Having a large food stockpile is one of the main goals of every prepper. Unfortunately, many newbies think that all they have to do is run to the store and fill a cart with canned foods. This is a costly mistake. You need to take some time to figure out what foods to store and exactly how to store them.
Most of my readers already know the basics of emergency food storage, but I also have quite a few readers who are just getting started–people who have never used any food storage methods other than their refrigerator. This guide is my attempt to help them get started, and it’s also a good refresher for more experienced preppers. Note: In order to make this guide even more useful, I’ve included links to related articles throughout.
By the end of this guide, you will know the basics of food storage so you can start stockpiling the right foods in the right places to ensure your family has something to eat after a major disaster. You will also know a little about the most common food storage methods, and you’ll be able to avoid mistakes that could put your food supply in jeopardy. Remember, this isn’t a race to see who can get the most food on the shelf. This is a methodical, lifelong process–not something you can do in one weekend.
Where To Store Your Food
Before you start buying food, you need to consider where you will put it. This will have a big effect on how much you’re able to store. If you have a small apartment with little storage space, you are going to have to get creative.
Related Article: 20 Food Storage Locations For People With Small Homes
Here are some features to look for in a food storage space:
- Airy, good ventilation.
- No direct sunlight.
- Temperature controlled – Needs to be below 80 degrees F (70 degrees or lower will make your food last a lot longer).
- Dry – That means no moisture, no standing water or dripping water.
- Pest free, if possible.
You probably already have some locations in mind. If not, here’s a list of places that could make suitable food storage areas.
- Root cellar (see last section this guide).
- Spare bedroom.
- Under beds.
- Behind clothes in the closet.
- Linen closets.
Related Article: Here’s Where You Should Keep Your Food Storage
You don’t want your food stockpile sitting out in the open for everyone to see. If a disaster wipes out the grocery stores and federal aid cannot get to your area, people are going to remember all those boxes of food you had stacked in your living room or kitchen. If too many people know about your food, you’ll either have to share it (which means it won’t last very long) or you’ll have to turn people away (which means they could become a lethal threat to you and your family).
Your food stockpile should be kept out of sight and only discussed with your immediate family. Your friend at work or neighbor next door doesn’t need to hear about all the food you’re storing. Remember, if nothing will stop you from providing for your family, nothing will stop them either. Don’t put the temptation out there.
Keeping your food out of sight should be good enough. However, there is the possibility of extreme situations where looters or even government agents ransack your home in search of food. In case this happens, you should consider keeping some extra emergency food in unusual locations. For example:
- Inside lamps.
- Behind the walls.
- Inside old broken appliances.
- Inside your box spring.
- Under the stairs.
- At the bottom of potted plants.
This might seem paranoid, but it never hurts to be prepared. Just don’t forget where you hid your food!
Related Article: 17 Places You Can Hide Your Food
Although you want your food stockpile out of sight, you don’t want to put it just anywhere. There are several places you should avoid storing your food simply because the temperature and humidity levels can’t be controlled. For example:
- Garages – These are okay if you live in a mild climate and the garage will not freeze or exceed 80 degrees on a given day. However, it could be a problem if you live in a very humid area.
- Outside Sheds – Again, there’s no way to control the temperature or humidity, and pests could be an issue.
- Landry Room, Bathrooms – These are not good places because humidity tends to be a factor.
- Attics – These tend to get way too hot in the summer. And once again, humidity could be a problem.
Hot temperatures and humidity can cut the shelf life of your food in half or worse depending on how long you leave the food in those conditions.
Related Article: 10 Things That Will Destroy Your Food Storage Cache
If possible, you should have shelves in your storage space. It just makes life easier. Metal shelves are the best and most durable, and they’re easier to clean if a jar breaks or something leaks. They will hold up fairly well under the weight of canned foods. Wooden and plastic shelves do not offer the same strength and your food storage could end up in a pile on the floor. On a side note, packages of food should never be stored directly on the ground. A minor flood could destroy it all.
But the most important reason to have shelves is because they make it easier to rotate your food. This is very important. If you leave food buried in the back of the closet or beneath a stack of boxes, then by the time you finally get it out, it will already be spoiled. People have been known to waste thousands of dollars worth of food this way. What a waste!
