The Basics of Safe Food Storage and the Benefits of Planning Ahead

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Stick to a consistent shopping plan and maintain safe food storage to get the most of your food and ingredients.
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Save money and increase your general health with tips from "Feasting on Food Storage" by Jane P. Merrill and Karen M. Sunderland.

Keeping your food fresh helps rotate your food supply and keep your diet healthy and varied. Feasting on Food Storage (Front Table Books, 2013), from mother-daughter team Jane P. Merrill and Karen M. Sunderland, is full of tips and tricks on meal planning, safe food storage and preparing for the unexpected. This excerpt comes from the first chapter, “Now Is the Time to Prepare!”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store:Feasting on Food Storage.

Preparing for Disaster

In ancient times, a universal calamity caused the destruction of all mankind except one man and his family of eight. They had tried for years to get their friends, neighbors, and everyone else to heed God’s warnings, but to no avail. Noah and his family boarded the ark with their food and supplies, and they were spared. In our day, no one knows exactly what disasters we may have to face, but if we are wise, we will follow counsel and prepare now with the food and supplies we would need to survive any calamity that may arise.

Being prepared for the unexpected doesn’t mean preparing for just one major disaster. It means being prepared for any challenge life may offer. Many of these are taking place today, such as major inflation, wildfires, floods, power outages, erratic weather patterns, food shortages, a sagging economy, political upheaval, injury, unemployment, and so on.

In today’s uncertain world, being prepared for an unexpected emergency is just good common sense. For many years, we have been advised to supply ourselves with extra food, clothing, and, if possible, fuel. Those who have followed these guidelines have been able to weather difficult circumstances and have peace of mind knowing they can take care of their own needs in case of misfortune or other unforeseen events. Prepare for the unexpected, and now is the time to do it!

What Is Safe Food Storage?

“Food storage is any food stored to be eaten at a later time—4 hours, 4 days, or 4 years. Food storage is any food in the refrigerator, in the freezer, on the shelf, in the garden, on the tree, livestock, etc.” (Utah State University, Use It or Lose It!). When acquiring food storage, be sure to choose foods that your family can and will eat. Be aware that eating right decreases fatigue, increases energy and endurance, prevents dehydration, maintains mental alertness, reduces diarrhea and constipation, reduces risk of injury, and maintains morale and strength. In extreme conditions, what and how much you eat and drink can mean the difference between life and death, so store wisely!

Store what you eat and eat what you store. Contrary to what most of us would like to believe, food does not keep forever, nor does it improve with age. Continually use and replace the foods in your storage to assure freshness, while maintaining an adequate supply. Rotating food is often the most difficult part of home storage, but it is important.

Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are a highly recommended addition to your basic long-term food storage. Most of them are packaged to keep twenty to thirty years or more, but you can start using them now, such as adding dried fruit to oatmeal, muffins, pancakes, granola, and so on. Storing and using a wide variety of freeze-dried and dehydrated vegetables and meats will help meet the nutritional needs of your family. They make flavorful additions to soups and stews, and they add fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Find your family favorites, add them to your food storage, and start using them. Store plenty of additional water when including freeze-dried and dehydrated foods as part of your storage.

Space to store food can be a problem, so be creative. Add extra shelves in the tops of closets and use space under beds, behind sofas, in the basement, and in any other available areas. Cool, dark, and dry storage conditions are best to preserve nutrition and quality. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Getting Started Is as Simple as 1, 2, 3 . . .

First: Inventory all the food you have on hand. Next, see what meals can be prepared using those foods. Determine how long you could survive on the foods you currently have. Evaluate where you are and where you want and need to be. Categorize your inventory list and keep it updated.

Second: Gather a supply of storable food that you typically eat, foods that are part of your normal daily diet. Focus on canned and commercially packaged foods that have a stable shelf life. Start with acquiring a one-week supply, followed by two, three, and then four weeks. Continue following this plan. Buy what staples you usually eat, but begin purchasing two or more at a time. This will increase your supply quite rapidly, and it will soon be sufficient for three months. Include basics such as flour, sugar, oil, yeast, baking powder, and baking soda, plus condiments and seasonings, so you can make your own baked goods if necessary. Keeping your pantry well stocked and organized saves both time and money. You will love the convenience of having the right foods on hand when you need them to prepare a meal.

Third: Be a time and money super saver. Here’s how:

1. Plan ahead. Consider that the average family eats only eight to ten different dinner menus repeatedly. So make a list of eight or more basic main meal menus you enjoy and can easily prepare. Include favorite soups, stews, and casseroles that are simple, nutritious, and food storage friendly.

2. Shop the sales. Use some of these menus each week, based on foods you have on hand and foods on sale at your favorite stores. By planning menus around weekly sales ads, you can often save 30 percent or more on an average grocery bill and really stretch your food dollars. Design these meals to fit your own family. Fix at least one meal each week using some of your longer-term storage foods so you all get used to eating them.

3. Use your menus as a guide. Check your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to see which items you already have on hand. Make a list of any additional items you will need. You can make a master grocery list following the configuration of your favorite grocery store and keep copies ready to use. Then simply check each item you want and write in the amount needed. Habits rule our lives, so be consistent in planning and in following through with your plan.

4. Shop once a week and stick to your list. You can write your list on an envelope where coupons can be stashed for easy availability. When you use a can or package of some food item, put it on your grocery list and replace it. As you shop, buy at least two of the basic items needed instead of just one. In this way you will soon build up an adequate supply of foods you regularly use. When possible, stock up on quality nonperishable sale items that you plan to use in the next few months. Never compromise quality for price. Avoid dented cans and foods that are questionable in any way. However, use common sense as you rotate your foods inasmuch as some foods are safe to use long after the suggested use-by date.

5. Save time and money. Cook once and eat twice or more by doubling or tripling at least one recipe each week. Enjoy one for dinner and freeze a meal or two for later, with little or no extra effort. This keeps your freezer stocked with ready-to-eat meals for busy days. One-dish meals can also save money and time. Making your own breads and pastries saves big money. This is much easier to do if you have the right kitchen equipment, such as a Bosch mixer, a good blender, and an electric grain mill (adjustable is best). And the new safe pressure cookers are great time-saving appliances.

6. Don’t panic or go into debt to get prepared! Most of us can’t get everything we will need at one time, but we can begin, and now is the time. Simply start with getting a three-month food supply. You will save big if you plan ahead, make a list, and shop wisely. Always keep in mind that good nutrition is of the utmost importance during times of stress to increase energy and help avoid illness.

Read more from Feasting on Food Storage

Basic Long-Term Food Storage

Reprinted with permission from Feasting on Food Storage: Delicious and Healthy Recipes for Everyday Cooking by Jane P. Merrill and Karen M. Sunderland and published by Front Table Books, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Feasting on Food Storage.