When people first decide that they want to be more prepared, one of their first steps is usually to start storing food. It’s a logical place to start, but it can also bring tons of questions along with it.
What is food storage? Food storage is the act of preserving and storing food so that it can be eaten at a time after it’s initially produced. This normally involves using either traditional or modern food preservation techniques.
Now is the time to learn how to properly store food at home. Times are good for most people, and food isn’t hard to come by. If you learn these techniques and put them to use now, you’ll be much better off if there is any kind of long term disaster.
Home food storage methods use a combination of traditional techniques (like storage in root cellars and fermentation) and modern techniques (like freeze-drying).
I prefer modern food storage techniques since they are the least likely to let food spoil. Traditional techniques are still used in many parts of the world (and are great to know for survival situations) but they also ve a larger margin of error and can lead to spoilage a lot easier.
Here are some common food storage methods:
Drying – Drying involves removing as much of the water from a food item as you can. This prevents the growth of organisms that will spoil food and, if done properly, is considered by some to be the least destructive means of preserving food.
Dehydrated food takes up less space and stores for long periods of time if it’s kept in a cool dry storage area. It’s also one of the oldest methods of preserving food for food storage.
Drying and dehydrating can be done in many ways but using the oven on a low heat and commercially available food dehydrators are probably the most common. It can also be done with solar dehydrators or simply hang drying.
Some of the best foods to dry are:
Freeze-drying – Freeze-drying is a modern method of food preservation that is common among long shelf life foods sold by many different manufacturers. It’s also becoming more and more popular at home as companies like Harvest Right are making home freeze driers.
Freeze-drying works by placing the food in a freeze-drier which first freezes the food, then removes all the air to form a vacuum. It then heats the food slightly to t the water in the food move straight from a solid (ice) into a gas without ever being able to turn back to a liquid. This goes on for several hours until all of the water is removed from the food.
The invention of freeze-drying allowed for long term storage of things that used to be hard to keep around (dairy products, complete meals, etc.). All of these things can now be stored for years and years without the need for refrigeration.
Cool Storage – Cool storage is great because it normally doesn’t involve any extra work on our part and it’s useful for a wide range of foods.
This simply involves placing food in a root cellar or cool storage room (like an unheated basement), crawlspaces and even holes in the ground. The lower temperatures keep the food from spoiling as quickly as it would if it was left in a warmer part of the house.
Cool storage is also a way to keep foods preserved by other methods around for even longer.
Typical foods that do well in cool storage are:
Freezing – Freezing one of the more simple food storage techniques that we have available to use year-round because of modern inventions. During the winter, freezing may be an option to preserve food in a survival situation.
Vacuum sealing food before freezing it is a common way to help extend the life of the food and preserve the taste. It’s not necessary, but if you have the option, I’d suggest vacuum sealing prior to freezing.
Canning – The invention of the Mason jar in the mid-1800s allowed home canning to become popular.
Canning is when food is heat processed in jars to preserve it. There are three types of canning techniques, water bath canning, steam canning, and pressure canning.
Canning food incorrectly can lead to botulism poisoning. Just make sure that you use good canning recipes and you should be okay. If you’re ever in doubt, just don’t eat the food.
Fermentation – Fermentation works by changing foods with low amounts of acid into foods with high amounts of acid. This adds to their shelf life and can allow foods that normally cannot be canned using the water bath canning process to be canned that way.
Fermentation is also the process that makes cheese, yogurt, kimchi, sourdough bread, and vinegar.
Pickling – Pickling involves immersing foods in vinegar to raise its acid level. The high level of acid prevents microbes from growing and spoiling the food.
Salting (or Sugaring) – Salting foods was a common food preservation technique before modern conveniences were available. Both salt and sugar work by removing the water from foods to prevent microbe growth.
They aren’t as common these days but knowing how to preserve food this way could become very important in the event of a long term disaster.
Storage in Oil – A common practice in some parts of the world is to store food in olive oil to limit the amount of oxygen that can get to it. This keeps microbes from growing.
I would only use this as one of my last resorts. There are easier and better methods to preserve food that we already discussed above.
Storage in Alcohol – Another technique is to store high acid foods in alcohol. This removes water and preserves the food (usually fruit). I would mostly suggest using this as a way to make things like vanilla extract rather than large scale food storage.
Dry storage of food usually refers to the storage of food at room temperature. All of these foods have a long shelf life and don’t require much additional preparation to be viable for long term storage.
Dry food storage guidelines:
- Keep dry storage areas clean with good ventilation to control humidity and prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.
- Store dry foods at 50°F for maximum shelf life. However, 70°F is adequate for dry storage of most products.
- Place a thermometer on the wall in the dry storage area.
- Check the temperature of the storeroom daily.
- Store foods away from sources of heat and light, which decrease shelf life.
- Store foods off the floor and away from walls to allow for adequate air circulation.
Cold storage of food is one of the most basic means of preserving food. Cold temperatures keep food from spoiling and make it possible for us to have out of season vegetables and fruits all year round.
Cold food storage guidelines:
- Maintain refrigerated storage spaces at 32-40°F
- Maintain freezer storage spaces at 0°F or below.
- Position the thermometer in the warmest air in the cold storage space to ensure adequate cooling.
- Establish the correct refrigerator temperature by placing a thermometer in a glass of water in the middle of the refrigerator. Wait for 5 to 8 hours. If the temperature is not 38-40°F, adjust the temperature control. Check again after 5-8 hours.
- Establish the correct temperature in the freezer by placing a thermometer between frozen food packages. Wait for 5 to 8 hours. If the temperature is not 0-2°F, adjust the freezer temperature control. Check again after 5-8 hours.
- Ensure that refrigerators and freezers have enough open, slotted shelving to allow for air circulation around shelves and refrigerator walls to maintain proper food temperatures.
- Ensure that doors have a good seal and close tightly to maintain the temperature and the efficiency of the unit. Additionally, keep doors closed as much as possible.
Improving your food stores can be difficult. This becomes even truer after you’ve been doing it for a while.
One of the ways that I’ve found to make my food storage better is to store fats. Fats are necessary for the body and a lot of the staple items that make up food storage don’t have a lot of fat in them.
Storing oil and fat needs to be done correctly to keep them from getting rancid. Heat, oxygen, and light all make fats and oil become rancid more quickly. You can protect them by storing them at room temperature in a dark glass jar with a tight lid.
The more polyunsaturated fat in oil, the faster it will go rancid. For this reason, olive oils (around 8% polyunsaturated fat) and coconut oil (around 5% polyunsaturated fat) are some of the better oils to add to your food storage.
Don’t get these two confused. Food storage and food preservation are two completely different things.
Food preservation is taking the steps necessary to make food last longer. This can be done in a number of ways. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with food storage.
Food storage is actually storing food so we have it when we need it. It’s the backbone of prepping and something that everyone should be doing in my opinion. It almost always involves preserving food or buying food that is already preserved.
What is traditional food preservation? Traditional food preservation refers to the way that food was preserved prior to modern conveniences. These include drying, fermenting, pickling, salt drying, curing, smoking, sealing and cellaring.
What is considered room temperature for food? The term room temperature refers to approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s often used when discussing long term storage of food.
What are food preservatives? Modern food preservative are used in food to prevent them from spoiling as fast, preserve food color and taste. They come in a range of chemicals based on the type of food being preserved.