Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Food Storage - Maximizing Shelf Life" Guest Post By Laurie!

I am so excited to share my first guest post with you today!!! My good friend Laurie (who is one of the best on food storage, stocking up, preservaing food and growing stuff! =)) is sharing some wonderful and Very helpful advice for the Stocking Up Challenge! I hope you enjoy and visit her blog for more advice and encouragement, etc! =)
Thanks so much, Laurie!

"Food Storage - Maximizing Shelf Life

When I think of “food storage”, I think of stocking up on food items that I know my family will use. This includes seasonal storage of garden produce, bulk purchases of basic items (grains, beans, fats, etc.) and buying “extra” when things are on sale.

“Emergency preparedness storage (EPS)” is a little different. While I may purchase some of the same items for both, EPS also needs to take into account the emergency conditions you may be in when the food is needed, such as power outages, freezing, flooding, etc. EPS also extends beyond food, to survival type gear. Hannah has inspired me, and I’ll be doing a series of posts on EPS over the next several months.

One of the biggest hurdles we can face with food storage is how to store things properly to maximize shelf life. Let’s discuss the storage environment.

Avoid Heat – Heat is one of the worst enemies or stored food. Avoid locating your long term food storage near heat producing appliances (like a furnace, stove or powered clothes dryer) or in direct sunlight. If you must store food in a warm area, put the food there that you rotate through the most quickly.

Avoid Moisture – Unless you’re talking about a root cellar , which needs some moisture to keep veggies non-wrinkled, moisture is generally a storage enemy. It rusts cans, and promotes the growth of molds, bacteria and insects. I repackage items in mason jars (such as bagged dried beans) and suck the air out with my vacuum sealer. I have also repackaged bulk items such as dried coconut and oatmeal (purchased through my natural foods buying club in 25 pound heavy paper bags) into roughly five pound vacuum sealed bags. (This also covers the next item on our list.) I use large vacuum seal bags to slip over ten pound bags of sugar. Keeping the sugar in its original bag (inside the vacuum seal bag) keeps the sugar from being sucked into the vacuum sealer and damaging the unit. Dry goods can also be stored in well sealed glass, food grade plastic or metal. Don’t just leave dry goods in the sacks they came in, unless you want to be feeding critters other than your family.

Avoid Oxygen – While essential for our lives, oxygen also feeds the critters, microscopic and otherwise, that will damage our food storage. Use a vacuum sealer if you have one, don’t break factory seals until necessary, and use airtight containers. Non-saturated fats (such as liquid oils, and the fats in nuts and grains like brown rice) can go rancid very quickly when exposed to air. I prefer saturated fats for home use and for long term storage. Their carbon atoms are already “saturated” with hydrogen atoms, so they are more stable.

Avoid Light – Light inhibits mold growth, but it also causes the breakdown of many nutrients. Just think about what happens to garden tools or children’s playsets left sitting out in the sun. You don’t want the nutrition bleached right out of your food. Keep your storage area dark (preferred), or use opaque containers.

Avoid Odors and Dust – If your food storage is in your garage, utility area, laundry room or other strongly scented/dirty area, watch out for odors and dust. Grains, flours and milk and other dry goods are particularly affected. You do not want to eat oatmeal that taste like soap or motor oil. Certain contaminants also present health risks (although hopefully you use primarily non-toxic substances in your home). These areas are probably best used for canned goods, or non-food items. If you must store in these areas, try to use multiple barriers between your food and its surroundings.

The author of “Dare to Prepare” gives a good overview of the shelf life of many basic food items (link HERE). Remember to plan for rotation and using the food you store. No one really wants to eat 20 year old home canned chicken - it might even be dangerous. Years ago I knew a couple that had their laundry room overflowing with canned goods, but it was so poorly organized that they wasted a LOT of money. Food went in and it never came back out. I know most of us can’t afford to do that.

How and where do you store your food? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?

Laurie is a homeschooling mom with a background in engineering and a passion for natural healing, homesteading and gardening.

She blogs at Common Sense Homesteading , and writes a weekly article for Living Well Moms ."

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