Maximizing Food Storage Life, by R.E.M.

Well, I guess it is safe to say that we have successfully dodged the Y2K bullet (still not completely sure though), which means that a lot of us that implemented food storage programs in its anticipation in 1998 and 1999 are now looking at rotating stock. This, coupled with current events, has me refocused on restocking. I have some tips to share that may be of value to readers that find themselves in a similar position.

First, when evaluating how to go about restocking food supplies, consult the Excel spreadsheet that you created when you first started to get serious about provisioning (you did create a spreadsheet, didn’t you?). If not, be sure to start one with your next major food purchase. The spreadsheet should have the purchase date of the food listed, dates for inspection, and replacement, and other important information (weight, distributor name, how packaged, etc.). This inventory becomes essential in managing large stores of food, particularly when items are purchased over a period of time. By automating your inventory in a spreadsheet, you can, with a click, sort the spreadsheet on the inspection or replacement date columns – now you instantly know what needs to be inspected or replaced. The weight factor comes in handy if your survival plan necessitates moving your stores from one location to another – either as a core strategy or a contingency plan. It is amazing how the weight really adds up. Best to know what you have before you start trying to load 1,800 lbs. of food into your half ton pickup truck!

For those folks that do not live at their retreat, but have to drive there, long term remote food storage offers some special challenges. If you do not have to frequent your retreat, then inspection and maintenance can be a logistic nightmare. Here is a trick for those of you in this situation. I like the money I save by purchasing food in bulk – especially in super pails. However, in order to test the condition of product packed this way, one has to open the pail, which essentially ruins the packaging and the long term storage capability of the package. This can quickly negate the savings you got when you purchased in bulk. The next time you order bulk food in super pails, also order, from the same supplier at the same time, the identical item in two of the number 2.5 (about 1 quart) cans. Label the cans and the bulk food in the super pails with the purchase date, but also include the the first inspection date and the estimated replacement date on the cans. Store the cans in your home, in an environment the duplicates, to the best of your ability, the same storage conditions as the bulk food stored in your remote cache. Now instead of driving there to do the food inspection, you can, in the convenience of your home kitchen, simply sample what is in the cans at the appropriate time, and have a real good idea of the condition of the bulk food you have in remote storage. This is especially handy when your food cache is a few hundred miles away!

In order to rotate your food storage stock efficiently, it is essential to accurately predict shelf life. This information is often skirted by vendors, but I found a very handy chart supplied by Walton Feed that really lays this out – you might be surprised at some of the results.

There are a lot of environmental factors that effect storage life, but probably the most predominant is that of temperature. Lowering the average storage temperature by as little as 10 degrees Fahrenheit has a dramatic effect on storage life. That said, for those of you that like the convenience of MREs and plan on purchasing several cases, consider storing them under refrigerated conditions. A 20 degree drop from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to 60 degrees Fahrenheit changes the storage life of MREs from 76 months to 130 months! For every 10 degree drop in temperature, the storage life of seeds is doubled. Not just garden seeds, but many folks store seeds to eat as sprouts. So, here is the deal – if you are going to buy several cases of MREs, you may as well shell out that extra $20-$40 dollars to pick up a used refrigerator at the local thrift store or yard sale. Drag it downstairs into your basement, into your barn, wherever, and load it up. Even five cases of MREs, at $70 a pop, plus shipping costs, represents a decent investment. Even after factoring the cost of electricity, you come out way ahead by doubling, or even tripling the length of time you can store this stuff before you need to replenish.

Yea, I know, “eat what you store, store what you eat”….”rotate your stock”…etc. All sage advice. So, you mean that none of us have a bunch of outdated MREs laying around, right? Right. Don’t forget that through refrigeration you can now also greatly enhance the storage life of injectable antibiotics, some prescription medications, bakers yeast, etc.

And date label everything. It irritates me that MREs aren’t date labeled. I like the way cases are packaged, with the heavy duty cardboard box and neat little plastic bands, but open each case, and date each individual MRE. Once they “get loose”, all is lost – so don’t just date the case on the outside of the box. I recommend repackaging them though, in their original heavy duty case boxes and storing them that way, just in case you need to “grab and go”.

I have been looking for a way to augment my dehydrated food storage with some real yummy stuff, like real meat. Not that I don’t love pigging out on TVP…Yum. The freeze dried option for meat is great, but it is very expensive. What I discovered is that you can actually store a lot of meat fairly cheaply. I am finding that with a little patience in my shopping, I can find canned salmon and tuna fish with late 2010 expiration dates. That’s four years! DAK hams, canned in Sweden and sold through Wal-Mart are also an excellent low cost, long term option for meat storage. Four years is a considerable term for meat. And that is calculated at room temperature. If refrigerated, these canned goods will keep much, much longer. Meat that is home canned, such as elk, deer, and small game, can also be stored in the fridge for extended life. Just use some common sense. Never open a can that is bulging (just pitch it), and be sure that all meats stored this way are well heated (including precooked hams, etc.) prior to eating. The heat destroys the toxicity of salmonella toxin, which is odorless, tasteless, and very nasty stuff. I have enjoyed home-canned squirrel stew and other canned-then-refrigerated game meats for many, many years after they have been canned with no problems at all.

I’m sure many SurvivalBlog readers have additional tricks and tips when it comes to long term food storage. Now would be a good time to share them. Did I mention that I am restocking? – R.E.M.