Friday, April 16, 2010

Prepping Basics: Storing Bulk Food Supplies PART 3

The last in our 3 day series on Storing Bulk Food Supplies, we're covering the best options for actually containing your dry food stores. If you're going to order bulk grain, what are you going to do with it? You can't just stack the bags in your garage and expect them to be good to go a year from now. And what about all those pounds of sweetener, canned items, and dehydrated food?

Because my family does not eat boxed meals and I do not encourage others to do so, you won't find instructions here on storing those long term. Some people like to keep these on hand just for emergencies, but I don't want to sacrifice health when my family may need it the most! I will address commercially canned items because some of this is okay to eat, especially in a pinch. 

Long Term Food Containers and Organizers

Grains, flour, dried beans, nuts. These items are fodder for bugs and mice, requiring special handling all their own. I have found that food grade buckets are an excellent solution as well, but you need a lot of these (more on this below). Some co-ops sell grain already in the bucket or you can buy them separately and add your own grain. However, if you are going to buy bulk grain in bags, you need to do a couple of additional steps for long term preservation:

1) Put the bags in the freezer for 3-4 days prior to pouring them in the buckets. This will kill off any small insects. Then you can move the grain to food grade buckets. I usually do this if I plan to use the grain within the next couple of months. When I do this, I usually use a gamma seal on the bucket instead of the standard lid that comes with it. The gamma seal is a ring with a screw top lid which makes it easy to get in the bucket often. You do not need this on all your buckets; just those that you get into regularly. As you use up the grain, you can open another bucket and pour grain into the bucket with the gamma seal.

2) Line the buckets with mylar bags and add oxygen absorbers before sealing the bags OR you can use the oxygen absorbers without the mylar bags and just seal up the bucket with a standard lid. As the packets absorb the oxygen, the lid will create a seal (like when canning) and you should see it sink in a bit on top. (I've tried to research the safety of mylar bags and could not find any negatives despite the fact that they are made of layers of mylar, aluminum, and plastic).

oxygen absorbers

How many buckets do you need? USA Emergency supply has a handy little chart that will help you to determine the number of buckets you might need depending on the food.

Commercially canned goods. You can always just stack these on the self. It's free and easy to do - until you need to start rotating the food. Since we're talking about a way of life here, you'll want to eventually go to the next step. Can trackers or rotating racks can be purchased, made from wood, or even made from cardboard. Some are standing units all by themselves that hold hundreds of cans, while others are shelf size racks that hold a couple of cases. Obviously you're going to pay more for racks that you purchase, and you're going to need a few. Ideally, you want to be able to load the cans from the front as well as retrieve them from the front, so look for a tracking system that works along this principle. It will save you time, energy, and space.

CanOrganizer.com sells a pre-cut cardboard organizer at a reasonable price. It comes in two lengths - cupboard size for $11.96 a four pack and a pantry size that is longer for $15.96. Want to build your own? CanRacks.com has plans which make this much more economical - only $14.95 a set with several to choose from.

Another option... construct a unit with the shelves slanted to one end (picture yourself facing the shelves - the right end of each shelf would be slightly lower than the left end). Be sure to add a small strip of wood across the lower end so that they don't roll out on the floor! Place your unit so that you can access either side of it - the left side is to put the cans in on their side and roll them down to the right side where you will retrieve them when you're ready. Space each slanted shelf close enough to the one above in order to make the most of your space while keeping in mind the various sizes of canned goods. Strips of wood or metal can be nailed on each shelf to make "tracks" so that the cans stay in a lane - you could get several lanes on each shelf depending on how wide you make them. (Sorry I do not have a photo to demonstrate this concept.)

Home canned goods. If you're already canning a lot, you've probably already devised a solution for your home. But assuming you're starting out on this venture, you'll want to consider how to organize these on the shelf. Do not lay them on their sides! Because of BPA on canning lids, you do not want the food to touch the lids any more than necessary. Be sure these are dated so that you are consuming the oldest items first. If you keep these on any kind of metal shelving you can use some type of bungee cords across the front in the event of an earthquake. On wood shelves, just add a narrow piece of wood or attach a dowel rod across the front. 

Dehydrated foods. I use canning jars for these items as well, but mylar bags come in many sizes and are a good option for long term needs. With the canning jar, I use my jar attachment on my Food Saver to remove as much oxygen from the jar as possible. Doing this really extends the life of the dehydrated foods.

Small bags and packets. If you have any small food items  such as bags of bulk spices or herbs in bags, you can put them in canning jars and remove the air (like I mentioned above) or do like several readers have suggested, use a cooler. You can organize the cooler by using little plastic baskets or cardboard boxes that are easy to lift out. I tend to store a lot of this kind of thing in my deep freezer, but if the electricity goes out, well... I need to change this!

For additional information on how long you can store certain foods, read HERE.

Chime in and let me know what you use for long term containers and how you organize them. I know you're a creative group!


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