The Language of Food Storage
When beginning down the path of resiliency building and preparedness planning, we must look at the need for food on a daily basis as well as the possible events that would require the use of stored food and emergency rations. This subject can be expansive and confusing at times. There are lots of options and choices available to meet your nutritional needs. This article and explanation of terms will hopefully clarify the many aspects and terminology of long-term food storage and help shed light on this important component of resiliency building.
Cook vs. No-Cook
A primary decision needs to be made, as it relates to the specific long-term food provisions that you want to procure. Do you want foods that require cooking, or do you want foods that require no cooking -- or perhaps some of both? Cooking-required food reserves are simply foods that need to be cooked -- boiled, fried, or baked -- in order to be eaten. Examples include traditional grains and beans, pasta, bread/egg/pancake mixes, and some soup/stew mixes. No-cook food reserves are foods that can be eaten as-is, or by adding hot or cold water to the foods and reconstituting them for a short time. Examples include freeze-dried and some dehydrated ingredients, meals and mixes, granola, supplements, fruits, and powdered drinks.
- Readily available
- Low cost
- Familiar to those currently cooking from scratch
- Basic unprocessed foods
- Require a significant supply of water and energy (heat source: gas, electricity, wood, etc.), both of which may be in short supply during emergency conditions, especially in vulnerable locations
- Need to prepare
- May be difficult to prepare if one lacks cooking and recipe creation skills
- Small amount of water required to reconstitute ingredients and meals
- In emergency situations, freeze-dried foods can be eaten as-is
- Pre-blended meals are familiar and nutritious if manufactured by reputable companies
- Minimum time to prepare
- Easy to use
- Higher cost for food preparation technologies utilized
- Food ingredients are processed to some degree
Pouch vs. Can
These can be commercially available dried-food products packed in pouches and cans, or empty pouches and cans for do-it-yourself packing. Pouches referred to in this section are ones that have a good quality metal foil barrier with an adequate thickness as one of the components in the layering of the pouch (3 or more layers required). Metallic, transparent, or plastic-only pouches are not suitable for long-term storage of food. Cans are rigid-wall metal containers with a proper seal.
- Convenience of smaller units of product for storage
- Empty pouches are readily available online for do-it-yourself
- Relatively inexpensive
- Easy to use
- A good variety of meals and ingredients are available from established and reputable manufacturers
- Very susceptible to puncturing and pin-holing (rough handling, squeezing, bending, and forcing a pouch into a container may create very small holes in the pouch). This compromises the integrity of the seams and pouch material, resulting in the loss of an oxygen-free atmosphere.
- No protection from animal destruction or penetration
- Must have quality materials used in pouch construction – difficult to ensure if buying empty
- Many commercially pouched foods are low-quality and use questionable materials – must do research
- If do-it-yourself, pouch must be sealed properly
- Must be stored properly or there is a risk of damage
- The most reliable for long term food storage
- Properly sealed cans with oxygen absorbers can create an oxygen- and moisture-free atmosphere for a very long period of time
- Rugged construction -- cannot be penetrated by animals (except maybe a hungry and aggressive bear)
- Easy to store and handle
- Increased cost for dried foods commercially packed in cans for long term reserves
- Not practical for most of the do-it-yourself packers –- cans and sealing equipment are not easily obtained, and when they are available, they can be more costly than pouches; to be cost-effective, empty cans need to be purchased in large quantities
Calories vs. Servings
A common marketing tactic used by many food companies today is to promote a given number of servings in an assortment, and sometimes to even state that an assortment is good for a given period of time with a given number of servings. In the preparedness marketplace today, where people may have to depend on daily food rations for their nourishment, only knowing the number of servings in an assortment is close to meaningless and the information insignificant. Why? Because a “serving” quantity and quality can be anything the company wants it to be. You need more information.
The standard for comparing one reserve food product with another has traditionally been to compare the number of calories of similar products or meals. This is done by comparing the calories by knowing either the stated calories and the weight in a given serving of a product, or the number of calories of a food product in a comparably sized pouch or container. This enables comparisons of similar items from different companies – comparing apples with apples. Even the government, on their mandated nutritional information, requires the calories be listed – as well as the source of those calories.
How many calories does the company recommend a person should consume per day, and how many of their servings will it take to achieve this number?
