Preserving and Storing Food Safely – An Overview – Part I, by N.M.

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Preserving food has become an important focus of many families. After reading this article, you will understand what is involved in preserving and be able to decide if it’s for you. Food prices are soaring, and food quality and quantities are decreasing. You can save lots of money by buying things on sale or take advantage of bulk purchases, because you can preserve the food and use it later. You will be protecting yourself and your family by having safely stored nutritious food in the event of an emergency, and you can help your neighbors. With all these pluses, it’s a wonder why everyone isn’t preserving food. Methods for preserving will be discussed in enough detail for you to learn about the primary ways to preserve foods, the pitfalls to look out for that can interfere with good practices, and how you can adopt a preserving program.

Why preserve food?

Because of the changing times, interest in preserving food has grown as families become more and more concerned about providing healthy, delicious food for their families over the long haul. When you preserve food, you are maximizing the nutritional value while changing the food’s structure for long-term storage. Preserving your own food guarantees higher nutrition, which translates into better health. Preserving food has always been a strategy for surviving hard economic times without experiencing poor nutrition. This article is divided into three parts. We’ll begin by looking at the two goals for preserving successfully. Then, we’ll look at the most popular methods for preserving, and we’ll end with basic tools to have in your home to begin a preserving program.

Two Goals for Preserving

You can preserve foods by drying, dehydrating, canning (hot bath), vacuum sealing, freezing, and smoking. Your first goal in preserving is to pick adequate types of food. You need to consider a food’s nutritional value and track how much of each food group you have so you keep an adequate supply. Pick foods based on the overall nutritional value they will provide, which can be found in foods that are fresh, natural, or organic, representing a good variety, and in good quantities.

Goal 1: Adequate Types of Food

Your body thrives best on certain types of foods and will get sick when deprived of the right kinds of these foods. Think of the scurvy epidemic, which was a simple lack of vitamin C, that killed many immigrants sailing the long voyage to America. If you’re going to go through the trouble of buying, growing, preserving, and storing food, then pick foods adequate for providing proper nutrition. Your time and resources will be better spent if you choose foods with a premium for good health, giving you the most bang for your buck. Not-with-standing some comfort foods are definitely encouraged, e.g. jelly beans, chocolate, and so forth.

Fresh, Organic, or All Natural – These are foods that are either recently harvested at the time of preserving, and/or are grown or processed with little or no preservatives, hormones, chemicals, or dyes. It’s a fact that consuming these types of foods brings you to optimum health. Keep in mind that foods that have been stored and transported in plastics, though claiming to be organic or all natural could have chemicals that leached out from the plastics, due to heat. These “leeched” chemicals have been responsible for some cancers.

Good Varieties – Having a good variety of foods allows your body to benefit from different enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. Too much of one type of nutrient, or not getting enough of other types of nutrients, will make you sick. Poor nutrition causes your body to have a lower resistance when you get sick. Strong, general health will enable your body to fight infection or illness better. Having a good variety of foods assures that trace minerals will be consumed, and this helps you in ways you are unaware and in ways that science does not even know yet. It has been recently discovered, for example, that if you eat honey from your region you will become more immune to allergens in that region. Since we don’t know what we don’t know, it’s best to eat a big variety of foods. It is also better for your body, appetite, digestion, and sugar levels to eat small, frequent meals and snacks and not to eat too late in the day.

Good Quantities – Try to keep plenty of food around. This will ensure enough healthy foods to choose from and help you to eat small, frequent meals. You will eat what is available – both good and bad, so be proactive in your planning, and pay attention to what’s in the pantry and frig.

Food Groups – Learn about the benefits of eating food groups that complement each other. For example, fruit and dairy combined eases the stomach and helps digestion, but red meat consumed with milk is very unsettling to the stomach. Foods rich in vitamin C help your body absorb foods rich in Vitamin A, like fish. Overcooking meat destroys enzymes naturally present and necessary to properly digest the meat. Learn about and use this type of information to your advantage.

