In the Aftermath of a Disaster, Do You Really Want to Be Dependent on FEMA to Feed Your Family?
If you have sought out this Wiki page, you probably already have some reasons in mind to embark on a food storage program, but if you are still on the fence about acting on your concerns, here are some questions to consider:
- In the event of a local natural disaster, such as a severe winter storm, hurricane, or earthquake, do you really want to be part of the chaotic rush of people flooding your local grocery store and fighting over the last box of mac-n-cheese?
- In the aftermath of a local natural disaster, do you really want to be dependent on FEMA to feed your family?
- What if you are forced to shelter-in-place because of a viral outbreak or chemical contamination in your area? Would you have enough food in your home to stay there for an extended period, or would you be forced to expose your family to the threat to obtain food?
- What if an economic or credit crisis shutdown the banking system (and all commercial trade and food transportation systems) for an extended period? Are you confident that you would be able to find someone willing trade their food for your dollars (or silver and gold coins)?
- What if you lost your employment and/or income for several months — could you still feed your family during this period?
- What if food prices soared for any reason, be it a major drought, a geopolitical event, an energy crisis, or just old-fashioned Wall Street profiteering. Would you be able to cope?
All of these are legitimate concerns for any conscientious person, but there is one other reason to embark on a food storage program that has nothing to do with any “doom or gloom” scenario: It can save you a significant amount of money over the long term. How much money you save depends on which approach to home food storage that you take, but before we delve into that, let’s take a detailed look at the three different types of food products used in home food storage.
The Three Primary Types of Food Storage Products
Most home food storage plans use a combination of foods that have been preserved in one of three ways: by canning, by dehydration, or with the use of a retort oven. Below you will find a description of each of these preservation methods, as well as the pros and cons for each.
Description: These products need no introduction as they are firmly established within our modern daily life. These goods are often criticized because the canning process destroys many of the micronutrients in the food, but the truth is that significant nutrient loss occurs with many of the other commercial preservation methods as well.
- Good Selection & Availability: Many types of fruits, vegetables, and meat are available as canned goods, and can be easily obtained at your local grocery store.
- Price: Canned goods are generally much cheaper than other types of preserved food, and sometimes are cheaper than their fresh counterparts.
- Easily Traded: During a worst case scenario, canned goods can be easily traded for other goods, and because nearly everyone is familiar with them, they may even serve as a default currency in some situations.
- Shelf life: Research studies have shown that canned goods have a shelf life from two to seven years, depending on the food that is canned.
- Ease of Preparation: Canned goods can be eaten right out of the can, either cold or heated, and don’t need extra water for cooking.
- Heavy & Bulky: Because of their liquid content, canned goods are heavier and bulkier when compared to other products, such as dehydrated and retort foods.
- Nutrient Retention: Though there is significant nutrient loss during the canning process, canned goods retain their nutrients well during storage. A study at Bringham Young University showed that canned goods only suffered a 10-30% loss in micronutrients (vitamins), and no significant loss of their macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) over time.
- Quality: While their quality might not be great as compared to fresh foods, most people are at least familiar with consuming these goods.
Description: Another common commercial preservation method involves drastically reducing the moisture content in foods to create an unfavorable environment for spoilage. Dehydrated foods can be either air-dried or freeze-dried. The air-drying process exposes the food to air heated to 140-400°F to dry it out, while the freeze-drying process first flash-freezes (at -50°F) the food and then utilizes a special process to remove the water crystals from the food. Air-dried foods shrink significantly during their processing, becoming brittle and hard, while freeze-dried foods are typically spongy in texture.
- Reduction In Weight: Both dehydration methods can reduce the weight of fruits and vegetables by 80-90%, and meats by 30% (as compared to their fresh equivalents).
- Space Saving: Air-dried foods are often marketed as taking only one-fifth the space as canned goods, but this assumes that you don’t have to store the water needed to rehydrate them.
- Shelf Life: At best, dehydrated foods remain viable (edible) for about twice as long as their equivalent canned goods, though many companies selling these products claim much longer shelf lives for their products.