Now you can do the math and compare the real cost and value of one companies products to another. What is the cost per quality calorie? What is the cost for supplying the proper number of calories for the time period in your emergency scenario? Don’t forget, it is the quality of the calories that is critical.
Here is the important issue: The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for the average adult person is 2,000 calories a day (reputable companies generally allow 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day in formulating their assortments). There are companies who promote a 500 to 1000 calorie per day allowance!
Generally, long-term refers to a time period of three or four years or longer. Many seek food products with that will last up to 30 years. In the real world there are few situations where one would rely on 30-year-old food. However, with the application of the proper technology and storage conditions, it is possible to still consume 30-year-old food. Boxed, wet pack, frozen, high-moisture,and canned grocery items are not considered long-term for purposes of this primer.
This term refers to the viable and reasonable life that can be expected of a food product in storage. During this time the food product must still have significant nutritional value and be palatable and acceptable.
The 7 factors that effect shelf life and stability are: temperature, moisture, oxygen, infestation, handling, light, and time
Simply stated, food storage refers to food provisions that one stores for a long time. These food products usually have a long shelf life and can be relied upon during times of need or emergency. There is a diversity of different foods in various forms that can be utilized for a proper food storage program.
This can be cost effective, customized, fun to do, involve friends and groups, localized and creative. Before you start packing your foods, be clear about what it is you want to store and for how long. Are the foods appropriate for your plans? Do you know how to prepare them? Do you have an adequate quantity? Do you have all the equipment necessary to prepare your foods? What is the nutritional quality?
Nitrogen/oxygen free atmosphere
Basically there are 2 reasons for wanting to store food in an oxygen free environment – eliminate the possibility for infestation from insects and microorganisms, and control oxidation, which leads to the rancidity of fats and oils, foul taste, off color, and nutritional deterioration. The lower the oxygen levels, the more effective in preserving the integrity of the foods stored.
Some foods are more susceptible to oxidation deterioration than others. It is important to know how susceptible the foods you are storing are to oxidation, because as you will see the type of container you store your foods in may at some point no longer be an adequate oxygen barrier.
The serious and conscientious preparedness planner is encouraged to carefully and honestly answer these 12 crucial questions
- What are the circumstances or scenarios you have determined may exist that will require you to rely upon your preparedness supplies?
- How long will your emergency scenario last, and what is the duration of time for which you will be preparing?
- What preparedness knowledge do you personally have that is important in providing specific information and instructions needed during the emergency or emergencies for which you are preparing?
- During an emergency what facilities, stores, resources, supplies, and assistance is available in your area apart from family and friends?
- Are you dependent upon someone or something else to get you through and supply your needs during the emergency scenarios you presume will occur?
- How many people are you planning to provide with emergency provisions?
- Do you have a list of essential or at least important supplies you believe will be necessary to have on hand during your estimated emergency?
- Do you have an understanding of the financial implications of your projected emergency scenarios?
- What are the special needs of yourself, family, or others you care for that might arise during the scenarios you find likely?
- In your expected emergency scenarios will you be stationary and remain where you are, or is it possible you will have to be mobile and relocate?
- What means of communication do you have available to you during an emergency and with whom do you need to communicate?
- In your expected emergency scenarios what transportation options will be necessary and available?
The first step in the preparedness planning process is the acknowledgment that you have made a wise and sound decision and have chosen to take responsibility for you and your family, and to be prepared in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Be encouraged to continue this process with diligence, motivation, and discernment.
This process is basically undertaken in three phases – each one of which will take as much time as you wish to devote, and the degree of urgency you are experiencing.
- First, there is an initial assessment necessary to determine the direction you are heading.
- Second, there is further evaluation, research, and planning required to develop a firm foundation for the third phase, and to develop the clarity required for appropriate and accurate decision making.
- Third, there is taking action and assembling the appropriate provisions and critical information you have determined are necessary for your security and peace of mind. This phase is ongoing as you continue to evaluate, research, and build up your supplies and information.
This consists of 6 basic questions that you are encouraged to answer that will lead you along the matrix to your destination:
- What is your attitude concerning emergency preparedness?
- What are the circumstances or scenarios and their severity you have determined may exist that will require you to rely upon your preparedness supplies?
- What is the length of time you will be affected during these scenarios that you will be required to rely on your preparedness supplies?
- For whom and how many are you preparing?
- Where will you be?
- How serious are you and how much time, effort, and money are you willing to devote to research, planning, and action, and with what help?
