In our last food storage post we talked about getting started with a 1-3 month food supply of your meals that your family loves. We talked about why everyone should have food storage and how to start and implement your family’s custom food storage plan.
Today we’re going to go into more detail about WHERE and HOW to store your food. If you’re making the effort to get prepared and have food storage for your family, then you’re going to want to be sure it’s stored properly so your efforts aren’t in vain.
If you don’t have the food storage planning printables yet that I talked about in the last food storage post, you can get them and get started on your family’s custom food storage plan. If you need help planning, check out my first food storage post for an easy-to-use plan for storing meals you actually eat.
First we’ll talk about HOW to store your food, then we’ll talk about some options for WHERE to store your food.
How to store the foods in your food storage
If you’re like me, your food storage will be a combination of different food storage containers and methods. There’s no one right way. You have to find a balance between cost and convenience, all while making sure your food is safe to eat and maintains as much nutrition as possible.
Many containers can be stored just the way you buy them; others take a little more maintenance. For example, jars of peanut butter and jam can be stored just the way they are. Canned food can simply be set on the shelf to store. Easy peasy.
Pantry staples like flour, beans, rice, pasta, oats, cereals or other grains AND boxed mixes including any of these as ingredients can be infested with weevils, mites, moths or other bugs depending on where you live and your climate. It is important to store them in airtight containers so they aren’t spoiled by insects. The big problem is that sometimes these foods actually comes with bug eggs, larvae, or adults packaged with them when you purchase them!
The best way to deal with this is to freeze the product for at least 24 hours when you get it home from the store. Sounds simple enough, but when you’re buying in bulk, it could be more complicated, especially if you don’t have a deep freezer.
After spending time in the freezer, products should be stored in airtight containers. I’ll talk about containers in a second.
I have also read that storing a bay leaf (or several) in your air-tight container of rice or flour will keep the food products safe from bugs.
Honestly, I have not had any issues with bugs in food. It may be because we have a dry climate and weevils and other food bugs prefer a moist climate. Up to this point I haven’t made a practice of putting newly purchased grain in the freezer before storing it.
Okay let’s talk about containers.
Canned Foods are a Great Option
We don’t typically buy a lot of canned food. They just aren’t our normal staples. But when it comes to food storage they are great. Sure, we prefer fresh or frozen veggies over canned veggies in most cases, but if fresh and frozen aren’t options, canned foods are great! Plus, they are much more affordable than their freeze dried counterparts.
If you used the Food Storage Planning Worksheets I gave you in the last post, you probably had canned goods on your list of shelf stable ingredients for your recipes. That is great!
Even if you don’t regularly use canned foods, they are great to have for food storage. It DOESN’T mean you have to regularly use them. For example, I’m storing more cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup (as you’ll see in my upcoming grocery haul in a few days). I usually make my own from scratch, but having cans is really convenient when eating from food storage. The same goes for spaghetti sauce. I make and can my own tomato puree for spaghetti sauce, but I like to have canned spaghetti sauce in my food storage.
Another great thing is that canned goods have a very long shelf life. We’ll be talking more about expiration dates and rotating food storage a little further along in this food storage series, but for now, know that canned foods are safe to eat well past the dates on the cans.
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). Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe! We don’t recommend keeping canned food for 100 years, but 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. If the can is leaking, however, or if the ends are bulged, the food should not be used.
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.
Another nice thing about canned foods as opposed to dehydrated foods is that the canned foods already contain water. In some situations where you are eating from your food storage, you’ll have a limited supply of water. Having foods that don’t require extra water is really convenient.
For storing convenience, I like to buy canned foods in the case or flat. At the grocery store, this just means grabbing the cut down cardboard box that the 12 cans came in. At a store like Sam’s Club, you can buy 6-12 cans in a thin cardboard case which acts as an easy can dispenser. It’s convenient to be able to store the case flat or on its end.
Glass Canning Jars
Glass canning jars are a great option for food storage. As long as the rims are free from chips and cracks, glass canning jars can be reused again and again. You will need new flat lids each time, but you can reuse the jars and the rings.
We have 300-400 jars that we use and reuse for canning fruits and vegetables. I’m planning to start canning meats as well.
Some people use a water bath canner. I use a steam canner for everything you would use a water bath canner for (high acid things like tomatoes, peaches, pears, applesauce, etc). Then I use a pressure canner for low acid foods like green beans and meats.
You can also can dry foods in glass jars. If you have a food saver with the jar sealer attachment, you can remove the air from items like rice, oats and flour, and greatly increase the shelf life of items like chocolate, raisins, and nuts.
Food Grade Plastic Buckets
We have food grade plastic buckets that we got during our law school years for free from a friend who worked at a Kraft factory. They originally held mayo, but we cleaned them out and have been using them ever since. We use them for wheat, oats, sugar, flour, rice, pasta, beans, and any other bulk foods that we store. The only regret I have is that we didn’t get more!
What I love about plastic buckets is that they can be reused over and over. They are great for storing food that you are rotating through (as opposed to a “get it and forget it” sort of food storage. You can use what you have stored in the plastic buckets to refill your pantry containers of flour, sugar, rice, etc.
You can even get food grade plastic buckets for free. For example, the bakery at your local grocery store gets many of their ingredients like frosting in these food grade buckets. They just throw them out, so if you ask they will likely give them to you or save them for you. You could also try asking at restaurants.
