When one thinks of SHTF and TEOTWAWKI, The Walking Dead kind of scenario may enter one’s mind. I know it does mine (mainly because I’m obsessed with the show). Realistically speaking, however, TEOTWAWKI will not be because of a zombie apocalypse, but because of many other reasons– natural disasters, economic collapse, a nuclear bomb dropping on us (courtesy of an antsy enemy), and/or a pandemic. In any crisis event, having food stored for a lengthy period of time is essential for survival. There are many food storage options out there, as well as manuals and how-to articles. In this article, I will explain some of these storage options, how much food you should store, and what I believe to be the most important DIY food storage product.
In a TEOTWAWKI situation, having basic homesteading skills will become life-saving skills. This includes canning. However, assuming that you do not have access to canning materials after SHTF, you should get crackin’. Always have canned foods on hand. Yes, grocery store pick-ups are wonderful for food storage, but most canned goods last only 2-3 years, which makes rotation essential. Canning foods yourself provides two things: a longer shelf life and peace of mind that you aren’t getting all the nasties that grocery store canned goods harbor.
There are three ways to can: 1) pressure canning, 2) water bath canning, and 3) dry pack canning. The first two require mason jars and a pressure canner, the third requires #10 cans and a #10 can sealer. Pressure canning and water bath canning are conducted using a presser canner. You can purchase a pressure canner at stores and online for $60, along with mason jars, pickle and fruit preserves, and anything else you’ll need to can. Pressure canning is used for low-acidic foods, like meats and vegetables (and even butter!), whereas water bath canning is used for high-acidic foods, such as fruits and jams (and even cheese!) I won’t go into extensive detail on how to pressure and water bath can, but a great resource (often called the canner’s Bible) is the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. There are also several YouTube videos out there that give in-depth tutorials and visuals of using a pressure canner.
Let’s move on to dry pack canning. In my research, this is the most expensive way to store food. #10 cans can run about $95 for a pack of 45. #10 can sealers can run anywhere from $900 ($600 is the lowest price I found for a used sealer) to upwards of $2,000. They are, however, light and rodent proof and can keep food on your shelf for 10-30 years. The sticker shock of dry canning has not worn off for this prepper, so I will move on to the next (relatively inexpensive) topic.
Note: It is worth mentioning, though, that most major cities have LDS (Church of Ladder Day Saints) canneries that lend out (and let you buy) #10 cans and can sealers. It may be cheaper than buying them yourself.
Freeze Drying and Dehydrating Food Preps
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like freeze drying my own food. It’s a very long process, and the end result is less than appetizing. However, if you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, use a piece of cookware that has slits in the bottom (like metal pizza pans). I actually use my dehydrator trays. Thinly slice the item you want to freeze dry. (I tried apples.) Place them onto the tray and freeze until they are, essentially, dry to the touch. It can take a few days. Then you can store the freezed dried food in Mylar bags with an oxygen (O2) absorber. Personally, I don’t like the “freezer” taste. Commercially freeze dried foods are produced using a machine that vacuums the moisture out of the product. To use one of these machines at home would cost thousands of dollars. The advantage of freeze dried foods, however, is that the shelf-life is 30 years. Most emergency foods that you buy online or in stores are freeze dried foods.
Dehydrators, on the other hand, range in price, but you can usually find one at a thrift store. You can dehydrate just about anything, but we mainly make jerky at home. We have dehydrated fruits to use in homemade trail mix. If you have never dehydrated food before, it’s a very simple process that takes just a few hours to accomplish. Really all that you do is thinly slice the item you want to dehydrate, lay the slices on the dehydrator trays, and turn the machine on. After they’re done, store the dehydrated slices in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. In my opinion (and I prep on a budget), dehydrating your own foods is the way to go. Bags of beef jerky at wholesale stores range from $15-$20, but you can buy the meat for the same cost and make twice, or even triple, the amount than what is commercially produced and available.
