How to Prepare Dry Foods for Long Term Storage

Whether you are preparing for a natural disaster, possible job loss in the family or just like to stock up when you find a good deal, stockpiling food has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Many people like to plant huge gardens and spend the end of growing season canning, while others prefer to stock up on canned goods from the grocery store.

When it comes to storing dry goods like rice, grains, flour, sugar, salt, pasta, beans, oats and oatmeal, cream of wheat, tea, ground coffee, hot chocolate, powdered milk, bags of cereal, powdered eggs, commercially dried fruits and veggies, and even vitamins (just to name a few!) there are added steps that you should do to extend the life of these foods.

The amount of food that is recommended for long term storage is debatable, it mostly depends on why you are stockpiling and how long you feel like you need to be prepared for. When stocking up on food you need to think about food in terms of how many months you want to be prepared for and for how many people you are feeding. Some people feel as though they need a 1 month supply for each person in the home, others look at 6 months as a reasonable amount, while others look at long term food storage as having enough food for 1, 3, 5 or even 10 years or more worth of food per person in the home.

There are several different ways to keep dry foods fresh and free of insects, and ready to eat when an emergency does happen.

After your pantry and/or kitchen space is full, the next step in having a good stash of food is having a proper place to store the food so that it stays safe. The best places to store food long term are in cool dark, dry areas, away from moisture. It is also important to keep this area clean. If you are storing food in your basement, make sure that everything is stored up off the floor. If your basement floods when it rains or when the power goes out, be sure to keep everything above the flood level, with room to spare in case a larger than normal storm hits your area. Sportsman’s Guide makes waterproof buckets if you need to store things on the floor in an area that floods, there is a link at the bottom of this article to their buckets.

Other great areas to store food hidden out of sight around the house are on the top selves of all of your closets, under the beds or in storage areas under the stairs. If storing for the long term means 5 years or more, it is important to know that for best results that the food be stored around a constant 40 degrees F or less, if that is not possible, 60 degrees F or less is what is recommended, but the results will not be as good and the food will not taste as good.

When buying and storing dry goods, you should know that many times products like flour, rice or beans come from the store with bugs or bug eggs in them already. You might not notice this if you eat them right away, or you might notice a few dark spots in your flour that does not really look like bugs. You will notice it more in unbleached flour more than in bleached flour as the bleaching process almost always kills any bugs or their eggs. So, it is a good idea to put your dry goods in the freezer for at least 4 days to kill any small bugs or their eggs if you are just going to be placing them in your pantry and using them within the next year or so. If you are storing food long term with Oxygen Absorbers, then you will not need to do this, as bugs cannot live without oxygen.

Oxygen absorbers are a great way to help prolong the life of your dry goods. You can pour items like rice, oats and oatmeal, cream of wheat, pasta, beans, tea, hot chocolate, powdered milk, cereals, ground coffee or coffee beans into large mason jars or plastic bottles that have PETE on the bottom near the recycling information. Fill the jars or bottles up, leave enough space for the oxygen absorbing tablets, and seal them tightly. The O2 absorbers will seal the jar from the inside and your food will last for several years. Make sure to label the jar or bottle with the date and what is inside.

You can store salt and sugar indefinitely using the oxygen absorbers as well, including brown sugar. You can seal the entire package with a vacuum food sealer, place a few O2 tablets in with the salt or sugar and seal up as usual. Label with the date and product.

Bags of flour can be stored the same way as sugar and salt, but have a shorter self life of 5-10 years. Seal the whole bag of flour with oxygen absorbers using a vacuum food sealer. Whole wheat that has not been milled into flour will last much longer than the pre-milled bags of flour. Self rising flour or other premixed products like cakes and muffins or biscuit or pancake mix that contain baking powder are not recommend for long term storage as the baking powder does not store well and looses its potency. You can still store these items, but they will have to have baking powder added to them if you plan on using them after 1 year of storage, baking powders only has a shelf life of about 1 year. Label with the date and what is inside.

You can also leave products like powdered milk, hot coco, cream of wheat, vitamins etc right in their original packaging, add the oxygen absorbers and seal them with a vacuum food sealer. Label with the date and what is inside.

Powdered eggs should be stored in a glass container with oxygen absorbers. Powdered eggs have a self life of about 3 years and can go bad quickly if not stored properly. Take extra caution to keep them away from moisture.

Once vacuum sealed, just about anything can be stored in 5 gallon buckets. You can purchase 5 gallon buckets at home improvement stores, or you can go to your grocery store bakery or local bakery and ask if they have any 5 gallon buckets. Many times, they get frosting in 5 gallon buckets and then just throw them away or recycle them. Check with restaurants too, sometimes they get salad dressing or pickles in them. I prefer the buckets from the bakeries because they are easier to clean up and the smell of the frosting doesn’t linger.

You can fill the 5 gallon bucket in two different ways. You can fill it with bags of the same thing, like all sugar, flour, oats etc, or you can fill the buckets with several different items that you would use at any time. For example, place a bag of beans, rice, dried vegetables, pasta, and flour. Make sure that you label each item in the bucket as well as labeling the outside of the bucket. For extra protection, you can line the bucket with mylar bags, fill the bucket with food, seal the mylar bag with a hot iron or food sealer and close the lid. The 5 gallon buckets have a great seal that adds protection to your food. There are a few links with video instructions on how to seal mylar bags at the end of this article.

If you like to purchase large quantities of items from wholesale warehouses, you can simply line a 5 gallon bucket with a mylar bag, filling the bucket, but leaving enough room to seal the mylar bag, and put the lid on and then seal the bag with a hot iron. It is a good idea to add Bay Leaves on the bottom to help keep bugs away. You will also need some oxygen absorbers. You will add bay leaves and O2 absorbers on the bottom, the middle as well as the top.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Have fun watching your supply of food grow!

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