Long Term Food Storage Factors:
By Dave Jones
Everyone who is remotely interested in the topic of preparedness understands the importance of having an emergency supply of food and water stashed away in order to provide for their loved ones during times of crisis (when the normal supply system in interrupted). The reasons for needing long term food storage have been demonstrated time and time again in recent years (extreme weather, floods, earthquakes, tornados, terrorist attacks, loss of employment, civil unrest, etc). Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that every American maintains a two week emergency supply of food and water (if you are relying on the government to provide for your family in times of crisis you may want to at least comply with their instructions).
For the short term emergency supply (two to four weeks) this is usually accomplished with canned goods (which usually have a 9-15 month shelf life). It is best to purchase foods that you normally eat so that you can rotate them into your daily food supply as expiration dates near. For long term food storage solutions there are several companies that produce high quality specially packaged foods made with long shelf lives (Survival Warehouse has a ton of high quality options) . If you are on a budget you can package your own food in a manner that will significantly extend the shelf life. For the purpose of this article we will be discussing how to package what is commonly called a “superpail”. A superpail is a term used in the prepping community for a properly packaged bucket of food.
Let’s start by identifying the four major factors that shorten the shelf life of food: 1. Light 2. Oxygen 3. Moisture 4. Temperature.
We use a bucket because it provides a good barrier against moisture and keeps rodents from nibbling on your food while it is sitting in the basement for several years. Buckets are also easily stackable. The most common sizes are 4 gallon, 5 gallon and 6 gallon. You will want a food grade bucket (marked with a triangle and a number 2) and a lid with a rubber gasket. You can find these all over the place or easily order one online (I ordered the items used in the demonstration from beprepared.com). What food grade buckets ARE NOT good for is barriers against light and oxygen. A mistake a lot of people make is just to pour food into the bucket and think it is good to go.
A simple test to demonstrate this is to put a flashlight (turned on) inside the bucket and turn off the room lights (the flash light is easily seen shining through the plastic). This demonstrates that light still shines through the bucket and will speed up the deterioration of your food. You can prevent this by lining the bucket with a metalized bag.
A mylar bag (metallized bag or liner) is basically a bag that looks like it is made out of heavy duty tin foil. They can be purchased at several places on line for a couple bucks each and come in multiple sizes. Line the bucket with the mylar bag to protect the food from light and oxygen (the bag will be sealed later). The large bags will be taller than the bucket initially (that is ok).
Next pour your product into the mylar bag. I used Wal-Mart brand rice for this demonstration (my 5 gallon bucket held about 35 pounds of rice). Make sure your product is filled to a point lower than the top of the bucket. Before you seal the bag you need to remove the oxygen from it (since oxygen is another factor that deteriorates food). You do this by tossing in one or two oxygen absorbers before sealing it up.
Oxygen absorbers are just an inexpensive pouch that you can purchase online and comes sealed in an airtight bag. Once you open the oxygen absorbers they simply starts sucking up the oxygen around it. Oxygen absorbers come in different sizes. How many you need depends on how large the container is and how much free air is in the product (rice packs tighter than macaroni so there is less free air to suck up). The ones I used in the demonstration are small 500cc’s oxygen absorbers. Since a 5 gallon bucket of rice has around 750cc’s of oxygen I used two oxygen absorbers (more oxygen absorbers than required is fine).
Once you open your oxygen absorbers they start working immediately so you don’t have long (30-60 min and they are filled with oxygen). Toss them into the mylar mag on top of the product.
Next you will seal the mylar bag using a heat source (household cloths iron). A common way to accomplish this is to place the bucket on a chair next to an ironing board and simply iron the mylar bag shut (remove as much excess air out of the bag first). Another common way is to take a yard stick and roll the top portion of the mylar bag down and iron the flat portion that is on the yard stick. The heat from the iron will bond the bag to itself and seal the product (and oxygen absorbers) inside.
Next I like to remove the product’s cooking instructions from its package, write the date on it and place it inside the bucket with the mylar bag. Next put the lid on the bucket and secure it with a rubber mallet. Mark the outside of the bucket with the contents and the date (preferable in a couple locations).
Last but not least, you need to store the superpail in a cool dry place. Fluctuating or warm temperatures can decrease the shelf life of your stored food more than any other factor. Store the buckets on a shelf as opposed to directly on the floor. If you store items that need to be hydrated or cooked (such as rice) be sure to also think about storing water and having an alternate heat source (propane grill, camp fire, etc).
When packaged and stored properly a superpail of white rice will last 13-20 years. It can be comforting to have 35 pounds of rice (for a total cost of under $30) that will serve in addition to the basic 2-4 week emergency canned food supply. Obviously you can and should prepare and add additional items to your long term food storage, but this is an easy and inexpensive way to get started! Preparing one superpail per month will have your long term food storage needs taken care of before you know it! During Hurricane Katrina there were an awful lot of people desperate to find a meal for their children, knowing this simple and inexpensive method of long term food storage could have really helped a lot of people out!
Be sure to check out this great article written by JJ called Being Prepared 101.
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Great instruction on food storage in 5 gallon plastic buckets. I especially appreciated the flashlight test. I have been storing food for over 20 years and have never heard that. It makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the great tips. If you don’t have access to mylar bags, do the flashlight test before investing in a lot of buckets.
Good stuff. A good addition for water storage are Water Bricks. Check them out at waterbrick.com.
Thanks Tony. Water Bricks are pretty cool. I like that they are stackable and come in a useable size. A little bit spendy but probably worth the money in a pinch!
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Long Term Food Storage Factors:
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