- Price: When compared to canned goods, expect to pay two to three times more for air-dried foods, and four to five times more for freeze-dried foods.
- Nutrient Retention: Dehydrated foods are often marketed as being superior to canned goods in retaining nutrition, but this is not really true in the most practical sense. When you take into account the nutrient losses associated with blanching, drying, storage, and preparation, the total amount of nutrient degradation in dehydrated foods is about equal to that of canned goods.
- Preparation: These foods need to be rehydrated in to be consumed. As a rule of thumb, one pound of dehydrated vegetables or fruits needs 1 gallon of water for rehydration, while a pound of meat or eggs need about one-third of a gallon. Air-dried foods can be soaked in cold water for several hours, or cooked in boiling water for 20-25 minutes to prepare them for consumption. Freeze-dried foods can be prepared in about 15 minutes by simply pouring boiling water over them.
- Quality: Most people equate rehydrated air-dried foods with the taste and texture of ordinarily cooked foods. Freeze-dried foods have an almost fresh-like texture, but are usually considered to have less taste than air-dried foods.
Description: Retort foods are typically packaged in multilayer laminate pouches that are vacuum sealed and then heated to 240-250° to sterilize the contents. The U.S. military makes extensive use of this technology in their MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) products. Many juices and beverages are preserved using this method as well.
- Less Deterioration During Processing: The thin pouches allow for shorter sterilization periods than canning, which allows them to retain more nutrients.
- Lighter: Pouches weigh less than cans, providing for easier mobility and storage in some situations.
- Quality: Most opinions are that the food is equal or superior to frozen food in taste and texture.
- Price: Typically three to four times more expensive than canned goods, and about on par with freeze-dried goods.
- Storage: Storing large quantities of these products requires packaging to hold them in place, and this extra packaging negates much of their space-saving benefit.
- Shelf Life: Typically retort products have a shelf life equal to that of canned goods.
- Preparation: Like canned goods, retort products can be eaten straight out of their packaging, or placed in boiling water for a few minutes to heat them.
- Aseptic Foods: SAP (Sterile Aseptically Packaged) foods are very similar to retort foods, and thus share many of the qualities described above.
Two Approaches To Home Food Resilience
Okay, so you’re ready to start building a food buffer for your family, but are unsure as to where to begin. Most people take one of two approaches; they either purchase a supply of emergency food products, or they design and develop a deep (or “extended”) pantry. Let’s look at the pros and cons for each approach so that you can decide which approach is best for you.
Approach #1: Emergency Food Products
Description: You have probably seen these before, they are the pre-packaged kits that many companies sell that provide simple-to-prepare meals. Products in this category range from individual MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) to large, year-supply kits containing a variety of food items. The majority of these emergency products are either retort, freeze-dried, or dehydrated products.
Pros: Some of the advantages of using these products include:
- Overall Convenience: If you are looking for the absolute easiest route to personal food resiliency, it’s hard to beat the simplicity of buying an appropriately-sized emergency food supply kit and just sticking it in the back of a closet somewhere in your home.
- Speed: In most cases, you can have an adequate food buffer in place within a week of your purchase. And, as many of these products are now carried by popular big-box retail stores, like Costco and Sam’s Club, you could easily check food storage off of your “prep list” in one day.
- Do It and Forget It: Because most of these products have multiyear shelf lives, there is no need to concern yourself with regularly replacing (or rotating) foods that have exceeded their expiration date.
- Easy Prep: If the time comes that you actually have to eat your emergency food products, you won’t need much equipment to prepare the food, if any. Some foods you may have to rehydrate to consume, but others like MREs can be consumed right out of the package, if needed.
- Upfront Costs: The methods used to preserve the food in these kits can cause them to be, pound-for-pound, twice as expensive (or more) than the traditional preservation methods like canning. And as most of these foods come in pre-packaged kits, there can be significant up-front costs to taking this approach to food storage.
- Taste: Taste is an extremely subjective sensation, and people react very differently to the experience of consuming these products. But I think it is safe to say that most people would not choose these products for dinner if they had a choice in the matter. Furthermore, it’s important to realize that if your family is eating from your emergency food supply, they are under a great deal of situational stress already. In this type of scenario the comfort factor of “real” food should not be underestimated, especially if you have children or picky eaters in your family.
