This is an excellent article on long term food storage. Any other brilliant ideas from members are welcome and I will add them to this blog.
These are troubling times indeed with economic, climatic, and social upheavals and wild gyrations of every type in every corner of our planet. Although I would not specifically ever rate myself as a "survivalist" I do believe in being prepared for any eventuality: One of the most important factors towards this type of preparation is to ensure that there is an adequate food supply to last out any emergency, whether short- or long-lived.
Many foods simply cannot last without refrigeration, and one of the key aspects to being prepared is to acknowledge that electricity supply may be sporadic if it exists at all. Therefore, when all of the options of the various comestibles are carefully considered, it turns out that the only type of food product which can be safely and conveniently stored for prolonged periods of time is grain.
Grains are extremely nutritious and if they are paired with sources of animal protein, can go a long way towards forming a properly balanced diet. At times of no refrigeration it is imperative that animal protein be secured fresh on an ongoing basis, and it is not my intention to delve into a fishing and hunting guide Hub. There are more than enough sources of that information readily available.
If you're intending to store food for a prolonged period of time, buying grains locally is a great idea. There is one thing you definitely want to watch out for and that's that you most certainly don't want to store treated seed prepared for planting. It is always colored to warn you, usually with a pink or red dye. Depending on the kind of seed, that coloration indicates that it is covered with pesticides or fungicides. Don't ever try to eat this as it is extremely poisonous.
If you live in wheat country and get wind of a neighbouring farmer who is going to plant some winter wheat, you might want to ask them if perhaps they would sell a bit to you in the spring. Keep in mind that wheat straight out of the combine still has a lot of chaff, foreign seeds, and even tiny rocks in it. In the spring before the farmer plants their wheat they get it cleaned and treated at a seed cleaning plant which takes all that foreign matter out so you don't have to. Ask your farmer friend if they will clean a couple of extra hundred pounds for you. Then get it before it's "treated" with those red chemicals and you'll have a supply of perfectly good, edible grain.
You have heard "store foods in a cool, dry place" your whole life, and it's absolutely true. The best storage temperatures are below 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) and the optimum storage temperature is close to 4 degrees C (40 degrees F). It's also extremely important to make sure that the temperature is as constant as possible. Big swings in temperature can ruin stored foods in a very short time.
According to The United States Department of Agriculture, (USDA): "Each 5.6 degrees Centigrade (10 degrees Fahrenheit) drop in temperature doubles the storage life of the seeds." Of course the bottom level of this scale is at the freezing point, at which level it is irrelevant to keep reducing the temperature.
Another important aspect to maximize food storage times is to limit or outright eliminate the access to oxygen of the food product you're storing. I'll get into greater detail on how to accomplish that later in these Hubs.
Let's look at the different types of grains to consider storing, and how each one stacks up against the others:
Kamut - wheat, an ancient and organic grain type produced and distributed by Kamut International Ltd. This grain is two times larger than modern day wheat and is known for its rich nutty flavor.
Buckwheat- The fruit is an achene, similar to sunflower seed, with a single seed inside a hard outer hull. The starchy endosperm is white and makes up most or all of buckwheat flour. The seed coat is green or tan, which darkens buckwheat flour. The hull is dark brown or black, and some may be included in buckwheat flour as dark specks. The dark flour is known as 'blé noir' ('black wheat') in French, along with the name sarrasin ('saracen'). Buckwheat noodle has been eaten by people from Tibet and northern China for a long time as wheat can not be grown in the mountain regions. A special press made of wood log was built to press the dough into hot boiling water when making buckwheat noodle. Old presses found in Tibet and Shansi share the same basic design features. The Japanese and Koreans might have learnt the making of buckwheat noodles from them.
Common Buckwheat in flower
Soba noodles, made from buckwheat flour
Flax - Flax seeds come in two basic varieties: (1) brown; and (2) yellow or golden. Most types have similar nutritional characteristics and equal amounts of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The exception is a type of yellow flax called solin (trade name Linola), which has a completely different oil profile and is very low in omega-3 FAs. Although brown flax can be consumed as readily as yellow, and has been for thousands of years, it is better known as an ingredient in paints, fiber and cattle feed. Flax seeds produce a vegetable oil known as flaxseed or linseed oil, which is one of the oldest commercial oils, and solvent-processed flax seed oil has been used for centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing.
