Since we are building a General Store in our homes it is important to understand how storage conditions can affect your stored foods.
If food is not sterilized or properly handled before packaging, it will ultimately spoil due to the growth of microorganisms. The shelf-life of food depends upon several factors: the quality of the food at the time or purchase, packaging, temperature at which it is stored and the humidity in the area in which the food is kept.
Dried fruits and vegetables have a longer shelf-life because moisture has been removed from the product. Unopened dried products may be stored for 6 months at room temperature. Again remember high humidity will damage dried foods and reduce their shelf life. To prolong the life of dried items store in a refrigerator. Dried foods should always be stored only if they are a part of your regular meal planning or they will spoil.
Dehydrated foods should be stored only after you have purchased a sample and are sure your family will eat the product. After that they should be stored sparingly as it takes 4 times as much water as original product to reconstitute. If water is scarce you may be left without edible food. I have had people tell me they will just reconstitute foods be sucking on them before eating. This will cause dehydration, which can be life threatening, as the water to reconstitute will be drawn from cells in the body.
Canned and bottled foods have the longest shelf life. Government studies have shown that these foods have the same nutritional value as fresh fruits and vegetables that are eaten more than 24 hours after they are picked. In other words, if your pick something from the garden and eat it the same day it will be more nutritious than canned, if you wait more than 24 hours the canned will have the same value. All fresh produce we purchase in the store is more than 24 hours old.
Canned foods have been tested and shown to be safe to eat for 10 years or more. They will begin to lose some of their nutritional value after 1-2 years but they are still safe to eat. If however, the food has discolored or smells “funny” discard it. . Discard all canned foods if cans are swollen, badly dented, rusted, and/or leaking.
Storage areas should be dry, and adequately ventilated to prevent condensation of moisture on packaging materials, including cans which can rust. Food should not be stored on a concrete floor, the lowest shelf should be 2-3 feet off a concrete floor.
When designing and building a food-storage area, minimize areas where insects and rodents can hide. As practical, seal all cracks and crevices. Eliminate any openings that insects or rodents may use to gain entrance. Even a closet in your home will benefit from having weather stripping attacked to the door to prevent unwanted invaders.
Food storage such as flour, crackers, cake and other dry mixes, seasonings, and canned goods should be stored in their original packages or tightly closed airtight containers at 50°F – 70°F (10°C – 21°C). The storage life of foods can be cut in half with just a modest 15-degree elevation in temperature.
Humidity levels should be less than 15%. Higher humidity may cause dry foods to draw moisture, resulting in caked, stale or spoiled products. Canned goods stored in high humidity areas may rust, thus spoiling the food stored. Cans with liquids may leak.
Always store food and paper products separate from household cleaners, and insecticides. Contamination of food or eating utensils with a household cleaner, paint, gasoline, fertilizers or insecticides could result in chemical poisoning. Items stored in plastic or cardboard are especially susceptible to contamination.
What are good storage options?
Glass Bottles: Foods stored in glass should be stored in a dark area. If this is not possible store these foods in a cardboard box or wrap in aluminum foil.
Light will increase the rate at which food quality is lost. Canning jars should be stored in their original boxes after being filled. This will help prevent breakage and will contain any breakage which may occur during a natural disaster. Items purchased in glass containers should be stored in boxes with paper or cardboard between the bottles or on shelves with a guard attached to the front of the shelf to help prevent jars from falling and breaking during a storm or earthquake. Glass containers are rodent and insect proof and when properly sealed will not allow air or fumes to degrade the products stored.
Metal cans: Cans are a great storage option, especially in areas that are prone to flooding. After a flood it is easy to disinfect the can while still protecting the food inside. Metal cans are heavy and not appropriate for 72 hour kits. They will rust in humid areas and should be stored with care and rotated often under these circumstances. Metal cans are also airtight, rodent and insect proof. Typically canned goods have a one-year expiration date from the date of manufacture before the quality diminishes. Many foods, especially canned foods, have a product code stamped on the bottom or top of containers providing information such as a “use by date” or “best quality date”. The name of the plant where the food was produced, and a lot number may also appear. Codes are not standardized from one manufacturer to another. Manufacturers may indicate the “use by date” as month and year such as : FEB08, stamped on top or side of the container. FEB08 means the food is best if consumed by February 2008. The first letter of a month and number corresponding to a year) may also be used. F8 would indicate that the product is best used by February of 2008. Many food manufacturers provide a 1-800 number for consumer questions check the label or the Internet for the number. Remember this is a best by date not an expiration date so do not discard foods just because the date has passed.
Plastic buckets or bottles: Only food grade plastic containers should be used for storage. Other plastics have been manufactured using chemicals that can be toxic. If you are unsure if the plastic is food grade check with the supplier or manufacturer before storing food. Determined rodents have been known to enjoy a feast on food stored in plastic containers.
Mylar bags: Mylar will protect food from contamination from air and other fumes and are lightweight for carrying in an emergency. They will protect against light damage. They are very susceptible to rodent damage, can be easily punctured and if not vacuum sealed – sweating can occur within the pouch.
Original store packaging: When possible food should be stored in the original container. This will preserve the use by date and also any preparation instructions. Place items packaged in cardboard in another container to increase protection. I use packing tape to seal the ends of my boxes of pastas, cereals, and other easily infested items. If an infestation occurs the pests cannot get in to the protected boxes and if a box came from the manufacturer infested and critters cannot get out and infest other items.
A few bad storage solutions
Plastic bags: Plastic bags meant for trash or garden use have been chemically treated. These chemicals can be toxic.
Paper: Paper will absorb moisture in the air that can then be transferred to your food, spoiling it. Pests and rodents love paper, an easy meal!
Cardboard: A cardboard box is a good place to store items in their original glass or metal containers but not as your primary container. Cardboard, like paper will absorb moisture in the air, and an easy target for pests.
Protect your investment by storing items correctly as you rotate. As always, rotating food is the best way to prevent the need to throw food away because it has spoiled.
For much more information and to ask questions please visit our facebook page and please share the page with your friends and family.
For those who do not have access to facebook last week we stored 6 pounds of grain per family member and this week we will be storing 10 cans of veggies per family member. If you can access facebook through a friend please check out the information last week about water storage. Have your friend like our facebook page and keep you up to date.