Monday, October 29, 2012

Come Hell or High Water - Bulk Food Storage

Like most all Americans, I'm trimming my budget as gas and food prices skyrocket. I am very blessed with a good job and health, something no one should ever take for granted if they have it, but I'm also aware, how quickly it can all be taken away.  So I am learning to prepare.  I am buying cheaper cuts of meat or using more game, marinated and cooked with care, cooking in bulk and freezing portions rather than eating out, and used bookstore, not new bookstore. I spend "vacation" time off, not at a resort or on a beach, but at my Dad's doing chores and repairs around his place with a sibling, cooking in quantity and making sure he's healthy and comfortable in his home.

I found I could make really tasty meals in bulk for him and put them in small containers for him for an extra freezer in the garage, to simply reheat at a fraction of the cost of the premade stuff he was buying.  I include lots of veggies from his small garden which friends help him maintain, using little salt, as his doctor advised, just  lots of herbs and natural ingredients to lend flavor.

The rest of  family is  also getting into the shopping in larger quantities. (Hey where's my big yogurt bucket?)  It's not just for cost savings but if you are staring into the jaws of a storm such as Hurricane Sandy, do you really want to be standing in line in the cold for hours hoping you get the last can of Pringles, as that's all that is left?

I'm also spending more effort on storing up food supplies for the long term, buying at good prices, and storing in bulk. I'm by far not the only one. I've been seeing, at numerous places, people selling food-grade buckets (no off-gassing from the plastic), along with desiccant packets, heat-sealable mylar bags and gamma lids. For longer term storage of dry goods, such as rice and beans and such, it's a very good start. Plus they are stackable and the gamma lids have a nice watertight seal if you should ever have to crack into your stores. Just a note though, don't put a desiccant packet into sugar storage unless you want a giant sugar lick. 

If you have a lot of freezer space, storing fresh and properly sealed food is easy. But what about if you don't have a huge or extra freezer? Sure there's peanut butter. I love peanut butter, but there's a lot of other more dubious cheap food products with a long shelf life.

There's canned food such as Spam or "Armour Potted Meat Food Product." What exactly is potted meat? According to the label it's: Beef Tripe, Beef Hearts, Cooked Fat Tissue Solids, and Partially Defatted Cooked Pork Fatty Tissue. . . mmmm, it's "America's favorite" the old label used to say - favorite what?.
I remember the first time I saw THAT on the shelf in the pantry and read the ingredients. "What's beef tripe" I asked my Mom. She said "it's in the middle of the cow". I got that same of vague answer when I asked how babies were made

The potted meat looked like something from Gross Anatomy 101 after running it through a wood chipper and closely resembled a can of "Mighty Dog". No thanks. In those days that pretty much just left the Spam and Beenie Weenies. But if you were snowbound with no food to eat for a month because you didn't think to store food properly, would you want your family only eating Beenie Weenies? In perhaps a small enclosed space? I think not. So you need to have some other food sources on hand. Fortunately there are a lot more choices

Freeze Dried Foods:  Not just for backpacking in to the campsite any more. A favorite brand among friends is Mountain House. They are airtight NITROGEN PACKED #10 cans or pouches. Up to 98% of the residual oxygen has been removed, according to their website. They advertise a 30 year shelf life. I can't say any have been purchased with that intent, but for camping they were found to be very good and worth the little bit of extra $$, less per serving that any fast food you'd eat in town. There are other great brands as well, and I'm sure some on my sidebar will have their own recommendations. 

Remember, though,  with commercially prepared "survival meals". The "serving size" are sustenance only. You may need significantly more calories per day if you are working hard outdoors, wood chopping or making repairs for example and should double up your pre made meal storage amounts if you plan on doing anything beyond "Hunkering 101".  You'd be amazed how much food one adult needing an average of 2200 calories a day can eat in a month or a year.

Home Dried Foods: 

Jerky:  Jerky is tasty, stores well, and can be flavored with other items for a little variety Just some basic rules here. Do not package until completely cool to the touch. Like all dried foods, store in small batches to minimize the change of contamination. Like dried vegetables, dried meat will keep up to six months; well dried and stored in a freezer, it can keep well for years. There's some jerky around here from an elk hunt LONG ago that's still good, kept in the freezer.