Brown Flax Seeds
Golden Flax seed
Hard White Wheat
Hard Red Wheat
Hard grains are the longest lasting of all the food products, as their outer shell acts as a natural hermetically sealed container. Under optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature expect up to twenty-five years of storage.
Hulled or Pearled Oat
These have relatively soft outer shells which fail to protect the delicate and fragile seed interior to the same degree as the seeds which have harder shells. These soft grains will not store for as long a period as the hard grains. Under optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature expect up to fifteen years of storage.
Black Turtle Beans
Small Red Beans
Beans lose their internal oils as they age and then will resist absorbing water and swelling to make them easily edible. Under optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature expect up to twenty years of storage.
Pasta tends to last longer than flour in storage, of course it must be kept meticulously dry. Under optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature expect up to eighteen years of storage.
Fully dehydrated vegetables are excellent candidates for long term storage. Under optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature expect up to eighteen years of storage.
Fruits can last a surprisingly long time in dehydrated storage conditions. Under optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature expect up to twenty years of storage.
Butter or Margarine Powder
Fat free dairy products tend to store for much longer periods than those that contain fat. Under optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature expect up to four years of storage.
Flour & Cracked Seed Products
All Purpose Flour
Whole Wheat Flour
Once the seed's outer shell has been broken, the nutrients inside the seed begin to degrade. Under optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature expect up to six years of storage.
Optimal oxygen free conditions at a stable, constant, cool room temperature are critical to store all of these following food products for a prolonged period of time:
Peanut Butter Powder
With all of these foods you can expect up to five years of storage.
Salt and Sugar should last virtually forever if kept oxygen free, cool and dry.
Naturally, you're going to need somewhere to store all this food, and large plastic containers that can be hermetically sealed are the best. However, you don't have to order these plastic containers by the hundred from your local supplier and pay thousands of dollars. If you need access to free plastic containers your local donut shop, pizzeria, or grocery store deli and bakery should be able to provide all your needs.
These types of food establishments receive a large percentage of the ingredients they utilize in their daily activities in large, food grade plastic containers which can readily be re-used. When they are empty, the managers of these businesses have to confront the expensive process of having dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of these perfectly good and totally re-usable plastic containers carted to the landfill or away for recycling.
The best way to proceed is to contact the manager of these places. Tell them you would appreciate any and all containers they are about to throw away. Meet them in person and hand them your name and phone number on an index card. Suggest they tape it by the phone. Assure them you'll pick them up on a regular basis. Then, keep your word. These establishments can get in big trouble if they have loads of dirty buckets sitting around, as health inspectors will crucify them.
You'll find that you will be able to obtain six gallon pails with lids from the donut store, one gallon glass and plastic jars with lids from the pizza shops and delis, and four gallon square plastic containers with lids from the bakeries. These items are all food grade so you certainly don't have to worry about any chemicals leaching out and contaminating your food.
Once you get the containers home make sure to scrub them energetically with hot, soapy water inside and out. Most labels will soak right off in hot water alone. A readily available product called GooGone will take the stickier labels off plastic buckets easily: Just squirt a little bit onto the label and let it soak. In a few minutes the label will lift off with a minimum of scraping. It is also a great idea to soak the containers after scrubbing with a little bleach to disinfect them both inside and out. Make sure to rinse thoroughly with lots of fresh running water as you certainly don't want the active ingredient in bleach, sodium hypochlorite, to come into contact with your food. After this, if any plastic containers retain a smell of their previous contents or even the bleach, fill them with crumbled newspapers sprinkled with baking soda and put the lid back on. Set these aside for a couple of weeks in a warm spot. Most times it takes the aroma clean out and leaves nothing but a neutral scent.
If you find that the managers at the local food establishments will supply these containers to you, don't forget to send them a note and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. Remember: You don't have to spend a lot of money on your extremely important food storage containers if you use your noggin.