Five Gallon Buckets and Gamma Lids
You can buy five-gallon buckets anywhere. Whether they are food safe and suitable for food storage is another thing. Most home improvement stores, like Home Depot and Lowe’s, have five-gallon buckets for $5-$6 each. That’s not bad when compared to prices online, but there is some controversy surrounding whether Home Depot buckets are really food grade. Typically, if you look at the bottom of the bucket and see the number “2” in the middle of a triangle of arrows, it means that it’s made from HDPE plastic. HDPE plastic is usually considered food-grade, but unless it also says BPA-free, then I wouldn’t use that bucket for anything other than storing Mylar bags full of food. If your bucket is made from HDPE and BPA-free plastic, dump your food, such as flour and rice, straight into the bucket with an oxygen absorber. Voila; you have flour and rice good for 10+ years!
Regardless of how the food is stored inside the bucket, the lid plays a very important role in keeping your food free of oxygen, light, and rodents. Many buckets come with lids that fit securely on the bucket, but when attempting to take the lid off, there are two things to consider: 1) how am I going to get the darn thing off (when secured, the lids are really secured), and 2) how am I going to keep the rest of my food safe, if I take only a little out at a time. You may buy a bucket lid wrench at any home improvement store or online for $6-$7. They’re very handy in assisting you to pry the bucket lids off. But you never know when a lid may crack, causing it to be unusable. What happens then? This is where gamma lids come into play. They’re more expensive at $8-$9 a lid (versus $2-$3 for regular bucket lids), but the saying “you get what you pay for” really does have some merit, especially in this situation. Gamma lids are nifty lids that install onto the bucket, just like regular lids, but they have a screw top that allows you to open and close the bucket at your convenience.
Note: I only use gamma lids on the buckets that I am actively using. Regular lids are just fine for long-term storage, and you can always use a gamma lid once you remove the regular lid.
Mylar Bags and O2 Absorbers
I firmly believe that Mylar bags are the most important item to have for storing food. Vacuum-seal bags are great, but they’re clear and subjected to light easier than Mylar, which are silver in color to makes them light resistant. Mylar bags are relatively thick, which helps protect against puncturing. They come in several different sizes from itty-bitty to huge. I found mine online and you can usually find a good deal on Mylar bags/oxygen absorber combos. My favorite sizes are 1-gallon bags and 5-gallon bags, which are small and big enough to store most things. Now, when I first started my DIY food storage, I had a lot of questions about how much to store in each bag, how much space should I leave at the top of the bag, how do I seal a bag, and other questions of that nature. So, I did what anyone with questions would do: I searched the web. The searches brought me to YouTube each time. After watching 5-10 videos, I chose two different methods and went with them.
Note: Ready your supplies BEFORE opening your oxygen absorbers. O2 absorbers have a 10-15 minute life span outside of an air-tight environment before they are no longer good to use. If the O2 absorber is crinkly and hard, it’s no good. You want them to be soft and flexible.
Method #1: Iron
Your standard household iron will do the trick. You’ll want some kind of wood (I use a 5/8″ dowel rod) to make a seal. You set your iron on 5 or 6, gather your product and your choice of size Mylar bag, and locate your O2 absorbers, a kitchen scale, a scoop of some kind, a one-cup measuring cup, and a permanent marker. Say, for instance, you want to store salt. I bought a 25-pound bag of salt from a local wholesale store and wanted to store five pounds in each one-gallon Mylar bag.
Note: Please be aware that the 25-pound bags you can purchase from wholesale stores do NOT contain iodine. Iodine is essential for your health, especially thyroid health. Keep iodine supplements on hand or buy the smaller 4-pound boxes of iodized salt.
This is my process:
- Using a 1 cup measuring cup, I fill it with salt and pour the contents into the bag. (This gives it some volume to actually stand up on the scale.) I then put the bag on the scale and continue to scoop salt into the bag until the scale reads about 5 pounds ¾ ounces. (The bag weighs approximately ¾ of an ounce, so you’ll want to account for that when you weigh.)
- I press as much air as I can out of the bag by gathering the side of the bag at the top of the product and then folding the bag over. I smooth out as much air as I can.