For vegetables dried in a dehydrator - see your unit's instructions for conditioning instructions prior to storage or refer to How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables with a Dehydrator. Use only air tight containers or freezer bags from which ALL air has been removed before closing it up.

Sulfured fruit -  store in non-metal containers. Dried fruits will keep up to a year and longer in the freezer. Again - cool dry and dark, but they will keep well at temperatures up to 60 degrees, though slightly cooler than that is optimum. If you see condensation on the inside of any of the containers, you MUST re-dry it again.

Hickory Smoking:   It does not matter if it is rain or shin,e Barkley will sit on the porch n a puddle of drool while this smokes away, refusing to come inside. Smoked products will keep a fair amount of time and unlike "mystery sausage" you know what went in this.

With the multiple racks within the smoker, 15 pounds were made in one batch. It still needs to be frozen if not eaten pretty soon, but sealed well, it will keep a LONG time.

Canned Foods:  A basic rule - If it is high acid, can it. If it is low acid, freeze it.  My friend Dann and his wife at God Gals Guns and Grub recommended to me The Ball Blue Book of Home Canning. It is the bible of canning, and really goes into safety considerations, especially important for low-acid or steam-canned things.

Root Cellar storage  - Potatoes - Inspect all potatoes for soft spots, sprouts and mold. Only perfect potatoes are suitable for long-term storage, if you find soft spots. use them now. If yours are home grown, allow to dry thoroughly before storing. Do not wash potatoes first. Store in a cardboard box, or mesh bag to ensure enough ventilation. Store where it's cool, dry and dark (50-60 degrees is ideal) with some ventilation. Check on them regularly and remove any that go soft, sprout or shrivel. Place the potatoes in a cardboard box, paper bag or mesh bag to ensure good ventilation. 

Apples  - Dried apples are a favorite of the dried fruits, but whole apples will keep a long while if stored properly. You want to store in a cool basement, garage, fruit cellar or refrigerator. The ideal storage temperature is 30-32°F with 90% humidity. If temp falls below 30 apples will be damaged and if it gets over 40 they will ripen too quickly.

Onions - Inspect like you do for potatoes. For this use a couple of clean and dried ladies stockings (yes, on the exceedingly rare occasions wherein I don a dress, I wear real stockings as I HATE, hate, hate, pantyhose). Or if you use pantyhose, cut off the legs. Drop an onion into the leg and tie a knot, continue adding and knotting until the leg is full. Store where cool, dry and between 40-45 degrees. When you need an onion, simply get out your handy little knife and carefully cut a slit in the side of one of the knotted off sections. This will allow you to reinsert an onion and reuse the stocking.

Corn -  I'll be honest. I've never stored corn other than in the freezer so I'm not sure about other ways to store it. Any suggestions readers? Here is some of Frank James corn, which he so graciously shares, prepared as he recommends in his blog and prepped for the winter freezer with the "food saver". Yum!  The food saver is invaluable to extending the freezer life of things.  You can also use it to store medicines and diapers for your bug out kit if you have elders or juniors with you.  After the air is sucked out the diapers use 1/2 the space as before. 

But Brigid, I don't live out in the "burbs" or the country. I don't HAVE a root cellar, garage space or a basement?

Even in the burbs, a shelf an inch or two out from the wall (avoid condensation) right down near (but not on) the floor, will guarantee a pretty consistent and cool temperature in the mid to upper 50's as long as the adjacent wall is below ground level.

But if you have a bit of yard, and you have no other options, you can make your own in a pinch in many climates (though around some of these parts you'll just dig down and find rock). Still something useful to know.  If you rent, it takes up little space and can easily be returned to it's previous state before you move out so not to annoy your landlord. Simply dig a hole in the soil to accommodate a large sized plastic container. Think kitchen storage bin with lid, new garbage can or an old cooler. Put your container in the hole, making sure you leave an inch or two sticking out of the ground to prevent rainwater from entering the "cellar". Even better, dig a little drainage ditch around it. Remember to cover with insulating straw and plastic as well (which will also further protect it from run off.

Place your food items in the container. Don't store apples with potatoes by the way. Pack it with straw or other insulation quality material and pop the top on securely. (This should keep out the local bugs and smaller critters). Remember though - if it's above the frost line IT WILL FREEZE, unless adequately insulated. Check the food periodically and remove any immediately that is looking soft or discolored. Apples will keep (approximately as found in my climate) up to six months, carrots 5 months, potatoes 5 months,squash 5 months, beets 4 months (like that's going to happen, I HATE beets). If you see condensation there may well be mold which is a real hazard for consumption.