People who live in a small house or an apartment can have trouble finding places to put their food storage so their place doesn't look like an overstocked food bank warehouse all the time. The last thing someone wants to see is a stack of five or six gallon buckets behind the living room door! That might lead your guests to asking some rather sensitive questions. There are various ways of getting around this:
1. Get rid of the bed box springs. Put down one layer of buckets or two layers of boxes and lay a 1/2 inch piece of plywood (or pieces if you have a larger bed) and throw your mattress on top of this. The lady of the house (or the man if he's handy with needle and thread) can sew a dust ruffle and hang it around the plywood so no one would ever notice it was there. You can do this in just about every bedroom in the house and cover a multitude of sins... and supplies.
2. Make a false wall in your living room by hanging a ceiling to floor curtain that runs wall to wall about two feet or so out from one wall. You can stack more buckets, bags and cases of food behind this than you will need room for. If you do this in a room that is already on the cramped side, you'll have to become accustomed to the smaller space.
3. Have one of the kids sacrifice their closet for the cause and let them double up their clothes with a sibling in another closet.
4. Do you have a dry crawl space? Throw it in there. Don't store any food in the attic as it's way too hot in the summer time.
5. Be as creative as you can. Look around your house to find places to hide it or build around it.
If you live in a climate where it's almost always humid and hot, like south Florida, you might want to try superpails buried in the ground. These are six gallon buckets that have an additional Mylar bag outside for extra protection. These buckets haven't been government approved for storing in the ground and there isn't any data to support this idea either positively or negatively. If you are going to put them in the ground, please do it at your own risk.
The Mylar bags will have to be sealed and the easiest way to ensure an airtight permanent seal is by using a hot iron. It is a very good idea to experiment first by slicing a few strips off a Mylar bag first and testing your iron to make sure it's at the correct temperature. This technique works just as well if you're using smaller bags to just store food in directly, and not using the Mylar bags to add an additional level of seal protection to a big six gallon pail.
Generally you can use the iron setting on Polyester / Wool / Cotton. All irons should have this setting, as it is extremely common. Let the iron get good and hot. Use a piece of material similar to flannel: an old pillowcase would be perfect. Fold over the end of the Mylar bag. Place the cloth over the top of the Mylar and hold the iron on the material for about twenty seconds. Then you can move to next section of Mylar and hold the iron on the material for another twenty seconds. Continue this process all along the length of bag until you're finished. The Mylar will be extremely hot so make sure that you do not touch it at this time. If you don't wait for the Mylar to cool, you will be able to open the edges. Once it cools it should be well sealed.
It would be many times better to build some kind of underground room to store your long term food stash than to actually bury your buckets. Many buckets would permit small amounts of moisture into the bucket over many months or years. It actually wouldn't take a lot of moisture to make your dry packed food unusable.
Some folks who live in very hot or very cold climates sink 33 gallon trash barrels into the ground. A power auger does a great job of loosening up all of the dirt to do this, otherwise it is one heck of a tough hand shovelling task. you would need to place the bottoms of barrels three feet under the surface grade level. You leave only about an inch or two of the perimeter of the barrel above ground--just enough to fit the lid on securely. Obviously, you don't put the barrel or the hole it's meant to fit into out in the hot sun, especially in the warmer latitudes. The best place is in a covered spot that is shady, in a shed, etc.
Depending on your weather you may want to pile loose straw or hay on top of the barrel tops, or even some attic insulation will work: anything that minimizes the daily fluctuation of temperature. This works in both hot and cold climates. Folks in frigid areas often use these buried barrels as miniature cold cellars to store garden veggies, without processing, below the usual soil frost line in their region.
Keep in mind that these buried storage methods are in no way the optimal method for long term food storage. The best way to store grain for both the retention of the extremely valuable nutrients and for its future viability as seed is to subject the grain to subfreezing temperatures. It is extremely important to ensure that the grain must be extremely dry: the ideal level is 8% moisture. 10% is still acceptable but as soon as we start approaching the 15-20% mark, we run into problems.
These exceedingly low moisture levels are such a strong prerequisite to any stored grain because water expands as it freezes and forms ice crystals. If there is an excess of water left in the cytoplasm of the cells of the grain, the expanding crystals will skew the structure of the water containing molecules and can even rip the cell walls: effectively killing the seed. Once the seed has been frozen it is still acceptable for some food purposes. These grains would not be suitable for grinding in flour mills, but are generally boiled whole to serve as rice, orzo, or couscous substitutes, in soups, chowders, and other similar preparations.
