Are You Ready Series: Best Practices For Long Term Food Storage

Archaic food caches have been found all over the world.  The fact that our ancestors planned for the unexpected gives us a clear picture into their unpredictable lifestyle.  Foods such as nuts, extra tools and foraging tools were put away for a time when they were needed the most (Source).  Of course, the lifetimes of these preps were contingent upon proper storage methods.

These days, we know much more about proper techniques for food packaging.  With the proper storage tools a person can store many different types of foods indefinitely.  Learning how to store food is cost effective, simple to understand and is a life saver if an emergency arises.

Many preppers like to choose a multi-barrier system to store their food.  This barrier system is for long term purposes, and will keep natural elements such as sunlight, moisture and air out of the container when sealed.

Storing Food in Containers

Any food that you plan to store indefinitely, should be stored in food grade containers.  These containers will not transfer any non-food chemicals into the food, nor are their any chemicals within the container that are hazardous to humans.  Typically a food grade container has a #2 by the recycle symbol or the acronymn “HDPE” stamp on the bottom (HPDE stands for “high density polyethylene”).  Before any food is to be stored, clean the containers with soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly.   5 gallon plastic containers are the most popular amongst those who store bulk quantities of food.

Additionally, make sure that the lid you purchase for your container is air tight and spill proof.  Lids with gaskets and gamma lids are great lids as they do not require a lid opener.  They are typically a little more expensive compared to the traditional bucket lid.  However, they are easier to open and close, and are worth every penny!

Food Liner

Research has shown that over time, slow amounts of oxygen seep through the walls of plastic containers.  Consequently, over time natural elements, and even insects can find a way inside the container.  To add additional protection, adding a food liner, such as Mylar bags will ensure that there are multiple barriers for the food to be protected in.  Investing in the thickest grade of Mylar would be a good investment for your food storage endeavors.  Simply because if properly cared for, mylar bags can last up to 20 years!  Additionally, the thicker grade Mylar makes a big difference in the taste of food.  The greatest part of investing in these food liners is that because they are so durable they can be reused over and over again.

For those who are investing in a shorter term food supply, many simply pour the food contents into mylar bags, add an oxygen absorber and properly seal the bag closed.  This will keep a short term food supply  fresh over a given period of time.

Oxygen Absorber Packets and Dessicant Packets

Using oxygen absorbers greatly prolongs the shelf life of stored food.  Because it absorbs the oxygen from the container, it inhibits the growth of aerobic pathogens and molds.  Oxygen absorbers begin working the moment they are exposed to oxygen.  Therefore, it is best to work as efficiently as possible.  Oxygen absorbers come in different sizes, so pay attention to the size needed for the container.  Typically, 2,000 cc’s of oxygen absorbers should be added in one 5 gallon bucket.   Oxygen absorbers are not edible, not toxic and does not effect the smell and taste of the product.

Desiccant packets moderate the moisture level when placed in a food container.  They do not absorb the moisture. Please note that desiccant is not edible.  If the packet somehow breaks open and spills onto the stored food, the entire contents of the container must be thrown away.  There are certain food items that desiccant should not be added to.  Specifically, flour, sugar and salt.  These items need a certain amount of moisture to stay activated, and if desiccant is added to it, they will  turn into a hard brick.

*Bonus*

To prevent bug infestations, use diatomaceous earth.  Diatomaceous earth are the fossilized remains of diatoms.  They are organic and are safe to use on food.  Use 1 cup to each 25 pounds of food.

The Sealing Process

Thoroughly wash the plastic container with soapy water and rinse and dry thoroughly.

