Stockpiling food in your disaster food storage requires much more than just going to the grocery store, buying a bunch of food and putting it away in your pantry. You’ve got to select the right sorts of food to go into your disaster food storage and package it correctly so that it will last until you need to use that disaster food storage. The way that most food comes from the grocery store will only keep it fresh for a few months.
In fact, the only foods you buy in the grocery store, which are truly packaged for long-term storage as part of your disaster food storage are canned foods. Regardless of what the expiration date says on the can, most canned foods (which includes foods in jars) will last for over 20 years. In that sense, canning is the perfect means for disaster food storage. Unfortunately, it only works for wet foods.
What Your Disaster Food Storage Needs
Your food supply has a number of enemies, each of which want to appropriate it for their own use. These enemies don’t care that the food is part of your disaster food storage, all they care is that they want that food. So, you’ve got to use methods that outwit those methods.
Rodents, insects and bacteria will try to eat your stored food. So, your food storage method not only needs to keep them out, but kill any insect eggs which happen to find their way into your disaster food storage. In addition, oxygen, light and heat will work to chemically alter the state of your food, removing its nutritional value. Proper disaster food storage has to take into account all six of these and keep them away from your food.
Wet Foods in Your Disaster Food Storage
The easiest foods to package for long-term storage are wet foods. That’s because these foods can be canned. Canning has existed for centuries and is a fairly simple process. It requires raising the heat of the food that is to be stored high enough so that all microorganisms (especially bacteria) and insect eggs are killed. Once that is accomplished, a vacuum seal is applied to the can (or jar) so that nothing can get in to damage the food. Any contact with oxygen is mineralized by submersing the food in water.
To can your own foods, you’ll need:
- Canning jars, with lids and rings
- A big pot to put the canning jars in
- A thermometer
- Something to remove the jars from the water with
Foods which are to be canned should be of the best quality and freshest possible. The better the foods going into the canning process are, the better they will be when eaten. Never use bruised or partially decayed foods for canning to be part of your disaster food storage.
There are lots of canning recipes available online, especially from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website. The basics of canning for part of your disaster food storage can be broken down into four steps:
Prepare the food
Clean, cut up, mix, cook and otherwise prepare the food you are going to can. The actual steps required vary, depending upon the food you are storing. If you are planning on canning meatballs, you need to cook the meatballs first. If you are canning vegetables, they need to be cleaned and cut first.
Water needs to be added to the jars to cover the food that is put in them. The actual level below the rim depends upon the food that is being canned and how high a temperature it needs to be raised to. Canning recipes will tell you exactly how high to fill the water.
Heat the jars
The jars of prepared food need to be placed in a hot water bath and heated up hot enough to pasteurize the contents. Pasteurization is a process in which foods are heated enough to kill the microorganisms in them, without heating the food hot enough to cook it. For most foods, this means a core temperature of 160oF. However, some foods may require a hotter temperature. Once again, the recipes help.
The cans of food you are canning for your disaster food supply must remain in the water for at least 20 minutes, once they reach the full temperature.
Seal the jars
When the jars of food to be canned are placed in the water bath, they should have the lids and rings installed loosely. Once the food reaches the proper temperature, the rings should be tightened, crushing the rubber seal molded onto the lid. This ensures that when the contents cools, there will be an airtight seal, a very important part of any disaster food storage.
Cool the jars
Remove the jars from the water and allow them to cool. Test to ensure that they have sealed properly by pushing down on the center of the lid. If it doesn’t pop down, it is sealed. At this point the rings can be removed and saved for the next batch of canning jars and the canned food can become a part of your disaster food storage.
Dry Foods in Your Disaster Food Storage
Dry foods can’t be canned. Oh, there’s what’s known as the “oven canning method,” which is used for canning dry foods, but it has never been tested and proven to be effective. Therefore, I wouldn’t count on using it for your disaster food storage.
Instead, a method has been developed for bulk storage of dry foods in five gallon buckets. As most dry foods are used in higher quantities than wet foods, this works out well. To package foods in this manner for your disaster food storage, you’ll need:
- Five gallon food grade buckets
- Six gallon Mylar bags
- Oxygen absorbers
- A hair straightener
- A vacuum cleaner with a hose
- A rubber mallet
This process consists of six simple steps. The only problem is that the oxygen absorbers are very fast acting, so when you get to that point, you’ll want to work rapidly. It helps to work in a team and do a number of buckets at the same time.
Fill the buckets
Place the Mylar bags inside the five gallon buckets and fill them with whatever food you are going to store in the bucket. Most people only store one type of dry food in each bucket to avoid confusion. You’ll need to leave about an inch of space at the top of the bucket.
Partially seal the bags
Run the hot hair straightener over the open end of the bag, heat sealing it. Stop about 2-1/2 inches from the end, so that you can still fit the vacuum cleaner hose into the bag to suck out the air. You don’t need to do more than a two inch swath. Since the bag is bigger than that, the excess material allows you to open the bag, remove some of the contents and then reseal it.
Add the oxygen absorber
Add one oxygen absorber to the bucket, through the opening in the bag. If you are working as a team, it would be good to have one person who is only in charge of the oxygen absorbers, adding them and then resealing the bag they come in.
Finish sealing the bag
Stick the vacuum cleaner hose into the opening of the bag and suck out as much air as you can. Then, use the hair straightener to seal the bag the rest of the way.
Close the lid
Fold the extra Mylar material down into the bucket and place the lid on it. Use the rubber mallet to put the lid on, ensuring that it is on all the way, so that the edge of the bucket pushes into the rubber seal in the lid. Your buckets can now be labeled and added to your disaster food storage.