- Then I lie the bag down on top of the dowel rod, leaving about an inch from the top of the bag. I iron on the back over the dowel rod, 2/3 of the way, leaving about a 1.5″ space on one corner.
- For a 1 gallon bag, all I need is one 300cc O2 absorber. I put the O2 absorber inside the bag, then using a straw (this tool is optional), suck out the remaining air and seal the rest of the bag. I go over the seal two or three times to ensure there are no air bubbles. Pulling apart the 1″ space at the top of the bag, I make sure that the seal is strong. If you want, you can also iron the 1″ space closed after checking the original seal.
Note: Some people do not use an O2 absorber when storing salt because it’s like trying to preserve a preservative. Since salt lasts forever, you may choose not to use an absorber, but do your own research, and make your own decisions!
- I take my Sharpie and label the bag with the product, noting how much product is inside and the date it was stored. For example: “Salt – no iodine, 5lbs, 02/22/2014.”
- Lay the bag (for storage) in a dark, cool area. Do not move for 24 hours. This gives the O2 absorbers enough time to activate.
Method #2: Hair Straightener
I actually prefer this method. I find the iron and the dowel rod bulky and awkward to use. You’ll need all of the above supplies, except the wooden dowel and switch the iron out for the hair straightener. When I used the hair straightener, I was preserving egg noodles. I bought a five pound bag from my wholesale store. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to fit all five pounds in one one-gallon Mylar bag, so I decided to try one pound per bag. It worked perfectly.
1. Repeat step 1.
2. Repeat step 2.
3. While the top of the bag is folded, I take the hair straightener and start in the middle. I run from the middle to the right side of the bag, sealing the top inch of the bag shut. From the middle, run the straighter towards the left, leaving a 1.5″ gap on the left hand side. Insert an O2 absorber, suck the rest of the air out with a straw, and then quickly seal the bag. Go over the seal 2-3 times to ensure the top of the bag is completely closed with no air bubbles protruding at the top.
4. Repeat step 5.
5. Repeat step 6.
I’ve mentioned oxygen absorbers (or O2 absorbers) multiple times throughout this article. They are necessary for proper food storage and you’ll use them in most of your dry stores. They come in different sizes– from 20cc all the way up to 2000cc. The “cc”, which means “cubic centimeters,” is the amount of oxygen that needs to be absorbed within a container. This amount varies based on the size of the container, which is described below.
Note: No ill effects will occur if you use more than the amount below. These are just a general rule of thumb:
- 1 quart jar – 100cc
- #10 can – 200cc
- 1-gallon bag – 300cc
- 5-gallon bucket – 2000cc
How Much of These Foods do I Need?
The amount of the food needed depends on how many individuals you intend to feed at any given time. There are four people in my family– myself, my husband, and my two children. I also expect to feed at least nine others in a SHTF scenario. My extended family lives within miles of my primary location and in the event of a crisis, they know where to come during the initial stages of the event. I am storing the below pantry staples for my family of twelve for one year. Of course, adjust this to your family’s particular diets and tastes. A great rule to follow is: Store what you eat, and eat what you store.
Oats- 120 lbs
Cheese- 104 lbs
Beef- 468 lbs
Eggs- 24 cans
Chicken- 624 lbs
Pork- 780 lbs
Beans- 780 lbs
Rice- 936 lbs
Corn- 936 lbs
Pasta- 1092 lbs
Butter- 156 lbs
Fruit- 12 #10 cans
Wheat- 2184 lbs
Vegetables- 17 #10 cans 
So, Now That Tou Know…
Not all of this will you need to know, but the basics are critical. I hope this article has been a helpful resource for your DIY food storage. Many people love to buy preps online, which is completely understandable. When you buy online, it’s already pre-packaged for you with a guaranteed 10-30 year shelf life, which not only gives you peace of mind, but lessens the burden on you to take the extra time to prepare thousands of pounds of food. However, buying it all online or in the stores creates a burden on your wallet. Most #10 cans of food online run anywhere from $8-$50 each. Buying bulk and storing it yourself greatly reduces the overall monetary cost, which is one thing this prepper finds appealing.