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There is no doubt that a stockpile with long shelf life items is mandatory for any long-term crisis or recession. When we’re searching for such items, we’re usually recommended freeze-dried food, MREs and canned food (among other things).
However, the shelf life of these foods is greatly influenced by how we store them and, if we don’t do it right, we can dramatically decrease it, or even compromise our entire stockpile. Air, light, oxygen, moisture, and rodents are traditional enemies of food and, as a prepper, you are constantly at war with all of them.
Before we begin, there’re two things to keep in mind. The first is that I’m not a doctor and that you should only take my advice for information purposes only. When it comes to medicine, medical gear, and medical skills, you should see your doctor first.
The other is that doing all of these doesn’t mean you have to stop rotating your stockpile. Rotation is important if you don’t want to wake up with food that’s only good for only a few months when the SHTF. You don’t know how long the catastrophe will last, it could be 10-15 years before the world returns to some sort of normal. This is why, when it hits, you want your stockpile to be as “fresh” as possible.
So, without further ado, here are my 20 tips…
This is the easiest way to package all sorts of foods for the long term. Dried beans, rice, pasta and whole grains could last you 10+ years if you put them in Mylar bags, add oxygen absorbers in each bag and them place them in food-grade BPA-free plastic 5-gallon buckets.
Exceptions: sugar and salt don’t need O2 absorbers. Salt is a preservative in itself and sugar will solidify. Both will last a very long time as long as you seal and store them properly.
If you’re thinking about storing food inside your attic, I advise against it. Temperatures can reach 100F or higher during summer and, even if they don’t (say you live in a cold climate), temperature variations can harm your stash as well.
Ideally, you should keep all your food in a ventilated basement, though you may want to think of alternate locations so you never keep all your eggs in one basket. If you have a bug out location, for instance, you should take some of your food there.
Humidity decreases shelf life so keep it in your basement or some other place. The cooler the better, of course so please avoid keeping meds in your bathroom. There’re plenty of other survival items you can keep there, such as floss, soap, toilet paper and toothpaste.
The problem with fat is that it goes rancid pretty quickly. Stick to foods that are high in protein and carbs (powdered eggs, dried beans, honey etc.)
Of course, certain high-fat foods can last up to a year when properly stored, which is more than enough if you rotate your stockpile every 6 months. Peanut butter and dry dog food are such examples, though you may want to add oxygen absorbers to the latter.
If humidity is a big problem, consider a dehumidifier. Plus, not all the ventilation systems out there are worth your money.
A freezer is definitely not something to rely on for prolonged SHTF events but it can be a part of your strategy. Assuming the power grid goes down, you’ll still have a few days’ worth of food you can eat before moving on to the rest of your stockpile.
Pests can make a mess of your stockpile if you’re not careful. For instance, keeping your food in 5-gallon buckets may not be enough if you expect rats to pay your basement a visit. In addition to properly sealing it, a great thing you can do is put each bucket into larger, metal buckets so they won’t be able to chew their way into.
Moths can also be a problem, particularly since they’re more discrete so they can easily go unnoticed. If you see webbing around your food or even on the walls of your basement or pantry, you know you’ve got a problem.
There’s a rule of thumb which states that, with each 10C (or 18F) increase in shelf life of compounds, the chemical reactions double in speed. The reverse is also true: the cooler you can make your pantry or basement, the better. What this means is that food will typically be edible past its expiration date. You may or may not want to try that right now but, in a post-collapse society, you might not have a choice.
Coming back to the temperature issue, if your basement isn’t cool enough, you should investigate the problem and then make some changes. Maybe there are hot water pipes nearby?
I already mentioned this in the beginning, but rotating your food is one of the best ways to “extend” shelf life. The easiest would be to do it every 6 months during daylight savings time but, if you can, I encourage you to incorporate your survival food into your day-to-day meals. It’s a great way to find out what you like and what you don’t.