Don't worry too much about requiring sensitive scientific instruments to measure the precise level of moisture in any particular grain. The general rules of thumb to ensure that the moisture level is low enough are:
Long seeds that are bent must break cleanly in half with an audible "snap" sound.
Corn and wheat seeds must shatter and turn into powder when smashed with a hammer.
Peas, beans and other large seeds must shatter, but not necessarily powder like corn.
If the seed has been dried well and stored in air-tight containers with silica gel or another desiccant in them, there should be zero effect on either food nutritional or germination quality.
When foods are packed in air they cannot keep as well as when they are packed in oxygen free gases. The reason for this is because air contains 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and approximately 1% of a variety of other gases. It is the oxygen content of the atmosphere alone which oxidizes the majority of the chemical compounds found in food. Bacteria is just one of several things which make food turn rancid and the vast majority of bacteria require an ample supply oxygen to grow.
There are basically two different processes for removing the oxygen in stored foods:
Oxygen Displacement: This process involves purging out all of the air in the food container to be stored with nitrogen. The reason why nitrogen is utilized in almost all cases is due to the fact that it is the most inert gas in the atmosphere. However, individuals who are accustomed to doing their own packing in some cases apply dry ice which gives off carbon dioxide, a gas that works about as well as nitrogen.
Oxygen Absorption: If the oxygen from the air in a sealed container is absorbed, what remains is almost pure nitrogen in a partial vacuum. Military food storage methods often include a small package of oxygen absorber being added to the bread ration. This oxygen absorber contains salt, iron, and natural zeolith impregnated with a salt solution. The process of "rusting" involves the oxidation of the iron and the process will use the oxygen in any surrounding atmosphere as long as there is any significant moisture to feed the "rusting" process. It will also work with water but at a slower pace. It is important to ensure that the container is completely and hermetically sealed, otherwise oxygen will leak in and obviate the effect of the oxygen absorber. These oxygen absorbers are readily available from a multitude of sources on the internet.
Once you get around to opening up your grain storage you have to keep in mind that opened wheat will keep well for a considerable amount of time as long as it does not become infested or wet. Moisture will make it mold and ruin the grain and you definitely don't want to eat moldy grain. Not only can it make you sick, but the witch hunts in the early Americas may have been accentuated by a form of mold in wheat that has hallucinogenic properties. (No, not Hal Licinogenic properties!) Another horrible effect of wet grain is that it will quickly become a home for all sorts of insect pests and unless you like your grain with a side of bug, that could not be too palatable.
However, you can just dump your wheat into buckets and not worry about insects... just be sure to stock plenty of oil so that you can fry up the insects and the grubs when you open the container up again. While you do lose some calories eating fried bugs and grubs, the protein is animal protein and therefore more complete.
The average protein level in grains is 12 percent of calories, in nuts and seeds 13 percent; in pulses 26 percent; and in fish, meat & poultry 28 percent. Most insects are up to 80% protein, and it's just as high quality and nutritious as the protein from any other source!
Whether or not you are interested in harvesting bugs from your wet grain, or if you want to try to eliminate them, these are three main points:
1. Heat will make eggs hatch. The supermarket I regularly shopped at when I lived in the Caribbean had bugs running around like crazy in the spice and nut jars as well as in the pasta packages. You could just pick up a plastic bag of pasta and watch the bug races. The pancake mixes (which of course had the basic ingredient being wheat flour) were subject to exactly the same problem, except that they were packaged in kraft paper bags so that I wouldn't notice until I got the package home and opened the bag to find all sorts of tiny teeny cobwebs, or a very small kind of fly that could even chew its way clear out of the bag! Yikes!
2. It is well nigh impossible to effectively clean all eggs out of the grain products that are available in the supermarkets at the original source so you certainly have no chance of doing that yourself. There are simply too many nooks and crannies for the bugs to lay their eggs in, and there is no way that they can all be effectively removed. Quality control processes in food processing plants allow the product to "pass" if there is an allowable percentage of insect eggs, fragments, and other bits and pieces of the good Lord know what do not exceed the allowable amounts. Hard to believe but true.