- Out-of-SIght, Out-of-Mind: As mentioned in the Pro section, many of these products have a multiyear shelf life expectancy. While this is typically an advantage with these products, it may also be a disadvantage if you forget to annually check the viability of these products. You might find yourself someday pulling out these products in an emergency only to find that they have spoiled.
If you are going to purchase an emergency food supply kit, now is the time to do it. The quality and pricing of these kits can vary greatly, so be sure to do your due diligence. Here are some links to get you started:
Because of their space efficiency, some of these emergency food supply kits are ideal for using in a bug-out-bag or tote.
Approach #2: Developing And Maintaining A Deep Pantry
Description: As its name implies, the deep pantry method of home food storage is simply an extension of your normal pantry that stores the foods that you typically use in bulk form. It acts as a buffer between your pantry and the grocery store, and when you run out off an item in your pantry, you replenish it from your deep or bulk pantry. As most kitchen pantries are not large enough to store food items in bulk, the deep pantry is often located in a basement, garage, closet, or empty room in your house. The deep pantry will often include an additional freezer for storing frozen food items in bulk, and sometimes an additional refrigerator as well.
- Food That You Know You Will Eat: Because your deep pantry is only an extension of your regular pantry, you tend to fill it with items that you regularly cook with and consume. Some of these food items might be in a different form than you are used to, for example dried milk versus fresh milk, but the majority of these items are easily adapted for daily use.
- No Spoiled Food: Because you are regularly using and replacing items in your deep pantry, it is rare to have to throw food away due to spoilage or expiration.
- Low Upfront Costs: You can build your deep pantry gradually over time by simply buying a few extra items on your weekly grocery store trips, and putting them into your bulk pantry. This is a great way for those on a tight budget to manage the cost of developing a deep pantry. Most of the upfront costs with the deep pantry approach involve buying bulk storage containers for some items, and building shelving to store your bulk items in an organized manner.
- Get Your Deep Pantry For Free: Perhaps the greatest benefit to this approach is the ability to take advantage of periodic sales to fill and replenish your deep pantry at a significant cost savings. With a little effort on your part, you can use Buy-One-Get-One sales or coupons to get items for your deep pantry for free. You can also realize significant savings on a per-unit basis by purchasing items from a big-box retailer such as Costco or Sam’s Club. In the battle against rising food prices, a deep pantry allows you the flexibility of waiting for the cheapest prices.
- Need For Space: Obviously, you need space for a bulk pantry in your home, and for some, this space might be hard to come by. In many cases, allocating space for a deep pantry comes down to asking yourself what is more important, a food buffer for your family or storing some personal belongings? In my own personal case, we made room for a significant deep pantry in our closet by donating clothes that we no longer wear and by rotating seasonal clothing to and from the attic.
- Work Required: Make no mistake about it, it requires a sustained effort to maintain and use a deep pantry. Most of the work involves keeping organized, so that you know what you need to replenish your bulk pantry. I use a Food Storage iPhone App to help keep track of my inventory. To save money with a deep pantry requires dedicating some time each week to coupon hunting and staying informed about local sales at your grocery stores.
- If You Don’t Cook At Home…: And speaking of work, to fully benefit from a deep pantry requires some cooking and baking skills at home. In some cases, you may want to purchase and learn how to use equipment that you may not be familiar with, such as a pressure cooker, a bread machine, a rice (and whole-grain) cooker, and a vacuum sealer. If your family is more inclined to eat out on a regular basis, cooking at home can be a significant task for you, at least initially.
Which method of home food storage is right for you? Probably a little of both. Most people start out buying a small emergency food supply kit to gain some resiliency right away, and then proceed to build a deep panty over time. The remainder of this article will explore building and maintaining a deep pantry.
What Foods To Store In Your Deep Pantry
There are two main categories of food products that you keep in your deep pantry:
- Everyday Food Products: these are the food items that you eat everyday, only you buy and store them in greater quantity. Examples include canned vegetables, jarred tomato sauce, pasta, canned tuna, condiments, etc.
