Food Storage Basics: How to Store and Protect Your Long-Term Food Items

Reader Contribution by Tess Pennington and Ready Nutrition

With all the time and money you have put into having a food pantry, you want to make every effort to protect it. There is nothing more disappointing than seeing your food investment ruined by natural elements or bugs. Knowing what your food’s worst enemies are, understanding how they can infiltrate and ruin your food, and how to prevent their havoc will help you preserve your food investment for the long term.

Enemies such as sunlight, moisture, bugs, oxygen, temperature fluctuations, and time can reap havoc on your food sources. If you are planning on storing long-term foodstuffs such as rice, beans, dry milk, or sugar, you want to consider repackaging these items. Most of the dry goods we purchase at stores are packaged for short-term use. The clear and flimsy plastic packaging will not hold up during long-term storage. As well, the USDA allows certain “defects” in our food sources and mold, insects and insect eggs are on that list of approved defects. Therefore, if you can take certain steps in preserving your long-term food supply to prevent these food enemies from destroying your food, you will have more peace of mind.

On a personal note, in my home, we use a multi-barrier approach in our long-term food pantry. Keep in mind, this food storage method is for dry foods you plan on storing for a year or longer. We seal our food in a Mylar bag and store it in a 5-gallon food grade bucket. In my 10 years of storing food long-term, I have never had an issue with food spoiling or being ruined my bugs using this method. To use this method, you need:

• 5-gallon food grade plastic bucket with lid
• Mylar bag (5 millimeters in thickness)
• Oxygen absorbers
• Method for sealing the Mylar bag (heat clamp, iron or flattening iron)

5-Gallon Buckets

Food-grade plastic containers are an excellent choice for many and will not transfer or leach any non-food chemicals into the food, nor are there any chemicals within the container that are hazardous to humans. Typically, a food grade container has a #2 by the recycle symbol or the acronym “HDPE” stamp on the bottom (HPDE stands for “high density polyethylene”). Before any food source is to be stored, clean the containers with soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly. 5-gallon plastic containers are the most popular amongst those who store bulk quantities of food.

Additionally, make sure the lid you purchase for your container is airtight and spill proof. Lids with gaskets and gamma lids are great lids as they do not require a lid opener. They are typically a little more expensive compared to the traditional bucket lid. However, they are easier to open and close, and are worth every penny!

Mylar Aluminum Bags

Mylar food liners are another option for storing your dry goods long-term. Research has shown that over time, slow amounts of oxygen seep through the walls of plastic containers. Consequently, over time natural elements, and even insects can find a way inside the container. To add additional protection, adding a food liner, such as Mylar bags, will ensure that there are multiple barriers for the food to be protected in. Investing in the thickest grade (5 mill. or more) of Mylar is a worthwhile investment for your food storage endeavors. The added benefit of using Mylar bags is they can last up to 20 years, if properly cared for! Additionally, the thicker grade Mylar makes a notable difference in the taste of food. The greatest part of investing in these food liners is that because they are so durable they can be reused over again.

Oxygen Absorbers

Using oxygen absorbers greatly prolongs the shelf life of stored food. Because it absorbs the oxygen from the container, it inhibits the growth of aerobic pathogens and molds. Oxygen absorbers begin working the moment they are exposed to oxygen. Therefore, it is best to work as efficiently as possible. Oxygen absorbers come in assorted sizes, so pay attention to the size needed for the container. See this chart for more information. Typically, 2,000 ccs of oxygen absorbers should be added in one 5-gallon bucket. Oxygen absorbers are not edible, not toxic and does not affect the smell and taste of the product.

Desiccant Packets

Desiccant packets moderate the moisture level when placed in a food container. They do not absorb the moisture. Please note that desiccant is not edible. If the packet somehow breaks open and spills onto the stored food, the entire contents of the container must be thrown away. There are certain food items that desiccant should not be added to – specifically, flour, sugar, and salt. These items need a certain amount of moisture to stay activated, and if desiccant is added to it, they will turn into a hard brick.

Diatomaceous Earth

A more natural approach to food storage is to use food-grade diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth are the fossilized remains of diatoms. They are organic and are safe to use on food. Use 1 cup to each 25 pounds of food.

How to Properly Seal Your Food Using a Multi-Barrier Process

The following video gives you a step-by-step process on how to use seal Mylar bags in a 5-gallon bucket. Again, this is the method that my family uses and our long-term food stores have been as fresh as the day we sealed it.

Food is an investment into your future and your family’s livelihood. Therefore, you must do all that you can to protect that investment for the long-term. Using a multi-barrier system will ensure that the food is stored in optimal conditions and that the contents inside are protected for the long term.

Tess Pennington started Ready Nutrition as a way to help her family live more economically. She is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster, and the highly-rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing, and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. Subscribe to Tess’ newsletter, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


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