Note: This is NOT an ideal solution, but there may be a time in your life when it's necessary.

When you buy in bulk, get the food prepped and stored right away. Bags are fine but the long term life is limited.  I've got food like that pictured below packed in nitrogen now that will last 20+ years.

So go on and buy some bulk food and get started storing it properly. You won't ever regret doing it.

Though you might regret asking about the tripe.


  1. I'm a city boy. No such preparations. I do remember Vienna sausages as a boy - pretty tasty! 40 years later they've devolved into -god-knows-what!
    Here in the SW tripe is made into soup on Sunday morning (menudo) to cure Saturday night hangovers. Lots of minerals, I guess.
    If TEOTWAWKI comes, I guess I'll be fighting for tomato soup and twinkies @ the 7-11 with everyone else!

  2. Good advice as always, Brigid.
    Out here in sunny Southern Kaliforniastan, most houses have crawl spaces. Having been under MANY a house pulling new cable, in all of the "seasons" we have out here, I can state with assurance that the year-round temperature is in the 60's to 70's. Even this late in the year, after the house has baked for months, it's still nice and cool.If your prepared food is PROPERLY stored, stuffing it under the typical California house in the crawlspace is a viable option.

    BTW....what do you store for Barkley to eat? Does he have his own special doggie rations, or will you feed him the leftover scraps from the human meals?

  3. We try to cycle our stores as much as possible too, not only to keep everything moving and to make sure things are handling being stored but so if something happens it's not such a shock to our diet. It must be working, my kids came home Friday and asked if they could have potted meat product on crackers for their snack.

  4. The stocking thing works equally well for potato storage. Definitely get adequate ventilation that way!

  5. National Center for Home Food Preservation is an additional resource that I have found to be both useful and reliable. They update their information regularly, as knowledge of canning and preserving safely increases. I have followed their recommendations for canning with great success. There is also a book "So Easy to Preserve" for those who would like hardcopy rather than just online information.

    This year I am going to try out the re-useable BPA-free canning jar lids from Tatler; I like the idea of being able to reuse all the parts of the process multiple times rather than throwing away the lids, which may become more difficult to acquire in future years.

  6. VERY good post, my dear.

    As stated in it, the Food Saver is your friend. Not only can you vacuum seal bags, for the freezer, you can vacuum seal Ball jars to store your dehydrated foods and dry goods.

    You don't like beets? Try baking them like a potato, wrapped in foil, at 350 for about an hour. You just might change your mind about the lowly beet.

    And did you know that you can home can butter and cheese?

    Don't forget about comfort food in your LTS. Chocolate chips, dried fruit, etc.

    Aaaaand, do NOT forget the T.P.


  7. Im working on getting a few months worth of food from Mountain House, we have the storage space in the basement so might as well use it. I doubt I'll stock more than a 3-4 month supply for two but who knows. Im expecting to move one more time before Im done and don't want to have huge ammounts of stuff.

    Very Timely Brigid :)

  8. Spam! But Brigid, they make BACON SPAM now! And it is GOOD! (Ok, ok, it's the Englishwoman in me....blame my dad!)

    Jerky for long term storage is almost an oxymoron, Brigid. I have never ever managed to get jerky to last here more than a couple days at best! I think it's a horde of 2-legged mice or something...

    The best place i have found for mylar storage bags is Sorbent Systems. They also have O2 absorbers and bag sealers if one does not want to use an iron, and the food saver hose.

    A good tip for most bulk grains and legumes etc is to freeze it for a week or so first before you vacuum bag it. This helps kill off any pest infestations in the bagged items.


  9. PM me and I will share my sister's jerky recipe if you are interested. It's quite tasty.

  10. Yeah, I'll pass on the 'tripe' since I know what it is... Good advice, and if you're NOT already storing foodstuffs, you're behind the power curve!

  11. This is a GREAT post, especially for those who are just beginning, or wanting to. I'm going to share the link with the prepper group I belong to, on Facebook.