  1. Place the Mylar bag into the 5 gallon container. The Mylar bag should be fitted for the size container that you are using.
  2. Add your oxygen absorbers or desiccant to the bottom of the bag. Also, remember you will be adding an absorber at the top of the Mylar bag as well.
  3. Begin pouring contents into the Mylar bag. When the bag is half full, shake it to make sure the food gets into all the crevices of the bag.
  4. Continue adding food to the Mylar bag until the bag is 3/4 full.
  5. Add you last oxygen absorber to the top of the food.
  6. Next, begin folding the Mylar down in order to release any trapped air.
  7. Once the air is out, use a heat clamp begin sealing the Mylar bag. A person can use a heat clamp or they can seal their Mylar bags with a simple at home iron put on the highest setting. If the home iron method is used, make sure you have a hard surface such as a cutting board or book to iron on and slowly go over the Mylar bag. Note: this method must be done gently and slowly or the Mylar will be damaged. Seal straight across the Mylar bag in a straight line. Leave the last 2-3 inches unsealed in order to push the last remaining air out of the bag.
  8. Once the trapped air has been pushed out, seal the last 2-3 inches.
  9. Push the sealed Mylar bag into the container. Optional: Add another oxygen absorber on top of the sealed Mylar bag for good measure. Place the lid on the container and make sure the lid is on completely.
  10. Label the container with the contents of food, and date of packing.
  11. Store in a dark storage area, where temperatures, moisture levels and sunlight do not fluctuate.

Where Do I Purchase These Products?

Food is an investment into your future and your family’s livelihood.  Therefore, you must do all that you can to protect that investment for the long term.  Using the multi-barrier system will ensure that the food is stored in optimal conditions and that the contents inside are protected for the long term.

The Prepper's Blueprint

Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

Visit her web site at ReadyNutrition.com for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published April 3rd, 2011
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  • RobNPhx

    Tess,

    Thanks for the information. I plan on immediately purchasing the items you’ve just mentioned.

  • Jan

    I am trying to start with long=term food storage and have ordered a few freeze-dried foods and have started shelves of canned, etc.  My problem is where to store it.  It always says “cool and dark.”  I can do dark but finding 60 degrees and below is difficult, if not impossible.  We have an AC attic but in the hot summer months, keep it at about 80 degrees to conserve energy.  Will this distroy my properly sealed buckets of sugar, flour, legumes, etc?   Any suggestions welcomed.  I don’t want to waste my money and energy if it’s not going to work!

  • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

    If I were you, I would not store my food in the attic.  The best place to store food is in an area where the temperatures do not flucuate.  A lot of people who are storing food for the long term use closets, utilize unused space under beds or corners of the home, and some who do not have extra space have remote locations where their food is stored.  

    Hope this helps! 

  • http://www.SHTFplan.com SHTF Mac

    Jan, you don’t have to keep the house at 60 degrees year round to keep food fresh. As Tess mentioned, so long as there are not major fluctuations, and you can stay between 65 – 80 Fahrenheit, you should be good to go. We just popped open some beans, rice, flour and dehydrated milk recently that we stored about three years ago. We keep the house at around 76 – 77 in the summer and in the low to mid 70′s in the winter and all was well. We also moved those particular mylar bags from one house to another, over the course of two days, in 95 degree Texas heat. If the temp does fluctuate from time to time, so long as it is not a regular occurrence and the duration of time exposed to the heat it low, you should be fine with respect to longer term storage.

    Also, with regard to keeping your preps stored in the dark, if you are packaging inside of Mylar bags light should not be an issue. Though, you’ll want to keep them out of direct sunlight because of the heat.

    Mac

  • http://www.hideyourselfonline.com/ Tony

    Great article, its just a matter of time to be ready for the world to crumble like pie.

  • Rae

    I see many references to dessicant packs but I am not sure what size to buy for 1 and 5 gallon buckets. There are so many types on the market! Your suggestion would be appreciated. Thanks.

  • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

    Rae,

    I just wrote an article that may be of help to you:

    http://readynutrition.com/resources/meet-your-emergency-foods-worst-enemies_06042011/

    In the article I discussed the proper amounts of dessicant one should use.