If you want to order buckets, you can get them on Amazon. The buckets come in all sorts of sizes. I don’t recommend anything bigger than 6 gallons, as those get pretty heavy. Three to five gallons is ideal. Make sure you get lids too. The best deal I found was for 5 gallon buckets was in-store at Walmart. You can either get the regular snap-on lids or the gamma screw-on lids.
The downside with plastic buckets is that they aren’t the best for extended long term storage. Air can penetrate through plastic which will cause the food to break down over time. It is still edible, but not as high quality. For example, beans will harden and darken meaning they will need to be cooked longer. Powdered Milk may clump which makes it much more annoying to use.
If you want to use them for long term food storage (and when I say long term I mean like 5-30+ years), you can, but you probably want to line them with mylar bags and use oxygen absorbers. We don’t do that because we use these buckets for food we rotate through within a few months to a few years.
Number 10 cans
This larger can size is called a number 10 can. Number ten cans are a common way to store long-term food storage. It’s often written with the hashtag or pound sign, but it doesn’t mean 10 pounds. The weight depends on what is inside.
The huge benefit of these cans is that the foods stored in them have a very long (often indefinite) shelf life. You can get cases of 6 number ten cans through the home storage centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or their online store. I guarantee this is the best price you will find for can-sealed food of this kind anywhere. They are a non-profit with an interest in helping people be spiritually, financially, and physically prepared for whatever life has in store.
For example you can currently get six number ten cans of wheat for $35.70 and shipping is only $3. Each can weighs 5.5 lbs of wheat berries. Wheat stored this way will last 30+ years. If you can pick a case up at a home storage center instead, you’ll save a ton of money. A case of six cans of wheat is currently $24! The prices are updated monthly.
These home storage centers have lots of long-lasting staples like rice, beans, pasta, sugar, flour, and oats. You’ll want to call ahead and see if they are open and when, as I’m not sure how the pandemic has affected things.
Because you have to account for the cost of processing it into the number ten cans, some of the staples (like sugar and rice, for example) cost more per pound than what it would cost per pound to buy a 25 lb bag at the grocery store, but with the #10 cans, you don’t have to do anything to make them last for decades. I try to not use the food that we have stored in #10 cans because they last so long and are so easy to store. Instead, we rotate through what we have in buckets and save the #10 cans for really long-term storage.
You can repackage food into mylar bags for long term food storage.
The downside of mylar bags is that while they keep moisture out, they aren’t actually rodent-proof. It doesn’t take much for a rodent to chew a hole through a mylar bag. The other tough thing about mylar bags is that they aren’t uniform size so they don’t stack well.
Like I mentioned earlier, some people use large mylar bags inside of plastic buckets so they get the benefits of both.
Where to store your food storage
Every home and family is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for where to store your food storage, but I can give you some ideas.
Lots of people’s initial reaction to the idea of storing one month, three months, or a year is “I don’t have space for that!”
I’ll repeat what I’ve said before about this…
If having food storage is important to you, you can make it happen!
There may not be room to add a 3-month supply of food to your house at this very minute, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. You may have to make a choice. You may need to do some decluttering or downsize other areas in your life, but you can make it work.
You can fit a one year supply of food for one person under a twin size bed.
Maybe there’s something else stored under there right now, but does it bring the kind of security you get knowing that your kids won’t starve? Could you store what’s under your bed in the garage and keep food under the bed instead?
Do you have a coat closet that you could take over with food storage? It might not be the most glamorous solution, but if food storage is a priority, you can make it happen.
Becca is a perfect example of this. She commented to say that her family of 8 lives in a 1250 sq ft manufactured home and currently their food storage is in their hallway. She doesn’t love it there, but sees food storage as a priority, so she makes it work.
The best place for food storage is somewhere that is cool, dry, and dark.
For some people this rules out the garage. BUT if your garage is cool and dry (and many garages actually are), it can be a great place for food storage where it’s convenient but also out of the way.
A basement is an ideal place for food storage.
You don’t have to have a dedicated room for food storage. It doesn’t have to be near your kitchen. Think outside the box. Is there space in your laundry area? Could you trade out things from an infrequently used closet? Could you put your bed up on risers or cinder blocks to make more space under there? We have even used both at once (but do that at your own risk!). We’ve raised our bed up everywhere we have lived. A tall bed has given us lots of extra storage space. We don’t have food under our bed now, but we did for many years. And we do have buckets of wheat under one of the kids’ beds.
If you use a garage or basement, you should not put your food storage directly on the cement floor. Cement gets too damp for that. You’ll want to put down some wood boards or pallets to keep your food containers up off of the cement.
I’ve seen some really creative ways to incorporate food storage into your home. I’ve seen it dressed up under table cloths as end tables, under couches to make stadium seating, creating “shelves” by putting boards across buckets. If I didn’t have pantry and garage space (which we thankfully have now), I would store our food storage under everyone’s beds.
I would love to hear your ideas for what you have done or seen done. Making food storage a priority really is worth the hassle and effort
More to come!
In future posts, we’ll talk about expiration dates and how to rotate your food storage so nothing goes to waste. We’ll cover more on long-term food storage and some foods we think every family should be storing.
Let me know your specific food storage questions so I can be sure to cover them in the series.