  12. We can whole meals in quart jars in addition to various meats. I know from living on the farm that home canned food keeps for many years as long as the seal stays good and it is stored in a cool dark place. Dried vegetables and meats stored in canning jars with a regular lid and oxygen absorbers also last for many years. I prefer biltong to jerky, but that is just me preference. Biltong has a much longer shelf life.

  13. Anyone else have trouble with the seals failing on the vacuum packed bags after a while? I am talking about in the freezer, specifically. Discouraging to look at the carefully put away food only to see air and ice crystals inside the bag!

  14. Some of you are so far ahead... But I'm a working on it, lady... (As Jerry Lewis might have intoned.) I just got my years supply of grains and legumes in today. I am next getting either a large home canner or a sophisticated grain mill first... Pricey, but... First one, then the next.

    I sure do pray for those who don't or can't. And I'll help a bit. Thanks for some of the notions and, what I see as, a pat on the back. Good to know others think similarly. Uhrm, that's a pat on the back in return.

  15. Brigid - I'm gonna spam your post! ;-)

    For the curious looking for even more info, I talk about our root cellar and proper root cellar conditions for a variety of foods, my top 10 storage foods, water storage and purification options, and other such preparedness stuff on my site as well.

    To thecartman - sharp edges (like bones) and bags smacking into each other have been my leading seal failure causes. I find that if i pack like items (say a dozen bags of corn) into a plastic grocery bag, instead of letting individual bags roll around the freezer, my seal rates are lower.

  16. Thanks everyone - I'm still new at the whole prepping thing, having done my first "blue barrel", just 3 years ago.

    I agree on the add some "goodies" to the basics, coffee, etc.

    Laurie - I learned so much from reading your blog, still do. Thank you.

    Been a long day folks, I'll talk to you tomorrow.

  17. Great advice Brigid. Lu and I just recently put away 400 pounds of long term storage. Added to what we had and what's in the pantry I think we're actually at that year we have been working toward.

  18. We have canned the corn, although freezing is the prefered method at the Secret Underground Lair. Canning the corn takes around 90 minutes (same with boneless chicken) and 90 minutes of steam in the house... in August is not really wanted.

    Yes you can can your own butter (ghee) and it's tasty.

    I've got some of the Tattler re-useable lids, I'd like to use more of them but they have a slightly higher fail-to seal rate than the metal lids. Soooo I buy a little Tattler and a case of metal lids.

  19. Best thing I learned was how to pressure can bacon. Yes, shelf-stable bacon at a far cheaper price than the tins.

    Yes, it takes time and a pressure canner but...bacon. On the shelf.
    This is a superb article, too.

  20. Oh! And yes, you can get the #10 size cans and a canning machine (Mormons are ever so kind about lending them...) and store your dry dog food for a good year in them. Mind you, we canned a higher quality food so maybe that is why it lasted but...definitely a to-do for us again.

  21. Check out gamma seal lids. You can turn any 3.5-7 gallon bucket (food-grade preferably) into an airtight storage continer. This goes well for flour, sugar, rice, quinoa, etc. I have a family of three and everyone thinks we're doomsday preppers. Just trying to save money. We don't plan on being here on doomsday! ;-)

  22. Vienna sausages! My fifth-grade English teacher was on a diet of her own design. It consisted of a can of Vienna sausages in oil and some bread for lunch every day. My appreciation for the absurd started young. For the record, she seemed about the same size when I left that school two years later as when I started.

    I've got to admit, though, that the Leaphorn/Chee school of cuisine does have durability and, push come to shove, portability going for it. By the third week of being snowed in for two weeks, I might not be put off by the ingredients on the label. Heck, I might even eat the label.

    Somebody mentioned Mormons, whose formative experiences famously included long treks across unwelcoming country, as well as what was very nearly a TEOTWAWKI incident under the circumstances. Well, here are some basics:

    All this makes me wonder if The Mother Earth News Almanac is still in print. I seem to recall that it prettied up and romanticized the back-to-the-land lifestyle (mostly for the benefit of people who might differ politically from many of the followers of this blog) but also contained some good advice. {clickety click} ah, they're not only still around but have a website:

    See also the Foxfire series, a folklife/oral-history miscellany that gets into meat curing, fireplace building, and various other practical matters in amongst the moonshining and fake-moon-landing stories.

    Even if one doesn't see the need to prevail in a Mad Max scenario, the ability to get along for a few weeks without access to grocery stores and utilities is just common sense.

