Letter Re: Save Money, Get Prepared, and Eat Healthier with Intermediate Term Food Storage

Thanks for posting Travis A.’s letter regarding food storage. He makes some good points but I’d like to chime in with some thoughts of my own.

I see an emergency food storage program as having two conflicting goals: The first is to allow you to eat “normally” after a disaster, because “different” food will just add to the stress of the situation. The second is to provide basic food that will merely keep you alive but will store long-term. I believe a hybrid storage plan that meets both goals is best, at least for my lifestyle.

To meet the first goal of eating normally, Travis’ plan works. Store the foods you eat and rotate them. For the storage solutions available to most people, that means rotating through everything every 4-6 months or so. Brown rice goes funky. Beans left in open air become too dry to re-hydrate. Pasta gets stale and acquires off tastes. Other foods like those Lipton pasta and rice pouches go funky even faster – they’re good for a couple months before they start tasting “off”. That 7 lb. container of garlic might store for two years, but not if it’s opened – and how are you going to rotate it without opening it and constantly using it?

So buy what you like and rotate it – but other than canned food, there is little you can buy that will still be particularly tasty after a year unless you go through the hassle of sealing it up, canning it, or whatever – in portion sizes that you can use up before it goes stale.

For long-term, “get you through two winters food,” nothing beats properly stored staples like wheat, white rice, beans, powdered milk, dehydrated vegetables and potatoes. This is the stuff that will keep you alive while the fallout decays in the grain belt, or scientists figure out how to prevent the new blight that destroyed a year’s worth of crops. These are buy-and-forget, emergency-only, keep-you-alive staples – cheap sources of carbs and protein. Add some oil and vitamins and you’re set with something that will keep you alive. The inconvenience of using this food will virtually guarantee you won’t use it unless you have to. It’s like carrying a pouch of dog food in your backpack to eat in an emergency. Ask Ethiopians who survived the 1970s and 1980s if it’s a good idea.

The LDS church is arguably the authority on long-term storage of staples. After a recent study at Brigham Young University (BYU) concluded that properly stored #10 cans of most foods are good for at least thirty years, the church revised its recommendations and now suggests that long-term storage foods not be rotated. Why? Because nobody wants to grind wheat. It’s easier to buy a bag-o-beans at the grocery store than it is to tap into your #10 cans and then have to replace them. If you’re worried about adjusting, then start working whole grains into your diet, but don’t do it by tapping into your storage supplies – go buy 5 lb. bags whole wheat flour or better, buy some wheat and practice using your grain mill.

The biggest advantage to this is that with the exception of freeze-dried food, long-term storage food is dirt cheap. A one year supply of staples for a small family can be had for less than a couple thousand dollars. Amortized over the thirty-year shelf life and it’s like paying $5 per month for complete food security.

Watch Craig’s List and similar sites! Last fall I was able to buy an electric tin can sealer worth $1,350 plus $700 worth of cans in various sizes for just $250. I actually found it first in Google’s cache listed for $500 and was crestfallen when my e-mail to their Craig’s List address was rejected because the listing had expired. I watched Craig’s List for the next month and sure enough, they re-listed at $250 because it didn’t sell the first time. I’d have gladly given them the $500! Now I have the ability to can anything wet or dry, including Travis’ 7 lbs. of garlic powder!

A final note on canned food (food that contains liquid): It lasts virtually forever, expiration dates notwithstanding. As long as the can isn’t bulged, dented on a seam, leaking or spurts when opened, then it is probably safe to eat. The fact is that bacteria don’t “work their way into” a can over time. They were either there when it was canned or they weren’t. If they were there, they will do their damage long before the expiration date. Botulism contamination is virtually unheard of in modern American [commercially] canned food. So while taste and nutritional value may suffer over time, safety doesn’t unless the can has a defect or is damaged.

The bottom line: Buy and rotate the foods you like. Buy and store food that will keep you alive.- Matt R.

JWR Replies: Here at the Rawles Ranch, we use a lot of our stored wheat. We keep a Country Living grain mill set up through about nine months of the year. (Our summer schedule is often too busy for bread making.) I am actually a big proponent of eating what you store.This has multiple benefits:

  • You’ll eat less expensively. (Buying in bulk can save up to 80%, versus packaged foods from the grocery store.)
  • Your diet will be more healthy. (Processed foods are generally less healthy than bulk grains, rice, and legumes.)
  • You’ll continuously rotate your food stocks. (FIFO!)
  • You’ll more closely monitor the condition and age of all of your storage food.
  • You’ll gain experience in preparing the same food that you store–with the opportunity to develop some tasty recipes.
  • You’ll accustom your digestive system to a diet that is heavy on storage food.

I must also point out that while many bulk storage foods retain remarkable nutritive value for as much as 30 years, that at least beans lose palatability. After about seven or eight years of storage, beans become so hard that they will refuse to plump up and soften, even after days of soaking or simmering. Yes, you can either grind them or cook them in a pressure cooker, but it is far easier to simply rotate your stored beans continuously (on a FIFO basis), and use them up when they are still less than five years old!

I often mention the book The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, but two other books that are important to have on your bookshelf are Making the Best of Basics by James Talmage Stevens, and Cookin’ with Home Storage by Vicki Tate. Learning how to cook with stored food takes time and practice!

Living in a Schumeresque world will be stressful. But it will be even more stressful if you needlessly take on additional stresses, in getting your digestive system used to storage food, and by having to learn how to cook with storage food. If your storage food is presently just sitting on the shelf un-used and un-tested, then you’ve made a mistake. Get cooking!