Food security has become a hot topic in recent years. With the increased cost of living and possible disruptions in the formal food chain, the unsettling reality is that it is impossible to depend exclusively on food retailers. Savvy consumers need to plan, buy food wisely and store rations effectively to provide their own safety net in case of food shortages or emergencies.
Food storage is the deliberate process of storing food for future use. It is a method to reduce variability in the food supply. Methods used to prepare food for safe long-term storage include dehydrating, canning, salting, pickling, vacuum sealing, curing, refrigeration, and freeze-drying.
Storing food safely for long-term use is a little more complicated than simply buying bulk and stockpiling in your pantry or freezer. Almost everyone stores food supplies for short-term use, so let’s find out the difference between packing away your weekly groceries and deliberate food storage as a means to ensure additional food security.
What Does Food Storage Mean?
Storing food is a valuable habit that can provide peace of mind. Successful food storage means you will have enough safely preserved food available months or even years after it was produced.
The availability of many types of food is highly variable. Factors like seasons, emergencies, crop failures, or global catastrophes can all affect the food chain. Food storage is, therefore, not only a domestic skill but also a form of food logistics.
Storing food can either be long-term or short-term. Most people naturally keep nonperishable staple foods like cereal, rice, sugar, and salt for future use in their kitchen cupboards, which is an example of short-term food storage.
Long-term food storage entails diligently processing and packing food, which can be cooked or raw, to ensure that it is safe to eat in the future. Storage conditions should be optimal so stock lasts for as long as possible.
All rations should be carefully labeled and dated when storing food for long-term use to ensure ease of use and food safety. The recommended space for food storage is in a cool, dry, dark area.
Food Storage Vs. Food Preservation
The terms food storage and food preservation are often used interchangeably. Although one often leads on from the other, they are, in fact, two entirely different processes.
- Food preservation refers to the steps taken to prevent food spoilage. Before the advent of refrigeration, most homesteads were proficient in food preservation methods like pickling and salting so their fresh food could last as long as possible and be available even during the off-season.
- Food storage refers to the process of stashing preserved food in a manner that will extend its shelf life even further. It usually entails collecting large quantities of food to offset possible shortages caused by unpredictability in the supply chain.
What Are Some Food Storage Preservation Methods?
Before food is stored, it must be preserved to last for as long as possible. Even perishable ingredients like fresh fruit and vegetables can be preserved in various forms and stored for later use.
Preserving food refers to techniques commonly used to prevent it from spoiling. The key objectives when preserving food are to retain the food’s nutritional value, texture, and flavor of ingredients.
Standard methods of preserving food for storage include canning, freezing, pickling, curing, freeze drying, drying, and fermentation. Most of these can be done inexpensively at home to preserve seasonal produce and other food when it is bountiful.
What Does Safe Food Storage Mean?
Safe food storage means deliberately storing food for later use. Food not packaged and stored correctly can quickly spoil or result in food poisoning.
Almost anyone can store food, but doing so safely usually means that the food must undergo some form of processing or preservation to remain shelf stable for extended periods. Many nonperishable items simply need to be packaged effectively and can even be successfully stored in bulk inside 5-gallon buckets.
Food can be divided into three main groups, each of which requires different approaches to preserve them for storage:
- Perishable food includes fresh items like meat, eggs, dairy, vegetables, and fruit. Perishable food always requires some method of preservation before it can be stored.
- Nonperishable food – Food that naturally has a long shelf life. Examples of nonperishable food items include dried beans, sugar, tea bags, and food that has been preserved by means of drying, canning, pickling, etc. Of course, even though food may be classified as nonperishable, if it is not stored correctly, it could still spoil if exposed to bugs, mold, dampness, oxygen, or light.
- Semi-perishable food – Depending on how long you need to store food, you may not need to process semi-perishable foods before they are stored. Some vegetables like potatoes, onions, garlic, and pumpkins can last for months in a root cellar. Similarly, fruit like nuts and apples will stay fresh for extended periods after harvest if stored in a cool, dark, dry area.
Why Is It Important To Store Food?
Storing food is a method to prepare for food shortages. Preserving and storing fresh seasonal food is also an excellent way to ensure you can enjoy a greater variety of food throughout the year.
Some common reasons why many people choose to store food for future use include:
- Emergency planning includes being prepared in cases of limited movement because of natural hazards, like fires, extreme winter conditions, or floods. Other reasons cited include terrorism and localized technological hazards like hazardous chemical spills.
- To save money – There are times when food is plentiful and other times when demand outstrips supply. Buying food in bulk when it is readily available at a lower price and storing it can save money in the long run.
- Peace of mind – It can be unnerving to realize that your survival depends on being able to stock up regularly at the grocery store. Storing food takes the pressure off and offers you a buffer in case there is a breakdown in the food chain in your area.
- Health benefits – Having a plentiful supply of wholesome food is an excellent way to avoid always reaching for fast foods, which may not be healthy. Stored food tends to be mindfully prepared and carefully preserved and usually includes plenty of healthy options.
How Long Can You Store Food?
Although your leftover pizza or chicken nuggets are only safe to eat for about three days if refrigerated, food like white rice, beans, and dry pasta can be safely packed to last unopened for up to 30 years.
The following factors affect how long food can be stored:
- Temperature – The best temperature range for a food storage area is between 40 – 60F.
- Light – Food should be stored in a dark area. Light can have a damaging effect on the nutrients in stored food.
- Oxygen – Removing oxygen from around food prevents oxidation in the food. A visible example of the effects of oxidation is the brown color that develops on a cut apple when exposed to air. Oxygen can be removed from stored food by adding oxygen absorbers to air-tight containers.
- Moisture – Food that will be stored for a long time should have a moisture content of less than 10%.
- Container – Air-tight containers work best for the long-term storage of food. Food storage containers should be made from materials that do not contain chemicals that could leach into the food during storage.
- Pest infestation – Bugs and rodents can quickly contaminate and destroy food stores. One of the most effective methods to eliminate insects is to store dry food in mylar bags and use oxygen absorbers to remove oxygen.
- Shelf life – Even if you do everything right and provide perfect conditions for long-term storage, some food naturally has a best-by date that can’t be extended indefinitely. While honey can last many years, pickled meat or vegetables can only retain their original taste and texture for a few months or years.
What Is Food Rotation?
When food is stored for long-term usage, it is often in bulk. Food may be purchased, preserved, packed, and stored at different times while building up a well-stocked storage area.
Food rotation is the process of always first using the stock nearest to its expiry date. It can involve regularly repacking shelves to place the food close to expiring at the front so that it is used next.
Rotating stored food prevents unnecessary spoilage and wastage of valuable food supplies. All items stored for long-term use should be carefully labeled with the contents, the date it was packed, and the expected expiry date.
Food rotation in home food storage pantries should follow the same First-In-First-Out (FIFO) principle used by businesses to reduce the risk of spoilage. Food of the same sort should always be stored together and arranged with the oldest stock at the front.
Food storage is about building up a large store of food in order to become less dependent on the variability of the food supply. To successfully store food, it must first be preserved to prevent spoilage.
Having your own stockpile of safe food provides a sense of security and control in case of emergencies, pandemics, or famine. Food storage is about strategically planning and taking control of your family’s continued food security.