How to Start Your Food Storage Plan

food storage self sufficiency survival Nov 10, 2020
Food storage

It just makes sense to have extra groceries around the house. Those extra supplies will be useful in the event of a disaster or any other unexpected events that just seem to be a part of life.  Consequently, it is important have a food storage plan. Besides, it is an easy first step toward self reliance and becomes especially valuable in an emergency situation.

I grew up with two working farms in the family. We always had a large walk-in closet that was well stocked with home canned goods, extra dry goods, and other basic supplies. This was a normal part of being self sufficient.  In my opinion, it is similar to having an insurance policy.

In our modern age most people have either lost the desire or simply do not even see the need to have a food storage plan.  However, such a plan is one of the most basic and easy steps toward self reliance.  Simply consider what happens to millions of people every time there is a major weather event. This should be enough evidence to demonstrate the value of a food storage plan. Consequently, I am going to go through the basics of how to start your food storage plan and demonstrate how easy it is to begin.  

Table of Contents

1) The 8 Basic Concepts of a Food Storage Plan

2) How to Start Your Food Storage Plan

3) 30 Easy Staple Foods to Start Your Food Storage Plan

4) DIY Emergency Food Supply versus Commercially Prepared Foods

5) Food Storage Made Simple

6) Types of Foods That Can Be Stored Long-term

7) Never Rely Only on Your Freezer for Food Storage

8) What I Do

 

The 8 Basic Concepts of a Food Storage Plan 

1) DO YOUR HOMEWORK

There are numerous internet resources with in-depth discussions regarding proper food storage and the types of foods needed.  There are prepackaged foods that only require hot water in order to make a great meal. There are ready-to-eat meals that require no cooking at all. There are numerous freeze dried products that will last 25 years.

Everyone’s situation is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all food storage plan. Be an informed consumer.  Do your homework and learn what is best for your situation before spending any of your hard earned money.   

2) STICK TO THE BASICS

First make a list of items you already have in your household. This is a good indication of the things you consume on a regular basis. Then write down everything that your family eats for one week. Use these two lists as a basic guideline to help you get started. Make sure to have a variety of items on your list that will balance your diet.  Take into account any particular medical or dietary needs for each member of the household.

3) DON’T FORGET THE WATER

Store one gallon of water per person per day for basic needs.  For personal hygiene and basic cleaning, such as doing the dishes, it should be 2 to 3 gallons/person/day. 

First and foremost, water must be stored in food grade containers. Plastic bottles that were previously used for sports drinks and sodas are safe to use but will impart a taste to the water.  Water containers should be stored on a surface that will not leach any chemicals through the plastic.  For longer term storage, place plastic containers on untreated wood, not concrete.  Tap water is great to use because it has already been chlorinated and needs no processing. 

The subject of water storage is covered much more extensively in another post titled “Maintaining a Safe Water Supply”.

4) SLOWLY BUILD YOUR FOOD STORAGE PLAN

Unfortunately there are many people today that would like to convince you that the entire world is going to fall apart at the seams tomorrow.  I guess this is possible, just not likely.  But with all the hype, it is easy to be convinced that you need to put together a food storage plan today.  But, it is better to start your food storage plan very slowly.  

On every visit to the supermarket,  simply spend a few extra dollars and purchase additional items.  This one simply thing will result in the accumulation of a fair amount of extra supplies in a very short period of time. 

Keep in mind that every “prep” item you store should be something you use in your life on a regular basis. Do not be tempted to buy “mystery” MREs that you have never tried.  Do not be persuaded to buy “25 year shelf life” freeze dried items that you do not eat regularly.  If it comes down to a situation where you depend on your emergency supplies, that is not the time to change your diet.

5) SET A BUDGET FOR YOUR FOOD STORAGE PLAN

Once again, it is easy to buy into all the hype. Don’t  be pressured into spending thousands of dollars on a “one year supply”. The simple reality is that there are dozens of common foods, if stored properly, that will keep for many years.  Take your time and shop around.  Take advantage of sales and coupon days.  Join a local warehouse club and pay attention to their ads and sales.  Shop the back aisle of the supermarket for items marked down for quick sale. 