- Substitute Food Products: these are specialty items that fill in for fresh food products that you normally use, but that might become temporarily unavailable in an emergency. Examples include powered milk, canned butter, canned or dehydrated vegetables/meats (to replace items that you normally consume fresh), powdered eggs, etc.
For the most part, you will not have to worry about expiration dates on your everyday food products, as these will be rotated to your kitchen pantry and used on a regular basis. For the substitute food products that you use less regularly, you will have to keep track of expiration dates. Its a good idea to try incorporate these items into your daily cooking on occasion so that you can become familiar with using them.
Listed below are descriptions of some of the products that constitute a deep pantry:
Salt: An easily overlooked item, salt is a critical component of a deep pantry. Most recommendations are for storing 5 pounds of table (cooking) salt per person, per year. Storing some pickling salt for home canning, curing meat, and other uses is also recommended. Salt is inexpensive and stores very well with desiccants, so don’t skimp on it.
Milk Products: You may or may not regularly drink fresh milk in your daily life, but you should consider storing it because it is such a good source of protein and calcium. Powered milk should form the bulk of your storage, but don’t forget some cans of evaporated milk for cooking and baking. Powdered milk can be used to make cheese if the need arises. If you have kids, you might consider storing some chocolate syrup, or some other flavorings, to make the rehydrated powdered milk more palatable.
Buttermilk Powder: Great for making batter for pancakes, muffins, and biscuits, dried buttermilk is a consideration for your deep pantry but not an essential. Shelf life is about 1 year if bought in the cardboard container, and longer if packaged in a metal container.
Butter & Margarine: Canned butter and margarine products are available for your deep pantry, each with a shelf life of two to four years. Spray-dried powdered butter and margarine products are also available, but these products typically don’t rehydrate well and can’t be used for greasing pans or for cooking with. Butter flavored granules are also available as a seasoning option.
Oils: Cooking oils, such as canola and olive oil should be part of your deep pantry. Be sure to store these oils in a cool, dark place to minimize their degradation. Unopened plastic containers of cooking oil (stored in a dark place) typically have a two to three year shelf life. Oils stored in metal containers (and kept cool) can have up to a ten year shelf life.
Shortening: Vegetable shortening has a fifteen year shelf life and can be a substitute for oil in baking and frying. Avoid powdered shortening products because of their high cost and difficulty in use.
Cheese: Fresh, hard brick cheese will keep for several years in your deep pantry if properly wrapped to exclude air. Dehydrated cheese products are also available that can be used for cheese sauces in cooking. Canned cheese spreads, such as Cheez Whiz, might also be considered because of their 5 year shelf life. With a shelf life of over a year, parmesan cheese is also an excellent product to rotate through your deep pantry.
Sugar: Don’t overlook sugar as a deep pantry staple, as it is helpful in making food more palatable and providing needed calories in a stressful situation. White, or granulated, sugar has a very long shelf life if you store it with desiccants to protect it from moisture. You might also consider storing brown sugar, powdered sugar, and molasses as well.
Honey: Honey that contains less than 18% water content is a great food product for long term storage, though it may crystalize after a year or so. Honey will become stronger in flavor and darker with age, and should not be given to infants because of the threat of infant botulism.
Bulk Grains: Cereal grains such as wheat, rice, corn, oats, rye, millet, and barley can be excellent long term sources of protein, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, and vitamins. To use some of these grains, however, you will need a home grain mill to process them into flours. Many of these grains can be purchased already packaged into long term storage containers at a reasonable price.
Refined Grains: With grains that have been processed into flours or meals, moisture content is critical to storage life. White flour milled at 14% moisture lasts about one to two years, and 12-13% moisture flour can last two to three years. If you repackage your flour, be sure to include desiccants in the container. Pantry moth infestations can occur in flour over a year old, so its best to limit your storage of flour to a year’s supply. Whole grain flours are more nutritious, but don’t store very well. Vacuum sealed and kept in a freezer, most whole grain flours will keep for a year.
