Letter Re: Advice on Concealing Storage Food

Hi Jim,
I’ve researched the net in vain trying to find a solution to this problem, which I suspect I share with a great many people now prepping. I’m hoping you can help. The challenge: Where to hide my food stores?

My situation: I live 10 miles from a city of 80,000 in a residential neighborhood. I live at the foot of a small mountain—the area behind my house is woods. I don’t own all of this wooded property, but I’ve never seen the owner. I have significant stores of canned goods, dried oats and beans, flour, sugar, etc.

I am not a craftsperson, so cannot build a false wall, and my husband, who already thinks I’m a loon, would not help me do so. So—where to hide these provisions? The solution needs to be simple enough for a non-carpenter to implement.

I’ve considered burying the food in the woods, and marking these spots (surreptitiously, of course). This is a time- and labor-intensive solution, but perhaps the best one available to me.

If you agree, how to prepare the food to be buried? Oats, flour, etc. in mylar bags, then put into plastic tubes, which are then placed into 2-3 contractor’s refuse bags? Would that be enough protection? Also, does it matter if canned goods freeze?

If you do not agree, do you have any suggestions as to where I might hide it in the house?
I’m hoping you will be kind enough to reply. Even a brief response would be most helpful, and perhaps not only to me. It’s fine to post this email on your blog—just don’t reveal my information. Thank you in advance, and God bless you and yours. – Julia

JWR Replies: I do not recommend burying your food on someone else’s property–at least not the majority of it. Unless you buy very heavy duty containers with watertight seals, there is too much risk of moisture intrusion, or destruction by vermin. There are also, of course, the moral and legal issues of using another’s property.

Many canned foods do fairly well with freezing. The biggest risk comes from repeated freezing and thawing cycles.

If the bulk of your storage food is fairly small, here are a few alternative solutions that I can recommend, only one of which requires the assistance of an amateur carpenter:

Buy a used queen-size “hide-a-bed” couch. Remove and discard the entire bed frame internals and mattress. Build a framework of 2x2s and cut a piece of 3/4″ plywood to support the seat cushions.

You can hide a single row of canned foods (small cans, such as soup and tuna cans) behind books, on bookshelves.

Yet another solution is to buy a few used four-drawer vertical file cabinets. Burglars usually bypass these. Put innocuous-sounding labels in the label holders in bold printing, such as “2007 Tax records” and “2005 Invoices”. If you pack them efficiently, file cabinets can hold a remarkable quantity of canned goods and retort package “bricks”. They are also mouse proof if you place them on a smooth and level floor.

One outdoor solution is to find a used, “out-of-commission” chest freezer. (Usually available free for the asking.) Cut off the power cord. Cover any internal vents with sheet metal. Paint the exterior with flat brown enamel spray paint. Cut (or buy) a cord of firewood and stack it around and on top of the chest freezer. BTW, the same technique can be used if if you have a hay barn–with either hay or straw bales. Or you could buy few hundred used bricks, and make it look like just a pile of used bricks. (And you would of course paint the chest freezer, in flat green, flat tan, or flat brick red, respectively.)

Another outdoor solution is to buy an older, used “pop-up” camping trailer. For some reason, residential burglars ignore these, whereas they will often break in to traditional “hard wall” camping trailers. Pop-up trailers have a remarkable amount of room inside, especially if you remove the seat cushions and mattress pads.If you pay very little for the trailer, you can even go “whole hog” and rip out the interior cabinets, sink, et cetera.

If you have a basement or storage room, you can also use Hide in Plain Sight (HIPS) techniques. One of my favorites is to obtain a lot of used, sturdy cardboard boxes with slip-top lids–such as the type used to ship reams of copier paper. Label them with prominent magic marker labels with things like “Baby Clothes”, “Infant Toys”, “National Geographic Magazines”, “Romance Paperback Books”, “2006 Tax Records”, and so forth. Fill those boxes with your storage foods (in vermin-proof containers). Pile all of those boxes up against a wall. Then add a layer of “camouflage” boxes, containing actual worthless junk. If a burglar opens one of these, he will most likely not dig down to the successive layers of boxes.

Use your imagination. Craig’s List and Freecycle can probably provide you all the storage space and camouflaging that you need, for very little money. Many of the items that you’ll need can be found “free for the hauling.”

When planning you concealment strategies, keep in mind that a burglar is a man in a hurry. In most cases, he won’t take the time to go through everything.