The point here is to spend your money wisely. 

6) PROPER ROTATION IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF A FOOD STORAGE PLAN 

Proper rotation takes a little time and attention.  However,  it will also keep you organized.  I keep a running list of all items I have in storage and the quantity.  I also date each item. Closely adhere to the principle of First-In-First-Out (FIFO). This simple practice will keep your food rotated and fresh.  

7) MAKE IT FUN

It may seem overwhelming at times. But there is no reason to get stressed about a food storage plan. Make it fun. Turn it into a challenge to find the best deals.  Involve other family members. Additionally, by learning to cook simple meals from the stored bulk items that you have you will gain some further confidence.  Besides, it also becomes a learning experience.  

8) PAY ATTENTION TO STORAGE CONDITIONS

When food is stored for any length of time, it is imperative to maintain proper conditions to ensure appropriate shelf life.   Here are six things to consider: 

Time

There are many common foods that have a 20 to 30 year shelf life.  However, unless they are properly packaged and stored, that shelf life can be considerably less.  Over time food looses nutritional value. The appearance and taste will also change. If you are determined to store food for 20 to 30 years, then consider some of the commercially prepared items. There are many superior products that are processed and packaged specifically for that purpose.  That being said, with a proper food storage plan and rotation, this is usually not necessary.  

-Temperature

Temperatures between 40 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are best for long term storage. Temperatures outside this range accelerates the loss of nutrition, texture, taste, and color.  Higher temperatures activate the natural enzymes in foods which then starts the digestion process. This results in degradation. Although colder temperatures slow down food enzyme activity, as well as microbial growth, severe cold will denature the food and cause a loss of nutritional value.  Therefore, best practice is to store food in an area with a near constant temperature.  

-Oxygen

 

Food nutrients oxidize in the presence of oxygen, which causes rancidity. Additionally, microorganisms thrive in the presence of oxygen. Thus food that is exposed to oxygen is more susceptible to degradation as well as microbes, fungus, and parasites. To prevent this from happening, simply place oxygen absorbers in the food storage containers. The only thing left in the containers will be the food and nitrogen, which is harmless.  

-Moisture

Moisture on food can be in the result of condensation or humidity. The presence of moisture promotes the growth of mold and bacteria. Ideally, food should be stored at a humidity level of 15% or less.  This is accomplished by storing food in vacuum sealed bags, canning jars, mylar bags, and food grade buckets.  

-Sun light

Direct exposure to sunlight results in two undesirable things. It increases the temperature of the food and accelerates the loss of nutrition, taste, and appearance. This is especially true when it comes to certain vitamins such as C and B complex.  Best practice is to store food in a cool, dark place, away from direct light.  

-Pests

Pests include insects, larvae, rodents, and any other critter that can invade, consume, or otherwise contaminate your food supply.  The type of pest varies according to your geographical area.  Do some research and find out the most common ones according to where you live. Then prevent invasion by using proper storage containers. 

How to Start Your Food Storage Plan

With all the available advice on storing extra food, it is easy to suffer from information overload.  Furthermore, this info overload simply promotes confusion and inaction. Additionally, most resources that I’ve reviewed always say to start with a three day supply of extra food, which makes no sense at all.  In the event of a major disaster, three days of food and extra supplies will never be enough. 

Other sources I’ve read state that determining the caloric requirements of each family member should be used as a guide on how to start your food storage plan. I believe this does have some validity. But it makes things more complicated. However, if you want to go that route, then read this PDF  published by the USDA. It does contain some good information.  

Otherwise the easiest way to start your food storage plan is to purchase everyday staple foods available at the supermarket. I recommend starting with a minimum of a 7 day supply  of the basics, preferably 2 weeks. This is not any more difficult than starting with 3 days and it makes a lot more sense.

30 Easy Staple Foods to Start Your Food Storage Plan

1) Rice (25 pounds)

This is a basic universal staple food with a very long shelf life.  Choose any type of rice you want.  White rice has a longer shelf life but brown rice has more nutritional value.  I personally keep several types of rice at home, such as brown, white, and jasmine varieties.  