Pasta: Pasta is a great food item for your deep pantry as it is easy to use, stores up to five years, and is inexpensive if bought in bulk at your local big-box retailer. Pure semolina pasta has the best shelf life and comes in many sizes and shapes for variety in your meals.
Legumes: Beans and other legumes are an excellent source of protein, low glycemic carbohydrates, and B vitamins. They will store for five years or longer and are inexpensive in their dried form. They can be prepared rather quickly with the use of a pressure cooker. Consider black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, navy beans, peas, and lentils for your deep pantry.
Canned Fruits, Vegetables, and Meats: Any canned fruits, vegetables, or meats that you regularly use in cooking at home should be bought in greater quantity and cycled through your deep pantry. A common practice to use is called “first-in first-out”, and simply means that you use the oldest cans first.
Dehydrated Fruits, Vegetables, and Meats: If your looking to save some space, you might consider storing some dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and meats in your deep pantry. Dehydrated products are often best used in soups and stews, though you might find most of these products too expensive to store in a large quantity.
Powdered Eggs: Egg products, such a whole egg powder, egg whites powder and scrambled egg powder, should be considered for the deep pantry as a substitute for fresh eggs. Egg powders contain a higher quality protein than meats, and are considerably cheaper in price.
Condiments: Don’t forget to rotate some of the condiments that you typically use through your deep pantry. Items such as peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, hot sauces, and salad dressings can be bought in quantity at a considerable discount.
Herbs, Spices & Baking Supplies: Items such as garlic granules or powder, dried onion flakes or powder, black pepper, red pepper, and dried herbs should be an essential part of deep pantry. Don’t buy large bottles of these items because they will degrade rather quickly after opening. Instead, buy multiple, smaller bottles of these items. Also, if you plan on baking from your deep pantry, don’t forget to store an adequate supply of yeast and baking powder.
Non-Food Products: Don’t forget to include the many other non-food items that you regularly use in your deep pantry, including:
- Extra Can Openers
- Pet food and supplies
- Toilet paper
- Kitchen soap and detergent
- Bath soap, shampoo, and conditioner
- SOS pads or scrubbing pads
- Over-the-counter pain relievers, cold & flu remedies, antiseptic creams, etc
- Laundry detergent and bleach
- Cleaning supplies
- Garbage bags, zip-lock bags, vacuum sealer bags
- Shaving cream & blades
How Much Food To Store In Your Deep Pantry
How much of these items do you need? For the everyday food products, you should probably aim for a 6 month supply. This will provide you with a significant food resiliency buffer and ensure that you will use these products long before they expire.
The easiest way to build your deep pantry is to simply buy twice as much of your regular items each month, for six months. For example, if you normally buy 4 cans of tuna each month, you will now buy 8 cans each month over the next six months. At the end of six months, you will have 4 cans of tuna in your kitchen pantry and an additional 24 cans of tuna in your deep pantry. You can then go back to just buying 4 cans of tuna each month.
For those on a tight budget, spreading the cost of a deep pantry over six months can be very helpful. Be sure to take full advantage of any coupons, sales or specials on your everyday food items to reduce the overall cost of your deep pantry. You may also save money during this 6 month period by buying in bulk or quantity from a local big-box retailer.
You will also need to buy a six month supply of the substitute food products for your deep pantry. Some of these products should be available at your local store, but others you may need to order online. Be sure to shop around online because prices can vary significantly.
6 Month Estimate For The Basic Pantry Staples
The information in the following table will give you an idea of how much of the basic pantry staples that you will need for each family member, and was taken from information in the book Crisis Preparedness Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Home Storage and Physical Survival by Jack A. Spigarelli
So now that you know what you will be storing, you will need to decide how you will store it. Some items can be stored directly in their own packaging, while others will need to be repackaged to maximize their shelf life. Let’s look at some of the equipment that you will need for the repackaging process.
You will need food-grade buckets or containers to store some of the items in your deep pantry. While many people use buckets, if you want to use every inch of your available shelf space you should consider buying square or rectangular containers.