    Oh, yeah -- don't forget water and a couple of jugs of laundry bleach.

    Special note to Dr. Jim in that regard: Don't put all your powdered eggs in one crawlspace. The most probable severe disaster in southern California could render it inaccessible or even two- dimensional. And don't forget (well, nobody anywhere should, really) to have something in your car and workplace as well. Unlike many other disasters, quakes are sudden and unpredictable in their timing and location, so wherever you are, you might be there awhile.

    Remember, in an emergency there's no time to peel vegetables, so be pre-pared!

  23. I am delighted to see you encouraging your readers to READY UP. I notice you keep referring to desiccant packets. Desiccant absorb moisture. What we are looking for when long term packaging beans, rice , grains and the like is to remove the OXYGEN. What you need to use is Oxygen Absorbers (and you don't want to put those in sugar or salt either). At our business, we so a LOT of packaging and teaching our customers how to pack also. With the desiccants you are still leaving the oxygen in the package and that is what allows the 'buggies' to live (and spoil your food supply) as will as to degrade your product. If you have been packing with desiccants may we suggest you open them up and add the oxygen absorbers and then REseal the mylar bags. Hope this is clear, but if there are questions you may reach us via the email link on our website. BTW:the site is getting a face lift for please excuse the 'construction. Polly

  24. What Garand Gal and all the other lovely people said.

    Plus, the frost line in most of the temperate U.S. is 48 to 54 inches, so if burying the buckets (or in my case Jerry Cans) add an extra 4 feet or so of depth to cut down on thermal cycling and condensation buildup.

    I came through the storm a lot better than the week of instant winter we had last year, and ran down most of my stored LurpRats (sorry, I mean MRE's, I'm old) and freeze dried Mountain House goodies dropping off goodies to relatives without power. Also gave away all my Esbit stoves and fuel tabs.

    Be prepared is more than an old Boy Scout saying.

  25. I know why I stopped by, other than to read commentary from pleasant and intelligent people. A cute trick.

    Cut off the bottom inch and a half of two aluminum soda/beer cans. Deburr as best you can.

    Around the upper rim of one of them punch eight holes, reasonably well spaced. Then punch another one dead center, with four more equally spaced either side of it. cut a half dozen equally spaced slots in the sides, almost up to the radius but not quite. You don't want this thing to leak while working.

    The tabs you've created make the sides collapsable enough to tuck inside the other piece and secure the gadget together.

    Take it apart again, and fill it with a piece of old T-Shirt, then go down to the drugstore or supermarket and buy a cheap plastic bottle of 90% rubbing alcohol.

    Presto, you now have a pocket portable stove, simply by saturating the cotton whenever you need a fire. A small piece of tile serves to give a flat place to set it on, and also to extinguish the flame when you're done.

    The thin aluminum cools in a minute or two, and the plastic bottle is essentially unbreakable. Do keep the top twisted tightly though, as the alcohol is very hygroscopic, and will be useless in a week or so if you let it pick up too much moisture.

    Simply set it an inch under whatever you want to heat, and you'll be amazed at how quickly it gets a cup of water boiling.

    And remember to punch the burner holes inward, toward the cotton filling. That way the burrs don't shred your pocket.

  26. For those who are planning to use a root cellar, please read this article about what happened to a family who had a root cellar. Bottom line, two of the children died after entering the cellar because of a lack of oxygen.

  27. If you are planning to use a root cellar please read this story about a family in Alberta. Bottom line, two of their children died after entering the cellar due to a lack of oxygen.

  28. Dawn - that was indeed a tragedy, but what that family had was not what I have described here. They had a "pit well" which they were using as a makeshift "root cellar" and had sealed it completely for two weeks prior to the tragedy.

    Root cellars have ventilation, they are never sealed completely off from air. They have to, to remove the gases given off by the veggies. So when I described root cellar that would be what I was talking about, and ventilation was mentioned. When I talked about burying something in a ground, it specifically stated trash can or smaller size, not something that, when full of veggies, you could somehow crawl into.

    What the family had was not a "root cellar" though they used it as such, it was what would be considered as a "confined space" and those are indeed dangerous, due to air volume.

  29. If SHTF, we will be prepared. I am in a bacon panic right now though. I know when spring rolls around, pork prices will be sky high as the effects of this summers drought will have finally hit the markets. AWK!!!


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