1 cup of cooked long grain rice = 200 calories. 

2) Pinto Beans  (25 pounds)

                          

Dried beans of any sort is another great universal staple food with a long shelf life. Pinto beans are by far the least expensive.

1 cup of cooked pinto beans without salt or other additives = 240 calories. 

3) Spaghetti, (25 pounds) 

Commercially prepared pastas have an almost indefinite shelf life as long as the noodles are kept dry.  Spaghetti is one of the most commonly consumed pastas. Regular spaghetti is fairly neutral but whole wheat can be a good source of fiber.  Calories from spaghetti are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which makes this food calorically dense.   

1 cup cooked spaghetti (2 oz of dry) = 221 calories 

4) Pasta sauce (10 jars)

Cooked pasta with a good sauce makes a high calorie meal in minutes. Although I cannot recommend you store any food beyond the expiration date, I have actually kept pasta sauce for several years beyond the date of expiration and it was still good. I purchase the sauce in jars with a rubber seal on the lids so I can repurpose them. They make great air tight containers for storing dry goods in the cellar.

5) Krusteaz Pancake Mix (30 lbs)

This mix comes in 10 lb resealable bags. The big advantage is that you only have to add water to make pancakes.  They can be turned into an easy meal any time.  

1 cup dry mix = 540 calories

6) Ramen Noodles (30 packs) 

Ramen noodles can be used in so many different ways. They may not be the healthiest food on the planet, but who is going to argue when it comes to an emergency. Besides, they are incredibly inexpensive.  They store well and have a very long shelf life.  I often mix in a can of cooked vegetables, herbs and spices, to make a very tasty, quick dinner. 

1 packet = 380 calories

7) Canned vegetables (30 cans)

Although commercially canned foods have expiration dates, many of them if stored under proper conditions will keep for extended periods of time.  Similar to any other stored foods, you should avoid excesses in heat and cold. 

Depending on the type of vegetable, a 15 oz can will contain from 100 to 200 calories.  

8) Canned fruit (30 cans)

Similar to canned vegetables, if stored properly, they will keep for long periods of time. There is a huge variation in caloric content so I did not list anything here.  

 9) Canned meats (30 cans) 

I would store a variety of canned meats, such as tuna, salmon, chicken, turkey, ham, roast beef, and even spam. Tuna and chicken breast meat are likely the healthier choices due to lower salt content.  However, in an emergency situation, I am not going to argue much about nutritional quality if it comes to eating spam or nothing at all.  

10) Oats (30 lbs)

Rolled oats are a great healthy food that should always be around your house.  Oats can be used in a variety of ways other than oatmeal.  

Uses for rolled oats:

  • Burger binder: binds together veggie burgers
  • Thickener for stews
  • Booster for smoothies
  • Granola for snacks or cereal
  • Granola bars
  • No bake cookies
  • Pies
  • Apple crisp

 11) Flour (30 lbs)

Obviously this staple can be used in many ways. It stores well for many years.  I keep it on hand for baking, making tortillas, and even flat breads.  

 12) Cornmeal (30 lbs) 

Similar to flour, this is a great carbohydrate source that can be used in multiple ways.  

13) Peanut Butter (4 large jars)

 This is a great universal staple. It is very portable, dense in calories, and makes a great, no-cook snack or meal any time of day.  It can be purchased in bulk at most warehouse stores.

14) Popcorn (10 lbs)

This may simply be a comfort or luxury item in an emergencey.  But it does make a great snack and I keep a good supply around all the time.  

15) Powdered milk (10 lbs)

Powdered milk will never taste as good as the real thing.  But, milk is a great source of protein and other nutrients.  It can be used on cereal, to enhance your coffee or tea, or as a nice drink. After mixing, the taste of powdered milk is more pleasant if it is refrigerated.  The obvious huge advantage to powdered milk in dry form is that it can be stored without refrigeration. 

16) Salt (10 lbs)

The most common uses of salt is to enhance the taste of food and used as a preservative.  But salt is also very essential for our bodies.  Consequently, this is something that should always be kept in the household. 