From now on, whenever you go shopping, most of what you buy should go straight to the back of your food storage shelves, and the stuff in front should be pulled out to use for the coming week’s meals.
Related Article: 10 Tips For Rotating Your Food Storage
Don’t compare your food cache to that of your friend who has been prepping for years. That’s like comparing yourself to a marathon runner the day you start a jogging regiment. As with exercise, you have to start small and do a little bit at a time. If you don’t stop, then you’ll have a huge stockpile before you know it. To help yourself stick with it, you should set goals.
This is the recommended amount of food and water you should always have on hand according to the federal government. The average household already has this much food. If you don’t, then acquire it right away and use it as your jumping off point. If a disaster happens, remember that the food in the fridge should be eaten first, which means you can save your pantry food for the following day.
Now you want to take that 3 day food supply and build on it. Figure out how much food your family eats on a typical day, multiply that number by 21, and you will know how much you need. You don’t have to get into bulk items quite yet at this stage. Just build up your food storage at an even pace. When you go grocery shopping, buy extra of anything that doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Try to make sure you have a little variety, too. What’s something you haven’t had in a while but you know your family likes? Whatever it is, grab it. Keep doing these things until you have 3 weeks of food, and don’t forget to rotate.
This is where you are getting into the long term food storage items that are best purchased in bulk. Things like beans, rice, pasta, sugar, flour, and so forth. Consider getting a membership to a store like Costco or Sam’s Club. This is the stage where you’ll want to learn how to cook from scratch. I know some people think cooking from scratch is a pain in the butt, but you’ll save a lotof money that way. You’ll also be a lot healthier. Try several different meals from scratch that you could make on your grill or camp stove if you had to, and when you find some that your family likes, buy the necessary ingredients in bulk.
Your food supply should be double the last checkpoint with a variety of foods and snacks to keep your family healthy and happy. Again, be careful about relying too much on canned foods and boxed meals. If that’s all you have to eat, then your sodium levels will be through the roof which is hard on your health, especially if you’re middle-aged or older. Make sure you have plenty of bulk dried foods and dehydrated foods (more on that below).
This is generally the goal for most preppers, and it might take several years to get there, but it is very doable if you’re patient and persistent. But once you get to this point, don’t stop prepping. You should continue rotating through your food supply and improving on it. You’ll discover new foods, new recipes, new ways to store things, and so forth. The longer you maintain a year’s supply of food, the better it will get.
Note: If you store this much food, make sure you pay attention to your food’s shelf life. Some foods probably don’t last as long as you think, while other foods last a lot longer.
Related Article: Food Expiration Dates And Actual Shelf Life
What To Store
Now it’s time to get a little more specific. So what foods should you store exactly? The short answer is: whatever your family eats. There’s an old saying: “Store what you eat and eat what you store.” That might seem a little vague, but it is the one rule you need to keep in mind when you start buying extra food.
Never store food your family hates or food your family hasn’t tried, no matter how great of a deal it is. You might be thinking, “If we’re hungry, we’ll eat anything, so who cares?” While this is true, you still want to focus on foods that everyone will enjoy. During a long-term disaster, it’s important to do everything you can to keep up morale, and disgusting foods that no one likes will only make that more difficult. This is especially important if you have children.
Below is a list of foods with a long shelf life (a year or longer). As I mentioned above, in addition to canned and boxed foods, you’ll also want plenty of baking ingredients. You should also focus on foods that can be prepared in a variety of ways so you’ll have more meal options.
Note: If you store a lot of bulk dry foods like flour and rice, be sure you also buy somediatomaceous earth, which kills pests but is safe to consume. Now on to the list:
- White Rice – Brown rice may be healthier, but it doesn’t store nearly as long.
- Dried Beans – Pinto, kidney, white, and whatever your family likes.
- Steel Cut Oats (Oatmeal).
- Canned Fruit.
- Canned Vegetables.
- Canned Meat – Tuna, Spam, Chicken, etc.
- Powdered Milk.
- Baking Ingredients – Baking soda, shortening, sugar, etc. (Note: Yeast and baking powder only last a few months.)
- White Flour – There are many other types of flour, but they don’t last as long.
- Salt and Pepper.
- Variety of Spices and Seasonings – Your meals will be very boring without them.
- Dried Meat – Beef Jerky, Chicken Meat Bites, etc.