3. Nitrogen flushing done in sequence followed by a complete vacuum pressure evacuation of the food storage jar or bag prior its sealing is just about the most effective process that anyone can complete in order to eliminate oxygen to the greatest extent possible. Assuming that you have comparable densities, there would be far less air in a bag with 10 pounds of wheat versus a bag with 10 pounds of golf balls, as the volume between the golf balls would simply not be possible to completely evacuate to satisfactory extents. In roughly equal quantities of grain versus beans, grain would be the better food product which would allow itself to evacuate more air.
Consider the brick packs of ground coffee that you may see on the grocery shelves: the ones that at their packing plant have so much atmosphere sucked out of the bag that they are as hard as a brick, and when you rip them open they "whoosh". Even with this high level of vacuum the process still will not eliminate all of the air out of the container. Take a brick box of coffee with you the next time you go from sea level to the mountains, you'll be amazed! You will find that the brick pack will soften a bit at high altitude and that is due to the lower air pressure up there.
The bottom line is that maximum oxygen evacuation, nitrogen flushing, and immediate sealing with a quality vapor barrier container preferably with multiple layers is the best way to ensure effective long term storage. Naturally, the place where you store these containers must be consistently cool and not subject to considerably warmer temperature fluctuations. It is feasible that the container will have such a tiny amount of oxygen that whatever little bug manages to hatch will suffocate shortly afterwards, but I certainly wouldn't want to take all of these careful and expensive precautions and then discover that this was not what was happening and the darned bugs started to multiply like crazy. Keep in mind that excessive moisture could still be a problem in the formation of mold regardless of the extensive precautions mentioned in this Hub so it pays to be vigilant!
Part of the Mormon food storage folk lore is that you toss a couple of sticks of spearmint gum in a bucket of wheat before you seal it. It is supposedly effective to stick several bay leaves in the flour canister as well.
Another way to treat grains that are intended for extended storage periods is to add Diatomaceous earth around them. Diatomaceous earth is actually the defunct carcasses of a series of microscopic, one celled protozoans. These are cells with sharp, complex, pointy, virtually crystal-like "shells" when their moisture is taken away from them and they are dried. Diatomaceous earth is primarily harvested from areas where seas were once present.
This Diatomaceous earth is a primary component of toothpaste: it's the grit that actually scrubs your teeth clean and is also used in compounding waxes for automotive applications and various other products where microscopic "sanding" is required. These sharp edged dead protozoans are lethal to soft-bodied insects who end up impaling their bodies on the super sharp protrusions and spikes of these "shells" which are actually quite pretty when observed under the microscope.
The insects that prey on beans and grains are primarily categorized into larva and beetle sub-groupings. Larvae are quite vulnerable to death by the sharp spikes of diatom, but armor-covered beetles are much more resistant. Diatmaceous earth is an excellent product to sprinkle on the soil around plants you want to protect from the various slugs and snails who want to make a meal out of them. The diatoms pierce their tender bellies and kills them!
Storage in grain bags or sacks made out of burlap or any other cloth-like material is most certainly not an effective manner to keep those grains comestible for long periods of time. Both rodent and insect pests as well as mold can destroy a cloth bag of grain in less than a year, even if the sack is stored well off the ground at a cool temperature in a dry area. If the sack is left on the ground or on a moist surface such as damp concrete, the period of time that can elapse for full contamination can be less than a week!
When you open a bucket of grain you should make a point to use it as quickly as you can, and you won't have to worry about what happens to it as it will be gone before it can go bad.
Once the grain has exceeded the acceptable limits of moisture it most likely will have to be dried before it can be consumed or milled. To test whether a particular grain which has exceeded the recommended moisture limits is still suitable for human consumption, sprout some. If it sprouts, it is still quite good to eat, but if not, it should not be consumed by humans or pet / livestock animals. The time it takes for grains to sprout can exceed a week, but remember the old dictum: "When in doubt, throw it out."
A good use of grain if you can catch it just as it gets wet is to sprout it on purpose. Sprouted grain is very sweet and crunchy and makes a quick, handy, readily portable and highly nutritious snack!
If you take careful precautions and are extremely meticulous in your efforts to control the various aspects of emergency and survival food storage, you will find that grains are close to the perfect long term stored nutrient. And they taste great too!