26 November 2012

Food storage: What to store?

I'll be honest. I've looked at those pre-assembled 1 year supplies of food storage. They're freaking expensive, and they're not tailored to my family's eating habits. Same thing goes for the 72 hour kits and whatnot. (I mean, TVP? Really?)

So, based on those same principles, I can't give you a checklist you can print and tell you "Ta-da! Now you're prepared!" I can tell you some things I worked out for myself, and hopefully you can use them as guidelines to store food that will be useful for your family.

First, store what you eat. What good are 200 cans of tuna fish if your family hates it?

Second, the goods you have in your pantry may keep a lot longer than you think, if stored correctly. Not too hot, not too cold, protected from bugs, out of sunlight, and sealed against air and moisture. You do not need mylar and gamma lids to do this. Repackage that plastic envelope of spaghetti into a clean, dry jar and it'll keep for years. Check out http://www.stilltasty.com/ for some guidelines on how long some foodstuffs will keep. Salt, sugar and white rice will last indefinitely if stored properly. Dry beans, oatmeal, powdered milk, spices, and pasta are also good bulk-buy staples that keep for a good long time.

Third, comparison shop. If you buy everything from one store (especially the food storage places) you will get burned, because some places will have a substantial markup on things you can get elsewhere for cheaper. I adore Honeyville (http://honeyvillegrain.com/), they have a great selection and your whole order ships for less than $5, and they often run sales from 10-20% off. (Sign up for their newsletter to be notified.) However, the Augason Farms brand at www.walmart.com beats even their prices and WM offers free shipping on orders over $45. Their selection isn't as good, though.

Fourth, bring a calculator and make sure you're comparing apples to apples. Take the unit price for that #10 can (or whatever) and divide it by the number of ounces of food that's in it. Now compare the price per ounce, not the unit price. You can use the same principle when buying non-consumable items such as diapers, just calculate the cost per unit (per diaper, in this case). I've gone so far as to calculate the price for individual sheets of toilet paper in a package, but I'm cheap. And they try to fool you. They do!

Fourth, canned food is awesome. Just regular canned food from the grocery store. The sell-by date at the bottom does not mean the food is bad. Do your own research on this, as botulism is Very Bad and the vitamin content may decrease after being held for (several) years after the sell-by date, but as long as the can isn't damaged or bulging and the food inside doesn't smell off, it's probably fine. They've taken canned food from 100 year old shipwrecks and discovered the food was still safe to eat. Here's one article to start you: http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/menus/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-canned-food.htm By the way, I figured out early on that even the warehouse store packages of brand name canned goods didn't beat the ounce for ounce price of generic canned goods. The pretty labels are expensive, and canned tomatoes are canned tomatoes.

Fifth, individual components are less expensive and will usually last longer than mixes. Is that emergency meal package of instant "Vegetable Soup" or whatever really any better than getting the vegetables individually and making your own soup? The emergency meals with pasta are even worse ripoffs, because pasta is cheap and easy to store.

Finally, eat what you store. Replace as necessary. Whatever you decide to store should become what you and your family eat everyday. Do you really want to deal with tummy upsets and picky eaters when you're already having to cook by lanternlight on your kerosene stove? If you're thrifty when you buy it, you won't end up spending much more than you would on your regular groceries. I've found that it actually SAVES us money, because I don't have to account for spoilage like I do with fridge food.