Goal 2: Safely Preserve Foods

Your second goal is to make sure that, when you preserve, you do it safely. To be safe, you will need to consider sanitation, temperature, moisture, storage methods, and a rotation plan.

Sanitation – You would be surprised at the many ways you can contaminate your food, such as simply touching something briefly when you’re preparing food. For example, if you’re in the middle of preparing or preserving something and you pick up the back of a chair to move it, you could pick up the last thing your friend, spouse, or child was working on outside when they came in and moved the same chair a few minutes ago, like shoveling manure, working in the compost pile, or cleaning your dog’s ears out! Don’t touch anything around you when you are in the middle of preserving. Wash your hands frequently.

Temperature – You will have to consider temperature in almost all you do when cooking, preserving, and storing food. For example, you use boiling water during the canning process in glass jars, and you will need to achieve certain ideal temperatures for properly storing all your preserved foods. There are also taste benefits to using temperature correctly, such as heating up oil in a pan to a very high temperature before laying anything in the pan to cook. Don’t dismiss mentions of temperatures when following directions for cooking or preserving.

Moisture – Moisture causes mold; moisture prevents herbs from drying properly so they can be ground up; and moisture causes caking of powders, spices, and salt. Controlling the humidly of your storage area will be essential.

Rotation – An important part of preserving involves a plan to use the oldest items first to cycle all items through storage. Make your own method for utilizing older foods before newer foods. You can color-code items to indicate old vs. new, write labels, or use shelf space location to store items in a way that lets you know what is older. We have a simple rotation method in our pantry for “staples” (catsup, mayo, peanut butter, barbecue sauce, and salad dressing). We buy large quantities of these staples, because I always stock up when it’s “buy one get one free” (BOGO). I store them close to our living space, because we use them all of the time. Our method for rotation is to “add to the back and left; take from the front and right”.

Seeds

If you are a gardener, you will want to know how to preserve seeds properly. Seeds need to be clean and dry to store them properly. Below is the process to soak, skim, rinse, dry, and store seeds. Seeds need a lot of TLC. We keep them in a cool, dry, dark place. I add to them and look through them every few months to contemplate what I’ll be “starting” in my seed starter trays for next season.

There are two types of seeds– heirloom and non-heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are seeds that produce a food whose seeds can produce the same food again, perpetually. Non-heirloom seeds will produce food, but after the first time, the seeds from that plant will either not produce at all or will produce an inferior plant, whose seeds will not be viable.

Soak – Soaking seeds is the first step in preparing them to preserve. Seeds found in “wet” fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash need to be soaked to remove all organic matter. Seeds that don’t need “soaking” are dry seeds such as those found on the outside of plants, like in flowering parts of lettuce and broccoli. Check your literature for where seeds are obtained from each plant and when they should be gleaned, if you’re not sure.

  1. The first thing you do is take the strongest samples from your crop. Take seeds from a mature fruit or fully grown, flowering plant.
  2. Take the seeds out and put them in water (room temperature) in a bowl. Do not use chlorinated water. Cover them with a napkin and set the bowl aside on the counter for about three days.
  3. You can stir it a few times to loosen the organic matter, but don’t stir them near the time you are going to do the next step– skim, rinse, and dry.

Skim, Rinse, and Dry – After a few days of soaking, do the following:

  1. The bad seeds float to the top, so skim the seeds off the top along with the organic matter that rose to the top, and throw this away.
  2. Rinse the rest of the seeds, and then lay them out on a plate. You want them clean of any organic matter.
  3. After they are completely dry (several days later), scrape them off the plate into a jar or plastic bag. Label and date your seeds.

Store – Store in a cool dry, dark place. If there are seeds you haven’t used in several years, you don’t necessarily need to throw them out. They may still be good, but don’t count on them. Always have two or three generations of seeds, properly labeled. Use the older seeds first. If you want to discard any, pick a place on your property that may get adequate amounts of sun and rain naturally, and throw them there. You may have volunteer plants come up in a year or two.

In Part 2 of this article, we’ll get much further into the subject by taking a look at preserving methods and tools in detail.

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