When storing loose dry products such as sugar, rice, and flour, always make sure that you add the newest product to the bottom of the bucket. Dump the contents of your bucket into a spare bucket first, then pour your new product in, then replace the older product. You will also need a smaller air-tight container for this product in your kitchen pantry.
For items such as bulk grains it is sometimes cheaper to buy them already packaged for long term storage. If you think that you will need to access the contents of a bucket on a regular basis, you should buy a resealable gamma-lid for it.
Mylar Bags & Sealers
Placing the contents of a bucket within a mylar bag may help to extend the shelf life of some food products. Be sure to buy mylar bags that have a quality foil layer to minimize the gas exchange through the material over time. You will also need a mylar bag sealer to properly seal the bag for long-term storage.
Controlling the moisture level in dry goods is critical to preventing premature spoilage. Using desiccant packets in your buckets and bags is a cheap and easy way to minimize excess moisture in your food, especially if you store it in a humid environment, such as a basement.
The shelf life of some products may be extended by placing oxygen absorbers within the buckets. The effectiveness of O2 absorbers depends on several factors.
Many food products can be optimally stored in #10 metal cans. Although this is not something typically done at home, you may be able to visit a local cannery to gain access to this equipment (and products).
Canned Goods Rotation Shelving Units
If canned goods make up a large portion of your deep pantry, you might consider building or buying a FIFO shelving unit. These systems make easy work of rotating your canned goods through your deep pantry. One company that sells these rotation shelving units is Shelf Reliance.
A chest freezer is an economical way to store frozen foods such as meat and vegetables. If you are concerned with losing electricity for an extended period, there are super efficient chest freezers that can run off a small battery bank, or even directly off of photovoltaic panels. These units use ample insulation and internal thermal mass to maintain temperatures when the solar panels, or grid, is not supplying electricity.
If you have large harvests from your garden, and/or egg-laying chickens, you might consider making a chest refrigerator for your deep pantry. By adding thermostat-controlled power supply to a chest freezer, you can convert it to a super-efficient refrigerator.
Where to Locate Your Deep Pantry
Now that have an idea of what your deep pantry will contain, it’s now time to decide where you to locate your deep pantry. The ideal location is one that remains cool year round, has low humidity, and is easily accessible. It may be difficult to find one location in your home that satisfies all these conditions, in which case you may be forced to spread your deep pantry over multiple locations.
Basements, closets, spare rooms, and large kitchen pantries are all acceptable locations, but you will most likely need to build or buy shelving to make the most efficient use of your space. If you do add additional shelving to your space, be sure to first decide what will be stored on specific shelves so that you can size them appropriately.
Thoroughly clean and disinfect the space before you begin storing food in it. You also might consider placing food-safe pest control products, such as kitchen moth and roach traps, before you begin storing food.
Using & Maintaining Your Deep Pantry
As mentioned previously, to take full advantage of your deep pantry may require some additional cooking skills, recipes, and equipment.
If you plan to store bulk, unprocessed grains in your deep pantry, having a grain mill at home to make whole grain flours is essential. Amazon.com has a good selection of home grain mills ranging from manual to electric models. Pleasant Hill Grain also sells a popular model called the Nutrimill.
Baking your own bread at home with fresh milled whole grain flour can be a very rewarding experience. And while you should learn to do it the old-fashion way, having a bread machine that can make whole grain breads can really save you much time and effort.
A pressure cooker can make quick work of preparing dried beans, grains, and dehydrated foods. They are also very efficient with cooking fuel if you find yourself in a situation with limited resources. With the right recipes, you can cook pretty much anything in a pressure cooker. See Recipe Books below for some pressure cooker recipe books.
If you have ample freezer space, a vacuum sealer can enable you to store precooked meals or fresh foods for up to a year. You can freeze meats in a marinade for quick grilling, or freeze whole grain flours in 1 cup quantities for baking.
Learning to cook from your deep pantry can be made easier with cookbooks.
Our grandfathers had more knowledge than any of us today and thrived even when modern conveniences were not available. They were able to produce and store their food for long periods of time.