Preparedness planning is a prudent and wise action to take. This search for provisions however, can create a dilemma – Who do you trust? Remember, you and your family are relying on preparedness products, especially food and water options, to sustain you during critical times. Some situations can be so catastrophic as to have life or death consequences. It is this very real potential scenario that compels me personally to take the process of emergency planning very seriously.
Numerous preparedness dealers and websites have recently appeared on the scene, and many are claiming the virtues of their products and are hoping to take advantage of current demands. I have been in this industry for a long time, and I have seen numerous companies come and go as political, economic, or prophetic issues dominate the news. With the advent of the internet, it has become even more difficult to assess the reliability of online companies.
Many companies are conscientious and dependable – as a previous manufacturer of food reserve products I have had business relationships with a number of these companies over the years. Unfortunately many are very questionable. I have examined their products, their data, and the accuracy of their information – it ranges from inadequate, to unclear, to erroneous.
To package meat products legally, shelf-stable food manufacturing establishments must be federally inspected to comply with the strictest USDA standards for truthfulness in labeling, ingredient conformity, wholesomeness, and cleanliness.
This is a specific technology that refers to foods which have been frozen and dried at low temperatures in a vacuum chamber.
- Foods retain the highest nutritional value, taste, texture and appearance.
- Foods do not “shrivel up” therefore retaining their original shape.
- Foods reconstitute easily in hot or cold water- can be eaten dry if necessary- no cooking required in preparation.
- The only method used to dry meat products for long term shelf life.
- The chosen method of drying by the military, pharmaceutical companies, supplement manufacturers, and those concerned with nutrition and flavor.
- The lowest moisture content obtainable- resulting in long shelf stability.
- Excellent for fruits, vegetables, and meats.
- Very lightweight.
- Energy intensive- requires special equipment.
- Higher cost.
- Limited number of processors.
- Note: There are many newer technologies which can dry specialized foods such as grains, beans, pastas and some vegetables and still retain taste, nutrition and “no cooking required” reconstitution- at a low cost.
This is a general designation for all foods that have had water removed. It includes a number of different products and dehydrating techniques. Methods of drying include:
- Air drying
- Spray drying
- Drum drying
- Belt drying
- Most commonly “dehydrated” refers to: vegetables, fruits, spices, and beans.
- Spray dried items include- milk powder, dairy and cheese powders, fruit powders, vegetable powders, egg powders, and oil powders.
- Most “dehydrated” vegetables and fruits are dried at high temperatures for short periods of time.
- Reduced weight
- Long shelf life
- Lower cost
- No waste- compact
- Easy to use- large variety
- Many suppliers
- Many products like corn, peas, and green beans have to be cooked to reconstitute, resulting in increased time and loss of nutritional value.
- High temperature drying of some items reduces nutritional value and taste.
- Texture of some products is altered from original.
The items in this category are wet packed in foil or plastic “flexible” packaging. MRE is a military term that stands for “Meals Ready to Eat” and was designed as combat rations for the military. Retort (available in many grocery stores and catalog companies) refers to the heating process, which give these products a longer shelf life. Self-heating meals are packaged entrees that contain everything necessary to have a hot meal anywhere. The individual flameless heaters were developed for the military.
- MRE’s are complete meals- entrees, side dish, dessert, drink, and condiments- all in one large pouch.
- All items in this category require no refrigeration and have a shelf life of 18 months to 2 years. MRE’s can last 3- 6 years if stored in cooler temperatures.
- MRE’s were designed by the military to be eaten for no longer than one month at a time. Extended reliance on MRE’s exclusively could cause digestion issues.
- Items are excellent for immediate use and easy preparation of familiar foods.
This category includes dozens of varieties of grains, beans, legumes and seeds, and can be utilized in numerous forms such as; whole, cracked, flaked, instant, flour, pasta and sprouted.
- Very economical- little cost for significant nutritional value.
- Easily obtainable.
- Stores well for long periods of time.
- Versatility of preparation options and diversity of uses.
- Historically relied upon during emergencies.
- If prepared and utilized properly, can fulfill total nutritional needs for some time.
- Can require large quantities of fuel and water to prepare.
- Requires significant preparation time to utilize all the diverse benefits.
- Susceptible to infestation if not properly stored.
- Requires preparation knowledge. Most people do not know how to prepare basic commodities.
