We’re back to talking more about food storage! Today we’re going to cover how to rotate your food storage.
And when it comes to rotating your food storage, you pretty much have two options: to rotate your food storage and to not rotate your food storage (well at least not regularly).
Both can work!
We’ll briefly cover both schools of thought and then I’ll tell you what I do and why I do it that way.
If you’re following along, hopefully you’ve already taken time to plan out your food storage using the Food Storage Planning Worksheets. You’ve probably started stocking up on the items you need, and you’ve made a plan for where and how to store your food.
So now it’s time to talk about rotation.
Let me start with a story.
I had a conversation with an older friend whose first foray into food storage was stocking up before Y2K. Remember when people thought there would be a disaster with all of the computers failing with the new millennium? Many people stocked up on food like they hadn’t done in the past. Well, the year 2000 rolled in and…. nothing bad happened. That stored food sat around for years and eventually my friend threw it out. She was sorely disappointed by all the food she had lost and time and money that were wasted.
What was the problem here? There were two things: (1) she wasn’t “storing what you eat and eating what you store” (we covered this in the first post of this series) and (2) rotation.
Actually though, those two things are really two sides of the same problem, because if you’re eating what you store and storing what you eat, rotation is simply a matter of being organized about how you do it.
How to Rotate Your Food Storage
First, what do I mean by “rotate your food storage” Rotating your food storage simply means that you are eating the OLDEST food in your food storage FIRST. It’s a first-in-first-out system. The idea is that your food won’t go bad because you are eating it before it gets that old!
The truth is that most foods that you keep in your food storage don’t go bad as soon as you think they do. The date on the packaging in most cases is not an expiration date. It’s sometimes called a “best by” date, but in most cases it’s used for the stores to rotate their supply and for manufacturers to encourage stores to order more product.
According to the Canned Food Alliance,
Canned food has a shelf life of at LEAST two years from the date of processing. Canned food retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years, but it may have some variation in quality, such as a change of color and texture. In fact, canned food has an almost indefinite shelf life at moderate temperatures (75° Fahrenheit and below). … If the can is intact, it is edible. Rust or dents do not affect the contents of the can as long as the can does not leak.
So if the can is intact, there is no reason to throw out canned food past the date stamped on the can. It is edible and may just save your life in an emergency.
What about boxed food and food in other packages? They don’t have quite the bragging rights that canned food does. For more about how to store dry goods, check out the video on how and where to store your food. If stored properly, some dry goods last 30+ years.
Baking mixes and other dry goods like granola bars definitely go down in quality after passing their best by date. Food that contains nuts or nut products will have a shorter shelf life than comparable products that don’t.
In case you’re worried about those brownie mixes I bought for our food storage, don’t worry, we will be faithful at rotating through them before they go bad!
So even though you don’t need to throw out food that’s past the date stamped on the package, it’s still a good idea to try to use your food in good time and eat the older things first. I just didn’t want you to empty out your pantry thinking everything in there is bad. And I don’t want you to be afraid to stock up, especially when it comes to canned foods and long-term foods that have a really long shelf life
Keep track of what you use
The first step to rotating your food storage is to keep track of what you use. This will help you know what you need to buy to keep your food storage stocked to the degree that you want (whether that’s a 1-month 3-month or entire-year supply). Once you have your food storage built up to that level, it’s just a matter of maintaining it that way.
Since you already have a list of all the ingredients needed for your food storage, you can just copy the list of ingredients over to the tracking sheet.
Put the tracking sheet in a place where it’s convenient to mark when you use something. This might be inside a cupboard or hanging on a clipboard in the pantry. I like to mark things down as I bring them into the kitchen to use them. Even if I don’t use the entire package or bottle or jar, I mark the item down when I open it. If you prefer, you could mark things off as you finish them. Just decide what your system will be and stick to it.
It will take some practice to be consistent with this new habit, but you can do it! If you aren’t the only one who cooks regularly in your house, then be sure your spouse or kids know your system. Explain to them that this is how you will know what to buy to keep the food coming around here. Be patient with them (and be grateful that you get to share the responsibility!)
Then when you do your grocery shopping you can restock what you used. If you have a one-month supply you’ll probably want to restock what you used more regularly than if you have food storage for a longer term. It’s okay (and encouraged) to wait for a good sale before you stock up.
Here are some principles to help you keep your short-term food storage rotated
Put new food in the back. When you’re rushing to put away groceries, it’s definitely easier to just stick things right in the front of the cupboard or on the edge of the shelf, but it doesn’t take THAT long to put the NEW items at the back of the cupboard instead. If you do nothing else I suggest here, this one simple change will help you rotate the majority of your food.
Write dates on the package. What date should you write? It’s up to you. Just be consistent and know what the date means for you. I prefer to write the date I bought the item (rather than amplify the date printed on the packaging). Since, like I mentioned earlier, most shelf stable food doesn’t actually “expire,” I’m not worried about it going bad. Seeing the date I bought the item helps me keep it in the right order as I rotate through it. It also gives me an idea of how far ahead of our consumption we are.
Food storage that doesn’t need regular rotation
Some people prefer the “get it and forget it” style of food storage simply so they won’t have to rotate it. Maybe you stash your food storage under your bed and do one big rotation every 5 or ten years. You take out everything and put it into your normal pantry to use and then restock everything and hide it back under the bed. That’s not my method, but it might work great for you.
The more common kind of “get it and forget it” food storage is long-term food storage. Remember when we talked about number ten cans last week? The rice, beans, wheat, oats, pasta, sugar, etc has a shelf life of 30+ years.
You can get yourself a year supply and you don’t need to rotate it. In fact we have “inherited” food storage from several older couples who bought number ten cans of food storage when they were raising their children. When they sold their homes and moved out of state, they shared their long term food storage with us (for which we are grateful).
While long term food storage IS important, when you’re actually living off of it it’s really nice to have other things to go along with it. We definitely saw this in our quarantine food storage challenge. Having fresh vegetables from your garden to go along with that rice or some raisins to go along with those oats will make a huge difference.
In a future post, we’ll dive more into long-term food storage and how much you should store.
At our house, we have a combination of some items that we rotate and other things that we’re storing for the long haul. The food in our short-term food storage we rotate through. We even rotate through lots of our long-term food storage like rice, oats, and wheat, since they are a part of our normal diet. Still, we have other food that is stored in number 10 cans that we try to avoid using until it’s necessary since it costs a little more to replace and lasts pretty much forever.
So does rotating food storage seem a little less daunting now? It’s probably not as complicated as you thought!