- Pasta – Spaghetti Noodles, Macaroni Noodles, etc.
- Tomato Sauce.
- Instant Potatoes.
- Peanut Butter.
- Jams and Jellies.
- Granola bars.
- Canned Foods – Soup, Chili, Spaghettios, etc.
- Other canned foods.
- Coffee and Tea.
- Condiments – Ketchup, Mustard, Hot Sauce, BBQ Sauce, etc.
- Gravy Packages- Gravy makes everything taste better!
- Bouillon Cubes.
There are many other long-lasting foods, but this list is just to get the gears in your head turning. If your family has a particular staple they just can’t live without, add plenty of it to your food storage. Better yet, learn to make it from scratch and stock the necessary ingredients.
Some kids and even adults have a particular snack they absolutely love. Make sure you have plenty of those things, too, as long as it’s something that will last a long time (such as candy).
Related Article: 15 Foods That Last Forever
Foods That Are Tough To Store
There are some foods that simply don’t store on a shelf in the pantry very well. You’ll need to either stop eating these foods or find a suitable alternative.
- Graham crackers, Saltines or soup crackers only last a couple of months before they go stale. You may think you can still eat stale crackers, but it isn’t pleasant. (Instead, make some hardtack.)
- Vegetable oil will go rancid after more than a year on the shelf. You can go with lard or coconut oil. These can still go rancid, but will give you an extra year or so of shelf life.
- Salad dressing like ranch isn’t going to do well on a shelf for a few years. Kids tend to want ranch on everything. You would be better off storing dry ranch mix that you can whip into dressing once you learn how to make mayonnaise, which leads us to the next item on the list.
- Mayonnaise is a staple in many households, but once you open that jar, it needs to be eaten quickly (unless you’re able to power a small fridge). If you have to have mayo, buy small jars that you can get through quickly before the good stuff spoils.
- Most dried fruit only lasts six months to a year. Not that you shouldn’t store it–you should. But you’ll need to quickly rotate through it.
- Nuts, as with dried fruit, need to be rotated every half year to a year. They’re a great source of fat and protein, but keep an eye on the expiration dates.
- Maple syrup, especially the cheap stuff, is going to mold after being opened for some time. Learn how to make your own with a little sugar and maple flavoring.
- Breakfast cereals tend to go stale if you don’t eat them soon. The moment you open that package, it goes downhill quickly.
- Dairy products are not going to sit on a shelf for months. Things like milk, butter, eggs and cheese need refrigeration. And even then, the shelf lives are limited.
Related Article: Storing Dairy Without a Fridge
Freeze-Dried Food and Why It Is a Big Deal
If you went through that first list and were a little surprised not to see freeze-dried anything, there is a reason for that. Freeze-dried foods deserve their own special section. They are foods that you can only buy commercially packaged.
So how are freeze dried foods different from other dried foods? Basically, they are flash frozen. This process allows the food to retain more nutritional value than the canning or drying process. It also keeps the food pretty close to its original look and flavor once it has been reconstituted with a little water. In fact, it takes less water to bring a freeze-dried food back to its original appearance than it does dehydrated foods. In a post-disaster situation, this is a very big deal when water is scarce.
The only drawback to freeze-dried food is the cost. This tends to be a deciding factor for many preppers. If you can only afford to add a few freeze-dried items to your food storage, start with the items below since there aren’t many other ways to store them long-term.
- Cheese powder — life will be better with cheese.
- Scrambled Eggs.
- Pilot Crackers — These will still taste great after years, unlike Saltines.
There are a ton of freeze-dried meals, like beef stroganoff or chicken teriyaki, that come in cans or pouches. Mountain House even makes emergency food buckets that come with a variety of meals. To be honest, they don’t taste nearly as good as home-cooked meals, but they’re still a great option if you want to be able to whip up a meal quickly and easily.
You can find tastier, healthier options at Prepper’s Market. They sell small variety packs so you can try some of their foods before buying more. And if you like them, they sell variety buckets of food in all sizes.
If you do buy freeze-dried food, keep in mind the servings per can are based on a calorie-specific diet. The servings are probably going to be significantly smaller than your average meal today. If you know you have some big eaters, plan accordingly and don’t assume a can that says 40 servings will really amount to that much.
Related Article: 14 Foods You Might Have Forgotten To Store
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