    “Desiccant manufactures recommend adding two 1 ounce packets per 5 or 6 gallon pail, or two per large barrier bag.”

    Hope this helps,

    Tess

  • Ann Hodges

    Is the diatomaceous earth added directly to the food being stored?
    Thanks, Ann

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Yes, you can add to DE to the food directly. It’s an organic option to storing food.

  • Ann Hodges

    Tess,
    I just watched your video and learned a great deal.  Thank you.  I noticed in the video that you had clear storage boxes on the counter.  If I use the double barrier method (vacuum sealed inside a mylar bag), can I put the mylar bags inside a clear plastic storage container?
    Thanks,
    Ann

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Ann,

      As long as the plastic food container is out of sunlight, and not exposed to any elements, then it’s fine. Another thing you can do that may be more frugal is to buy the cardboard legal file boxes that are at office supply companies. You can get 10 of them in a pack. This is what my family has switched to in order to organize our long-term preps and I like using them more than the plastic containers.

  • Ralph

    We’er just starting to prepare for long term food storage and your article has been a big help

  • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

    Ralph,

    I’m so happy to hear that my articles have been helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me - I here to help.

    Tess

  • lance

    Tess, can i store pastas that are still in the box or plastic bags directly into a 5 gallon bucket and then use oxygen absorbers and seal the lid on?  Or do I have to pour the out the contents into the bucket

  • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

    Hi Lance,

    Great question! I tell my readers to use mylar bags to store their foods because it adds another protective layer from the natural elements and insects. You can store your pre-packaged in food grade buckets. Just add a few absorbers on top and seal it up.

  • Beginning Prepper

    Why such an empahsis on huyfe quantities of wheat. I wouldn’t even know what to do with it. I thought the basic goal was store what you eat and eat what you store. I have NEVER used raw wheat in my life  

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Wheat is one of those healthy, multipurpose preps that can help sustain us during long term emergencies. It can be used as a breakfast cereal, ground into flour, added to soups, cooked and added to salads or sprouted for a healthy snack and even sweetened for desserts. Too see some recipes on incorporating wheat berries into your diet, click here: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes_menus/recipe_slideshows/easy_wheat_berries_recipes#leaderboardad

      They are also a true whole grain. A cup of cooked wheat berries has about 300 calories and is packed with fiber, protein and iron. Tasty sprouts are loaded with vitamin E, a cell-protecting antioxidant, and magnesium, which is good for healthy bones and muscles. In an extended emergency, having a diet that is calorie and vitamin rich will help you withstand the increased physical demands of surviving a long term disaster, as well as keep you healthy.

  • http://lblhomedefenseproducts.com/ home defense

    Was watching doomsday preppers on tv and realized that I had no preparation what so ever. started searching online and found your site. Am really impressed with the information and have learned a lot all ready.
    Will try to be back every day to read more and start on a plan and a food an water emergency supply
    Thanks for the info
    Eddie
     

  • JME

    How long will beans store in vacuum sealer bags?  That’s all I have right now.  My husband and I are not young so we don’t need a 15 year storage system.  Thanks.

    • Tess Pennington

      @JME

      If you re-seal the beans in Mylar and/or a vaccuum sealer, they have a storage life up to 10 years if you keep the dry goods away from natural elements such as sunlight, moisture, oxygen and insects.

  • Gadabout

    I just want to comment about wheat; even if you have celiac disease as I do, wheat is a good thing to store as sprouted wheat contains no gluten.  You will need a mill to grind it into flour for those in your family who aren’t celiac.  Store flint corn for grinding into corn meal or corn flour.  Whole sorghum for grinding into flour, same with oat groats.
    My rule of thumb is to store various flours and corn meal, corn grits, etc but have a lot of the whole wheat berries, whole dried corn, etc for the long term as they will keep longer in this form, if properly packed.  Dip into it when the other supplies run out. 
    I read somewhere that popcorn is a great thing to have because it’s filling and good to eat. And I don’t mean the microwave kind :-)

  • Linda

    An earlier question was about storing prepackaged foods in a container.  You said yes and to add absorbers and seal.  What happens if you open the container to retrieve some of the food…..do you have to add new absorbers?