17) Sugar (15 lbs) 

The obvious use of this is as a sweetener for cooking and drinks.  

18) Coffee and Tea (10 lbs and 200 tea bags)

In any sort of an emergency, water is always the best beverage. But if you are on your own for an extended period of time, having something else to drink will be a great addition to the day.  

19) Hard candy (4 large bags)

This can be a great comfort food and a quick source of energy. 

20) Spices and condiments 

A variety of your favorites is the best way to go.  I seem to always purchase extra spices when I visit the local warehouse store because I love cooking.  

21) Ready to eat meals (30 cans)

Pick a variety of things. It can be soup, chili, ravioli, stews, Mexican dishes, sloppy joe mix, potatoes, etc. The point is that you can open a can and have an instant meal, either warm or cold. 

22) Boullion cubes 

These are simply dehydrated boullion or stock that is formed into a cube. Typically you can find them in beef, chicken, or vegetable flavors.  These can be used for soup stock or to make a cup of soup broth for drinking.  

These have an extremely long shelf life.  I keep several hundred of these around all the time. 

23) Cooking oil (2 gallons)

Depending on your taste, you can stock up vegetable, canola, or olive oil.  I would recommend storing these in a cool, dry, dark place with a relatively even temperature.  As long as it is unopened, it should store for about two years. Once it is opened, it will only last about a year. 

24) Nuts and trail mix (15 lbs) 

A variety of nuts is great of course. I personally buy bulk sunflower seeds because I use them as a snack food, as well as for cooking.  But, if I plan on storing nuts for longer periods of time, I purchase large sealed cans from the local food warehouse store. 

Trail mix can be purchased in seal plastic bags. They usually come in 1 to 2 pound containers. 

25) Power bars and granola bars

These serve as another calorie dense, portable food that can be stored for long periods.  These are great to put in an emergency kit. 

26) Whole grain cereal

This type of cereal is very nutritious and should be a staple food.  It stores well for long periods of time.  I purchase this in bulk. 

27) Dried fruit

These are a nutritions snack that does not require water to be edible.  Dried fruit is light weight and easy to transport.   

28) Quinoa

The product has been around since the Mayans.  It is one of the few grains that is a complete protein. It cooks much the same way as rice and has a very pleasant flavor.  It is more expensive than rice but you can buy this in bulk at your local warehouse store.  

29) Sports drinks

My recommendation would be to purchased these in powdered form.  You will get more bang for your buck and the powdered form can be stored much easier than the bottled form.  Many of these are loaded with sugar but they also serve as a great electrolyte replacement. 

30) Multivitamins

These will help to keep your diet balanced.

DIY Emergency Food Supply versus Commercially Prepared Foods

The bottom line is that there is no reason to purchase commercially prepared food designed for long-term storage.  Do you really need to keep a food supply around that lasts 25 years?  Most likely not!! Many off-the-shelf items that are easily available from your local market are perfect for long-term storage.  For example, the staple foods listed above, if properly stored, will keep almost indefinitely.  Even if you do not believe that, then make sure these foods are rotated every 5 years.  

The reality of my situation is that I store a mix of a variety of foods. I purchased a certain amount of commercially prepared long-term food storage items. This makes up about 25% of my food storage. It serves as a great food base that does not need to be rotated any time in the near future. I chose to do this as a matter of convenience. So, if you are in a hurry to establish a good food base, you can do the same.  But, if you simply stored away the staple foods in the quantities I have listed above, you will have a minimum of a one month supply.  

If you want to purchase long-term food storage items, be sure to go with one of the major companies that have been in the market for some time.  There are a number of outstanding companies to choose from.  But the following companies are ones that I’ve purchased items from: 

Emergency Essentials

Prepare Wise

Valley Food Storage

Wise Food Storage

Mountain House

Food Storage Made Simple

1) Food storage can basically be divided into three categories:

  • Short-term: one week
  • Extended short-term: up to three months
  • Long-term: greater than three months. 

