July 05, 2021
These are peculiar times at best. There’s no threat of the end of the world like some are saying, but more like an extremely challenging moment in time. If we’re being totally honest it’s more of an interruption in our convenience. A month ago I could walk into any number of grocery stores and walk down the aisles ignoring 90% of what was there. Now I go by many of those shelves, a bit bothered that the item isn’t there, although I wouldn’t buy it anyway. But I at least want to have the option.
I think it’s fair to say in times of adversity, most notable a “quarantine”, food becomes not just an afterthought during lunch time, but a front and center focus for you and your immediate family. Each meal goes from spontaneous to planned and from “nothing sounds good” to “I’ve had it three days in a row and I’m not complaining.” While we are emotionally prepared to pay for food even if costs rise significantly, we are often less than prepared for the possible short supply of food. Smart people, know this and take the necessary steps to ensure they can continue to eat and indulge at non-life alternating levels when things slow down or become less available.
Food storage isn’t a glamorous topic, but it is an important one. It needs to be explored by all of us but doesn’t have to become a requisite that we frown upon. Food storage can mean eating the things you like all the time and learning a new skill. When I initially think of food storage I think of a dark pantry with endless rows of canned goods, or military MREs (meals ready to eat). It doesn’t conjure up mouth-watering tastiness, and this is probably where this important task is initially railroaded. No one wants to think of sitting on a rock and eating crackers and SPAM. But what if food storage meant spaghetti, lasagna, or pizza? Or perhaps steak, chicken, green beans and potatoes? Now it’s interesting.
What’s Out There
Long-term food stores come in many forms: canned goods, freeze-dried, powdered and boxed to name a few. The USDA refers to these as “shelf-stable”. These are foods that can be kept at room temperature for extended periods of time without degradation. Examples of these foods include pasta, flour, sugar, spices, oils canned and bottled foods, and according to the USDA, “foods processed in aseptic or retro packages and other products that do not require refrigeration.” They also note that not all canned food is shelf-stable and that some, like seafood and some hams, require refrigeration.
Shelf-stable foods become that way through heat treating and or drying. Food-borne pathogens that can make use sick are destroyed through this process. The food must then be packaged properly to prevent spoiling. Keep in mind this is different from preserving like you would get from canning. Canning involves the food being processed at 250 Fahrenheit then placed in an airtight, vacuum-sealed container. Microorganisms are destroyed this way, then you are left with food that is sterile and “preserved’ and it will last a long period of time. Once the can is opened the contents must be refrigerated. There is a significant amount of information on canned foods the can be found on the USDA website.
If frozen, meats can be a long-term food option as well, assuming there is no significant interruption in the electric grid. It doesn’t have to be an event of any sort other than a good thunderstorm or snowstorm to knock out power, but a good freezer should be able to keep the food frozen for a day or two, especially if the door is kept closed. Under normal circumstances, and considering our current one, meats can be kept for a year or more in the freezer. It’s not that they’ll go bad but they could lose flavor if extended too far. But it’s a good idea to keep a separate freezer stocked and rotate foods in and out, more on that in a bit.
What Should You Store?
This question, like many, can be answered in several different ways. But remember, the goal is to eat as you typically would under normal circumstances. During my research of this topic, I found suggestions to lean toward items that you know you will want to eat and that can provide the nutrition that you need. Freeze-dried foods are popular and come in many pastas, soups and casseroles too. There are items such as powdered eggs, and milk, which means you can continue to have your typical breakfast, if not varied ever so slightly.
An article on BePrepared.com suggests stocking up on ingredients to make the items you’re used to having, such as biscuit and pancake mixes, and tomato powder. It also goes on to talk about the many uses of wheat in your diet and how it can contribute to overall nutrition and sustenance. You’ll want to learn how to cook with your stored ingredients though, but there are many recipes to be found with a little searching.
One of the obvious go-to items is canned goods. I remember looking at the soup section and finding it wiped clean of everything except a few cans of cream of mushroom and chicken noodle. My only concern with canned goods is their nutritional value. Your average can of soup only has five grams of protein and protein is essential to your diet. You’d have to eat five cans of soup to equal the protein of your typical beef burger or piece of chicken. Plus soup contains a lot of water and it won’t stay with you long.
Canned vegetables can be a great choice, although you’ll still run into the protein problem. But vegetables will help keep your insides and GI system squared away and give you valuable nutrients and vitamins that other foods can’t. Beans fall in this category and a can of pinto beans has a good share of protein, carbohydrates and potassium, which is important for your body to regulate fluid balance. Potassium can also protect against kidney stones, which can develop from eating too much protein if you’re susceptible to that and too low potassium is bad for your heart and other parts. In short, it’s important to keep a nutritional balance and vegetables are an important part of that.