- If not prepared properly or suddenly introduced into the diet in quantity, grains and beans can cause significant digestive problems.
- Heavy- Not easily transported if you need to be mobile.
- Many people have allergic reactions to foods in this category.
- If you rely on only grains and beans for nourishment for an extended length of time, you may have problems digesting these foods; especially if you don’t normally incorporate them into your diet. Preparation diversity is critical.
It is essential that those who choose to rely on commodities know how to properly prepare and use them. It is important to obtain good cookbooks and product information before you buy. Do not count on only a few grains and beans- diversity is very important.
- Smaller grains (such as millet, amaranth, quinoa, and teff) and smaller beans and legumes (such as adzuki, lentils, split peas, mung, and small whites) will require less time, fuel and water to prepare.
- Combine like sized grains and beans when cooking for a complete protein meal.
- Pressure cookers and pre-soaking of most beans will significantly reduce the cooking time of grains and beans.
- Newly “rediscovered” ancient grain varieties such as amaranth, quinoa, kamut, teff and spelt, are highly recommended because of their superior nutritional value, unique taste and preparation convenience- available at natural food stores.
- To reduce cooking times for whole grains, try adding a handful to a thermos, or similar insulated container, add boiling water and let sit all day or overnight. (Use at a ratio of one part grain to one part water by volume). Add dried fruit, nuts, sweetener etc. and enjoy a no cook hot cereal.
Uses for wheat:
- Whole grain, cracked, flaked- cook for a hot cereal or side dish.
- Flour- baking, pancakes, sauces.
- Sprouting- eat raw or add to bread.
- Soaked wheat- soak cleaned wheat in pure water 1-2 days. Drink water and eat wheat.
- Gluten for protein source- rinse flour many times to produce gluten product. Cook in recipe.
- Wheat grass juice- grow wheat in shallow trays with soil, cut at 6″-10″, juice wheat grass, mix small amount with fruit or vegetable juice.
- Diastatic malt- ground and powdered dried wheat sprouts, a natural sweetener.
Grocery shelf / Deep Pantry
This is the category people are most familiar with and the one most will start with when beginning a storage program.
- Store products you are familiar with.
- Shelf life varies. If possible contact manufacturer. Generally canned items will last 1-3 years, glass jars 6 months- 2 years, boxes and packages 6 months- 1 year.
- Buy extra each time you shop.
- Buy case quantities.
- Rotate supplies.
- This category contains items that will complement and supplement other food reserve programs.
During emergencies it is important to have foods available which are special treats and personally satisfying. These include:
- Fruit drinks- sodas (all natural of course)
- Candy- crackers- chips- cookies (also all natural)
- Chocolate- drinks and bars
- Puddings- cake and muffin mixes
- Dried fruit and nut mixes
- Teas- herb teas- coffee
- Meat Jerky’s
It is not only a good idea to eat fresh sprouts normally; it is an essential during any prolonged emergency where fresh vegetables are not available. Sprouts are live, highly nutritious foods that contain essential elements for healthy living. They contain enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and much more. In an emergency it can be your only source for important nutrients. They are easy to grow and cost very little for so much value. You can sprout grains, beans, seeds and nuts.
- Get a good book on sprouting.
- If possible, use only non-sprayed, pesticide free seeds- preferably organically grown.
- Sprouting equipment is easily assembled with household items such as glass jars, screening, cheesecloth, or you can buy a number of different sprouting kits.
- Sprouts are usually eaten raw, and some sprouts can be lightly cooked like beans or used in baking like wheat and rye.
Nutritional supplementation can be a very important component in emergency situations when a nutritional diet may not be available. By adding a high quality supplementation to your preps, you can ensure that you are getting the vitamins, minerals, and micro nutrients that your body will need during high stress situations and emergency events.
Many products have 2 to 3 year shelf life. Use and rotate out.
- See your natural food store for details on quality and completeness.
- Many products can prevent health problems and illness naturally.
- Whole food green concentrates are highly recommended. Also, multi-vitamins, green products, B-complex, vitamin C, and immune system strengtheners.
With an abundance of fresh foods always available, canning and drying your own is very cost effective.
- Obtain books and literature on canning and drying.
- Take classes and talk to experienced individuals.
- Get the proper equipment or learn how to build you own.
- Know how to properly store canned and dried foods.
- Canning supplies can be scarce in an emergency. Stock up on jars and lids.