2) Calculate the number of servings you need to store for any given period of time:

Number of people x 3 servings per day x number of days

2 people x 3 meals/day x 30 days = 180 servings (meals) 

3) Determine the amount of water you need for a given period of time:

1 gallon of water/person/day for basic needs such as drinking and cooking

2 to 3 gallons of water/person/day for personal hygiene and cleaning

Bare minimum: 2 people x 1 gallon x 30 days = 60 gallons

Better: 2 people x 2 gallons x 30 days = 120 gallons

I strongly recommend storing water in several different sized containers.  Fifty-five gallon food grade drums are great for storing large amounts of water.  But one drum full of water weighs about 450 lbs, which is not exactly portable.  

4) Extended short-term storage

This is basically an extension of short-term storage.  Most off the shelf, non-perishable foods items can easily be kept for at least 3 months, usually much longer, without any special preparation.  

5) The basics of long-term storage 

Start by reviewing item #8 under Tips for Starting Your Food Storage Plan. This is a brief discussion on proper storage conditions.  

But, for a quick review: 

-Time: Over time food looses nutritional value. Appearance and taste can also change.  If you really want 20 to 30 years of storage, then consider purchasing commercially prepared foods. 

-Temperature: Storage conditions between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are best for long-term storage. It is best to store foods in an area with a near constant temperature or where there is little temperature fluctuation.  A corner in your basement, a closet in a downstairs bedroom, a mud room, or a cellar are ideal.  

-Oxygen: Food exposed to oxygen is much more prone to growing mold and fungus. It also has more of a tendency to become rancid.  All of this can be prevented by storing food in sealed containers with oxygen absorbers. For example, sealing food in a Mylar bag and sealed again inside an air tight food storage bucket is ideal.   

-Moisture: Ideally food should be stored at a humidity level of 15% or less to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.  This can be accomplished by  using vacuum sealed bags, canning jars, or sealed Mylar bags place in air tight food grade buckets. 

Ideally if food is placed in storage long-term, you should only store food that has less than 10% moisture content.  Examples of such foods are low fat powdered milk, pasta, potato flakes, dried beans, white rice, sugar, and rolled oats. 

-Sunlight:  Store food in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight.  

-Pests: Find out the most common pest according to your geographical area.  Exposure to pests can be prevented by using proper storage containers.  

Using Mylar bags 

For long-term storage, simply sealing food in a plastic food grade bucket is not enough.  The reason for this is that all plastic “breaths” to a certain degree, which means there is air transfer into the bucket from the outside.  Using a 5.4 ml mylar bag, NOT metalized polyester, will cut this air transfer down to almost zero.  After food is placed in the mylar bag, put in an oxygen absorber, roll the top over and squeeze out as much air as possible, then seal the folded top with a hot iron.

Types of food that can be storage long-term

There are several types of food that can be easily stored on a long-term basis.  There are advantages and disadvantage to each method.  It truly depends on your preference. Here are several examples:

  • Canned goods (commercially prepared or home-canned)
  • Dry bulk storage
  • Dehydrated foods
  • Freeze dried foods

Canned goods

This includes supermarket canned goods.  Most of these items can be eaten directly from their container in an emergency. Some of course will taste better when heated but eating cold food is better than nothing. I would strongly recommend purchasing food in cans that have to be opened with a can opener. The easy open cans can rupture open if they freeze or with changes in pressure such as extreme changes in altitude.   

Shelf life: 3 to 6 months. If you do keep a lot of canned goods make sure to rotate them regularly so they stay fresh. Good for short-term and extended short-term storage.

 

Storage: It is best to always store food in a cool dry place with minimal temperature changes.  Canned goods without the pop tops will actually survive freeze/thaw cycles and still be edible but the taste and texture changes considerably. (I know from experience.) If canned goods are stored in a cellar where humidity is typically increased, you have to be diligent about rotation because the cans will eventually rust and leak. 

Nutrition: Virtually 100% of the nutrition is maintained in these types of foods.  Although, you should be aware that most commercially canned foods contain added salt, which can increase thirst. Keep that in mind when you choose the types of canned foods to store.  

Preparation: Many of these foods taste best when heated.  You will need a small gas stove or a fire for food preparation. 

