water, you can have a meal ready in no time. This allows you to be much more self sufficient and less of a burden on ‘rescue services’ that may be present.
Most stored foods will require water to prepare them making this is an essential part of food storage. You can deal with this in two ways:
- Have one to five gallon water storage containers stored along with the bulk of your food storage and smaller container or bottles of water stored with your Go Bag.
- Have a way of filtering or other-wise purifying either the water you already have or water you are forced to find. Your water should be rotated once a year.
The typical amount needed is at least 1 gallon per person per day. Both FEMA and the Red Cross suggest three days worth of emergency preparedness. I suggest a minimum of a week, between water on hand and purification methods. Keep in mind that water weighs roughly eight pounds per gallon. If you have four people you are preparing for, the following equation applies:
4 people x 4 gallons of water x 3 days = 96 pounds
Now add your filters or other purification supplies equal to four more days and you should be fine.
Through planning and small steps you can be prepared no matter what type emergency you face. Just remember as you go about becoming prepared to store what you eat and eat what you store, label items well, and track shelf life.
Oh – and don’t forget the can opener!