Canned meats are a good choice, as you have to get protein-rich food, (if not sodium-laden), and it will last a significant amount of time. But it needs to be balanced out like everything else. A can of unsalted sardines contains 17 grams of protein! Sardines have an advertised shelf life of two to three years. Keep in mind that is printed on the can for your safety and the manufacturer’s legality. They’ll typically keep beyond the date.
While there are other options like freeze-dried foods and MRE’s (meals ready to eat) those don’t necessarily fit into this type of scenario. Cereals and grain-based boxed foods should be considered as well, and while cereal is often thought of for breakfast only, it can be a great mid-day snack especially when your taste buds don’t give you a clear direction on exactly what they want. You’ll want to be mindful of the sugar content of cereal. That bright colorful box with the free toy inside will get you if you’re not careful. Instead look to cereals with more natural ingredients like wheat, barley, oats, and nuts. Bran is never a bad idea and can help keep you “regular” when other areas of your diet suffer.
Which types of food you choose is up to you, but it should probably be a mix of them to ensure you’re getting the variety in taste and nutritional value that you need and desire. It will still be important to “like” what you’re eating during adverse events.
There is a principle known as store what you eat and eat what you store. This is the practice of rotating through the food that your store. It assumes you will not just buy or make once and sit on the food but that you will purge some on a fairly regular basis to keep your supplies fresh. Rotating (and eating) the food you store is something done dependent upon the time the food has been in storage and its actual shelf life. Just like rotating meats through your freezer, other foods should be rotated as use by and expiration dates approach. This means accepting that you’ll need to be continually vigilant at updating your stored foods and keeping some sort of documentation of when things were bought, added, prepared, etc. At any rate, it is important, while it’s not a time of crisis to research and discover long-term food items and ingredients that you can live with on a regular basis, especially if you have any specific dietary needs; perhaps gluten-free. Let’s dive a little deeper.
Effective food rotation has several moving parts. These include acquisition, inventory, storing, inspection, consumption, and resupply to name a few. That may sound a bit daunting but it’s not. You’re already doing it but more than likely, in a less organized way. The goal in food rotation is to bring in fresh items and store them back, while the not-so-fresh items get closer to being consumed or used. Next time you buy milk (if there is any) look at the date on the gallon up front, then move a few gallons aside and look at the date closer to the rear. The fresher milk is in the back, so the stuff up front can get moved along and used. You’ll do the same thing at your house but with most, if not all, categories of your food, be it boxed, canned, packaged, refrigerated or frozen.
You should have an area for food to be “stored”, like a separate pantry or room, and then have your normal pantry for the immediate use items. Food will come out of the stored area into the normal use area and so on. Develop an inventory system, if you have kids this might be a good duty for them. Have them develop a chart to monitor what’s coming in and when. You can write when you purchased, expiration or “best if used by” dates, on the chart or maybe highlight where they are on the container. That way you don’t have to hunt for it later.
Make sure to note what foods you and your family like. Don’t buy stuff because it’s a bargain, but tastes like a shoe sole. If this is the case it won’t get eaten and that’s money wasted. So be sure to experiment with new foods. Buy smaller quantities initially, eat to test, and then adjust from there. You’ll want to set up regular inventory intervals. Obviously for boxed, canned goods and frozen foods it won’t be as frequent. But if you are moving items from the freezer to the fridge, you don’t want to forget this move and spoil a pound or two of ground beef. Ask me how I know.
However, you decide to keep track or even utilize your foods can vary. It’s always up to your discretion and what works in your home. Probably the most important thing is to buy enough food, in smaller quantities, more frequently. You don’t have to wait until the fridge, freezer, or pantry is nearly bare to buy food or other supplies. One of the reasons why we are in the pinch we are in now is because people drastically changed their regular buying habits. Under normal circumstances, with people buying ample quantities more frequently, stores and suppliers can adjust to the demand. But when everyone decides that they need 6 months of food right now and plan to buy it right now, then things get a little tricky.
There is a significant amount of information online concerning food storage, and guidelines on what and how much of it you should have. Take the time to work your way through it before the next event happens. You’ll more than likely find that it’s not a big deal and you aren’t a “prepper” per se, but instead an aware individual. One that realizes that you and your family’s well-being in uncertain times falls upon you. That’s not crazy, that’s just smart.
This article originally appeared in the 2020 Be Ready! Survival Guns Special Issue. You can purchase a copy by visiting https://www.osgnewsstand.com/product/be-ready-guns-2020