Dry Bulks Goods 

 

Shelf life: 10 to 20 years. There is a reason these foods have been staple goods for a long time. These foods are great for long term storage.  This includes dried beans, rolled oats, white rice, pasta. 

Storage: Best if stored in a cool dry place with minimal temperature change.  Low humidity is best.  If stored in a cellar, these goods need to be in air tight containers because they will take up moisture.  More than other foods, these can endure some freeze/thaw cycles. 

Nutrition: These foods are a great source of carbohydrates but need to be added to fruits and vegetables for a complete meal.  That said, they will retain virtually all of their nutritional value if stored properly. 

Preparation: Store these foods with the caveat that a certain amount of preparation is necessary. Additionally, this type of food needs an additive to make them into tasty meals. Dried goods often need to be cooked in a large amount of water. Rice of course can be eaten plain but it is not a complete protein. Beans and pastas need other food materials to turn them into great meals. 

Dehydrated foods  

Shelf life: 10 to 20 years if stored at proper temperature. These foods are great for long-term storage.  

Storage: These foods need to be stored away from direct sun light.  Minimal temperature change is best but dehydrated foods can withstand some freeze/thaw cycles. 

Nutrition: During the dehydration phase, these foods loose about 20% of their taste and nutrition value.  

Preparation: A lot of dehydrated foods need to be rehydrated in order to be edible. Therefore, you need to account for the additional water needed for preparation. Exceptions are dehydrated fruits. Many of these make tasty snacks in their dehydrated state.  

Freeze Dried Foods

Shelf life: Up to 25 years. This is the best way to store food long term. 

 

Storage: Freeze dried foods need to be in moisture and oxygen proof containers such as a mylar bag, mason jars, or cans. Best stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight.  

 

Nutrition: Food processed in this way will retain about 99% of its nutritional value and taste. 

Preparation: Freeze dried foods are light weight and easy to pack around.  This is why they are the food choice for backpackers.  However, these foods require the addition of water in order to make them edible.  If you are storing large amounts, be sure to account for the additional water needed to prepare these foods.  

Ready to Eat Meals

It is also a fantastic idea to keep a certain amount of food that requires little or no preparation. Good examples are canned, ready-to-eat meats, ravioli, spaghetti, chili, soups, vegetables, fruits, protein and snack bars. Some of these foods are not the greatest when eating them cold. However in the event of an emergency it better to eat cold food than nothing at all. Also, these foods are generally light weight and easy to transport. In the event you have to evacuate, these are great meals to have in your emergency kit. 

Never Rely Only on Your Freezer for Food Storage 

Rely on your freezer for only a limited amount of food storage. In emergency and disaster situations, you cannot rely on grid power. With no power, the food in your freezer will spoil after a few days depending on the environmental temperature. 

My freezer is in my storage shed and it is usually packed to the top with meat and vegetables. The freezer enables me to take advantage of sales at the supermarket because the excess can be immediately frozen.  I also cook in large amounts and freeze the extra so I do not have to cook every single day.  It adds a certain amount of convenience to my life and it saves me time and money.  

I do rely on my freezer for extended short-term food storage. I do this only because it runs off of DC power.  It is wired directly to a battery bank that is charged by a solar array.  If the grid goes down, it would not make any difference to me.  But unless you have a similar set up, you cannot rely on your freezer for longer term food storage. 

What I Do

On a personal note, I have a variety of foods stored in different conditions.  I do a lot of home canning, most of which is stored in a cellar.  Shorter term storage items are placed in a freezer.  Dry goods are stored in air and water tight containers which are also rodent proof. I have a small supply of commercially prepared foods that are for longer term storage.  Food is rotated regularly and I keep about 9 to 12 months of supplies on hand at any given time. I also depend on my freezer for extended short term food storage. This is only because it runs directly off of DC power. 

All of this is done primarily because my place is rather isolated and the nearest supermarket is 25 miles away.  So, it is not exactly convenient to go there in the middle of a snow storm.

Other Posts of Interest

Self Reliance is Your Best Security Blanket

Food Storage for Self Reliance

Go off grid and live well,

Patrick

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