It’s actually not that hard, you and your family already eat some of these things on a regular basis. Things, such as beans, rice, honey, canned food and peanut butter can be added to your pantry and consumed using the FIFO (or First In, First Out) methodology. You add new cans or bags from time to time, write the date and, when you’re ready to eat them, always pick the ones you added first (another way of saying this is you always consume the ones that are closest to their expiration date).
Did you know that pharmaceutical companies use freeze-drying to increase the shelf life of some of their products? (source) This works with food as well, the only problem being that one of those freeze drying machines. However, if you find you are doing a lot of freeze drying for foods, you might want to consider getting something like an Excalibur food dehydrator, which, for a few hundred dollars, can freeze dry multiple amounts of food drays at once. These are items you will regularly see many preppers using.
I know you’re going to want to do this, you’ll probably want to help other people, maybe even charge them for letting them use your machine to recoup your investment.
If you do decide to freeze dry your food (instead of dehydrating or canning it), know that it works well with fruits, veggies and small chunks of chicken and beef.
Before you store pasta in bags and 5-gallon plastic buckets, you should keep them in the freezer for 4-5 day. This will kill any larvae eggs that could spoil your food at some point in the future.
The trick is to let it come back to room temperature after you take it out of the freezer and before you seal it to avoid subsequent condensation inside the bag.
Desiccants (as their name suggests) are used to remove the moisture from the containers in which they are placed. It’s always good to add one to each jar where you store seeds for the long term to remove moisture after you seal it.
Silica gel is the most widely used desiccant, but some people use dry milk, rice wrapped in a paper towel or even a layer of powdered charcoal in its place. You don’t want your seeds to come in contact with the charcoal, though.
Pretty much all seeds can be frozen (except for some tropicals) but they need to be dried first. Keeping seeds in the fridge works too, but freezing them is definitely better.
Yes, this little trick works and it can preserve your eggs for up to a year. You can read more about it here but, in short, coating the entire egg with mineral oil (that you can find in any supermarket) will increase shelf life.
The only caveat when storing eggs (according to the previously cited article) is that you have to flip each egg upside down every single week. Still, if you love eating them, it might make sense for you to do it since they’re basically a comfort food for you.
This is a neat little trick: when storing fish in the fridge, put some ice on top of it and make sure you separate the two with a plastic bag or something similar.
Some people will argue that tap water is already treated with chlorine but what if you’re storing rainwater you harvested yourself? That’s what chlorine is for.
Tip: mix the chlorine with a few gallons of clean water in a separate container before dumping it into the tank.
Of course, you should keep your entire water stockpile away from light to be 100% sure it won’t develop any microorganisms that could put your life in danger post-SHTF.
Though there’s no real proof of the cement in a basement reacting with plastic barrels, it’s safer to put them all on wooden pallets. Some people say the reaction only occurs if the cement gets hot, very unlikely inside basements.
Even though olive oil can last up to 2-3 years and coconut oil up to 5, you can improve those numbers if you freeze them. Sure, they will lose their nutritional value but this happens with every food. Another way of preserving oil is to do what the food industry does: add a preservative such as BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene).
Of course, not all fats go rancid this quickly. Canned food has plenty of, and most of it has a fairly long shelf life (due to the sterile environment inside the jar).
This may or may not be a way to improve shelf life depending on how you look at it, but one thing is for sure: white rice has a longer shelf life than brown. I know brown rice is healthier and has more nutrients but the numbers speak for themselves: six months for brown rice and 4-5 years for white.
For example, store cocoa powder instead of chocolate and wheat berries instead of wheat.
Of course, if you’re going to hoard various raw ingredients, you’ll also need to stockpile the tools to process them. For example, you’re going to need a manual wheat grinder for your wheat berries. What can be worse than having food post-collapse, yet be unable to consume it?
I hope this article gives you some ideas on how to prolong the lifetime of your stockpile. The big takeaway is that, as long as you do a good job fighting those food enemies you can also maintain much of its nutritional value. There are people claiming that, after a while, the nutrients start degrading but, in reality, this happens at a much slower rate as long as you do everything right.
If you have more tips and tricks on food preservation, please share in a comment below. It would be interesting to see what mistakes you made with food storage.
Dan F. Sullivan