  • Jeff H

    I just bought a bunch of packaged organic pasta and bags of quinoa at Costco to be stored long term in Mylar bags/oxygen absorbers and placed in buckets with gamma lids. My question is:  should I poke all the packages with a pin hole to allow any air within the packages to be absorbed by the oxygen absorbers?  Or lea be them sealed in the packages?   The Quinoa especially has a lot of air in the package.  Thanks.   

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Hi Jeff H -

      Great question! Yes, you can prick the packaged foods to allow air to escape before sealing them in Mylar bags. However, if insects were to get through the Mylar bags it would not take them long before they found the pin holes.

      When allowing air to escape through the pin pricked bags, use some tape (dupt tape, mailing tape, etc.) to patch up the holes after all air has escaped. This will protect your food source.

      Hope this helps!

      Tess

      • Jeff Humenik

        Thanks, Tess!  That is very helpful to squeeze out  the air and reseal with duct tape.  BTW – The 12 - 6 gallon buckets, gamma lids with 3 ply mylar bags and oxygen absorbers I got at Costco.com shipped to your door for $208 bucks are of great quality and recommended for anyone, like me, who wants a place to start.  I just loaded up two buckets with 50 lbs of organic spaghetti and 16 lbs of organic quinoa.

  • GrammyC

    I’m trying to add some longer-term foods to my pantry.  Can I seal popcorn in mylar bags with OA?  Does the popcorn have too much oil in the seed for this?  I would like some for popping and some for grinding if necessary.

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Hi Grammy C – Yes, you can store popcorn kernels in heavy duty Mylar or in large 5-6 gallon plastic containers w/ oxygen absorbers. We have this food item stored in our pantry as it has so many uses for snacks, meals or ground into flour.

      Happy Prepping,

      Tess

  • Paul T.

    My first time reading these articles and loving all the comments.Have considered starting a food supply for several years but never felt emanate need till now with all the stuff happening around the world and have mentioned to several people i know and no one seems worried (go figure)
    anyway want to start somewhere and add as my knowledge grows with your help.Will continue to read up and get motivated soon i hope. Thanks everyone !

  • http://www.mayflowertrading.com Pam

    It has been my experience that the shelf life of properly packaged food is shortened according to the severity and longevity of the temperature fluctuations. In other words, if you store your food in a van in the desert where daytime are over 100 and night time temperature are in the 40s your shelf life will be 5 years instead of 30. When temperatures range from 50 to 80, your shelf life will probably be shortened by 5 years for most things. Flour is the least stable and even just the 30 degree fluctuation will cut your shelf life to 5 years or less.

  • Michele

    I was wondering if you do store pre packaged food, can you store different items together or do they all need to be the same? like all pasta or can you mix pasta with popcorn and beans etc.

    • http://www.readynutrition.com Tess Pennington

      Hi Michele,

      Yes you can store pre-packaged items together. You can do it in one of three ways:

      5-gallon pail method – Thoroughly clean and dry a 5 or 6 gallon pail container. Add ingredients and secure lid on top. Label contents in container and date of packaging.

      Mylar bag method – Seal the bottom of a Mylar bag and add pre-packaged items. Seal Mylar bag. Label contents and date of packaging.

      Glass canning jars method – If you have a large enough jar, wash and dry thoroughly. Add pre-packaged items and secure lid.

      Hope this helps.

  • http://freedietingreview.com Laurie

    I have started building up a food supply.  Thanks for the tips on proper storage.  I had bugs in oatmeal, so am storing it differently now.

  • Get Quality Printed Carry Bags

    Thanks for your
    information! It helps those people who are storing food for the long term
    use.
    Get Quality Printed Carry Bags

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