Two Letters Re: Food Shortages at COSTCO and Sam’s Club Stores

Yesterday I went to COSTCO to check out the rice situation (and grab a cheap lunch). Today, a friend said he wanted to go, so being that he doesn’t have a [membership] card I went with him. Not only was all the rice gone except for a few very small bags of some long grain nasty stuff, but where there had been pallets of rice 24 hours earlier, now there was other items (macaroni and cheese and something else). I overheard about a dozen people complaining about the rice situation, and all of them just wanted “a few bags for themselves, but everyone was hoarding thanks to the news”. Still plenty of flour and tons of oil and such, but unless you want minute rice, you were out of luck. – Jeff S.

Mr Rawles,

I was looking thru my welcome page news reports some more before moving on to some of the other things that I do before I log off for the day and found this one next. Sam’s Club, Costco Limit Rice Sales. It hit home so to speak, because I was at the local COSTCO a few days ago with my cousin, and we picked up two 50# bags of rice for him and his family. While we were there, I also noticed a posted limit sign on the rack, that stated a limit of 10 per customer. I won’t mention the price per bag, but it was a $6.00 savings per 50 pound sack versus the local Sam’s Club,where he is a member. I plan on going this weekend to get a bag or two to add to my family’s pantry as well. BTW do you or any of your readers know how long flour will keep in a sealed container, and can you keep it put up like beans and rice in sealed mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, or vacuum sealed bags ? And if so, how long of a shelf life would it have ? Any help on this question would be greatly appreciated – Dim Tim

JWR Replies: I describe the storage life of various foods, and the effects of different packaging in my “Rawles Gets You Ready” preparedness course. Here are two brief excerpts from the narrative of our COSTCO walk-through:

Now we’re standing in front of pallet racks of bulk rice, in bags. You’ll notice they’re packed here in three different ways. Of the three, I prefer this style here, which is a woven plastic material. It looks like tarp material that has a little grid mesh to it. It stores a little better in these types of bags, but even in these the shelf life is limited.
In the paper bags or in the traditional burlap sacks, the shelf life is very limited. The old burlap sacks look cool, but have the following problems:
a) They’re an invitation for rodents to get in to the rice, and
b) Oxygen is in constant contact with the product and as a result, the shelf life is very short, indeed.

Q: I thought rice lasted forever?
A: No, and here are a couple of things to keep in mind. If the rice is in a non-airtight package like the sacks we’re looking at right now in front of us, the rice will actually draw moisture and start to lose nutritive value within 6 to 8 months.

With things like rice, wheat and beans, I recommend storing an amount equal to the full shelf life for each, because all the extra you have on hand, assuming you have the storage space for it, is fantastic for barter and for charity.

So, for example, say you have rice that you’re packaging in a method that will store it for 10 years. Go ahead and store a 10 year supply for your family. Use it up systematically and 5 years down the road you’re probably going to end up buying another big batch and rotating it on through.

In general, from a nutritional and flavor standpoint I prefer brown rice. The bad news is that brown rice has less than a quarter of the shelf life of white rice. If it’s in a sealed, airtight container, you can store white rice for 10 years and have 80% of your food value. It will store in normal store packaging for 6 to 8 months before it starts to lose some nutrient value. Brown rice packed in an oxygen-free environment will last 1 to 2 years. But it will only last about 6 months stored normally.

Brown pearl rice (the short-grain type that sushi rice is milled from) is great nutritionally.

Unfortunately, when white rice is milled, what they’re doing is stripping off that brown shell. That brown shell is the short storage life component of the rice. What you’re left with is white rice, which is, at best, pretty poor nutritionally. It’s okay if you’re going to have a good food supplement and good vitamins on hand. I prefer the taste, texture, and nutritive value of brown rice. Unfortunately, it only stores for a year or two, even if you pack it just right.

Q: But we can at least meet my goal of having a year’s supply, right?

A: Absolutely. Store a two year’s supply of brown rice and consume half of it every year.

Elsewhere in the preparedness course, I describe my preferred storage method–using food grade buckets–and various methods for insuring that larval bugs won’t hatch and destroy the grain or legumes. Here is an excerpt:

To save money you will probably want to buy rice, wheat, and beans in bulk. This usually means 50 pound sacks. Sacks are problematic, since what you really want is a vermin-proof, moisture proof container that is also air tight and preferably evacuated of oxygen. Those are the keys to true long term shelf life, and none of them are provided by a cloth, paper, or woven plastic sack. The solution is to re-pack your bulk food in food grade plastic buckets. Here is how:

Food grade five or six gallon bucket with o-ring seals are available through a variety of Internet vendors. Be sure to specify food grade when you buy. Other buckets intended for products like paint are not safe for use in food storage, even if bought brand new. Although these usually have the same white plastic formulation, they are typically manufactured using a different mold release agent, which is toxic. So don’t buy paint buckets!

Used food grade buckets are often available for free or perhaps a dollar apiece if you ask around at local delicatessens and bakeries. Flour buckets are usually best, since buckets that were used for pickles or peppers might leave you with food that has undesired flavors!

The method that I use is as follows: Line a bucket with a large plastic bag and pour in the wheat, rice, or beans, shaking the bucket and tapping it on the floor several times to get the bag completely full. You don’t want any air gaps. Fill the bag so that the bucket is filled to within one inch of the top. Then toss two oxygen-absorbing packets (available from Nitro-Pak) into the bag.

If you don’t have access to O2 absorbing packets, place a small chunk of dry ice on top of the grain, inside the liner bag. I usually use a piece that is about as big as my thumb. As the dry ice “melts” (sublimates) it will fill the bucket with CO2, displacing the oxygen.

Keep a watchful eye on the dry ice. Once it has sublimated to the diameter of a nickel (and not any thicker than a coin) seal the bag with a wire twist tie. On top of the sealed bag, place a 2 ounce bag of silica gel desiccant. (Also available from NitroPak.) Then immediately seal the bucket, securing the lid with firm strikes from a rubber mallet. This will seat the lid and compress the o-ring.

WARNING: If you don’t wait until the dry ice has nearly completely sublimated before you seal the bucket, then dangerous pressure could develop. (A “dry ice bomb.”) Again, you must wait until the dry ice chunk has sublimated to the diameter of a nickel, and not any thicker than a coin.

The end result: Very dry food in a sealed, oxygen-free environment, safe from mice. This method will triple or quadruple the shelf like of rice and beans, and make whole grain wheat last literally for decades.