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Monday, December 14, 2009

Preps: Food - Part 1

This is the second of twelve "drill downs" for the Disaster Impacts you can encounter if an emergency occurs.  Click here to update yourself on the entire list of twelve, and our philosophy on Emergency Preparedness.  All of these drill-downs will be categorized under the 12 Impacts listing.


Having sufficient amounts of food is obviously a key to anyone's survival.  While of lesser importance than Air (dead in 3-4 minutes without it), Shelter (dead in as little as 3 hours depending upon weather conditions) and water (dead within 3 days without it), food is still one of the necessities of life (dead within 3 weeks without it).

Most people who have recognized a need to prepare, start their preps by storing food.  There are four major items that should be considered when preparing for food shortages:

  • Food selection and amounts
  • Storage Preparation options 
  • Location options
  • Eating Preparation options
Food Selection and Amounts

A maxim in preparation circles is, "Store what you eat".  It's a great rule of thumb.  You don't want to buy truck loads of flour if everyone in your family is sensitive to gluten.  Don't buy cases of peanut butter because it has such a great cost-per-gram of protein ratio if you have peanut allergies!

And consider finicky eaters - mostly children and pets.  If they absolutely won't eat the otherwise healthy foods you've stored, your preparations may have been (at least partially) wasted.

You also need to consider the nutritional and caloric requirements humans need to survive.  We all need fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to survive.  Don't just stock up on CoCo Crunch cereal for Junior because that's all he will eat!

Determining the amount of food to store has three major influences:  (1) Home many calories you anticipate "burning" per day during an emergency situation?  (2)  How long to you want to be able to eat without having the ability to run to the store and buy more food?  (3) What kind and size of storage facilities do you have?

The Mormon church (LONG time believers in food storage) recommends that you store at least 1 year of food for every person in your family.  They provide a free calculator to determine how much food that amounts to.

While their list is a great starting point, I think it comes up short in three areas - meat protein, fruits/vegetables and spices.  Their bare-bones approach should form the bedrock of your home food storage preps.  Supplement it with meat, fruits/veggies and spices that will allow you to live and eat as "normally" as possible.  That's a huge aspect of the Mental Health category in preparedness.

Along the lines of Mental Health, be sure to include some treats - puddings, cakes, candies and the like.  They go a long way in helping to make your predicament more bearable.

And as alluded to earlier, be sure to have any special dietary needs worked into your storage as well.

Storage Preparation Options

You have five ways of preparing your foods for storage:  Fresh, refrigerated/frozen, pre-cooked, cured/fermented and dried.  For long-term storage, the last four options are generally utilized to extend a stored food's "shelf life".  Certain root vegetables can be stored fresh in root cellars, but usually only extend the shelf life of the vegetable for a few months.

Using multiple methods for each category of food is very important.  For instance, you don't want to have all of your meat protein in a frozen state.  If electrical power is lost at your home/storage location, you may loose all but a small portion of your meat storage supplies.

Freezing (more than refrigeration) stops virtually all metabolic activity which spoils a food.  It can be used for meat protein, dairy products (eggs, milk, butter), fruits/vegetables and cooked foods.  While it will work for legumes, grains and certain fats, there are less expensive options for storing those types of foods.

A key with freezing (in addition to maintaining the required temperatures) is to ensure the packaging is as air-tight as possible.  The well known, "freezer burn" which often happens to meat proteins can dry out the food, and make it appear unappetizing.  Freezer burn does not affect the safety of the food.

Properly wrapped and prepared frozen foods can easily last a year or more.

Pre-Cooking foods will also kill some, if not all of the various microbes that spoil food.  This can run the gamut from preparing and freezing meaty spaghetti sauce to pressure canning meats, beans and vegetables.  One of the major benefits of pre-cooking these foods is that they can generally be eaten without further cooking being required (although they will have to sometimes be thawed prior to eating).

With regards to pressure canning, achieving proper cooking temperatures is an absolute requirement.  All meat protein, vegetables and any canned meals that contain these ingredients must be pressure canned.  Failure to achieve at least 240 degrees F can result in botulism poisoning, which can be deadly.

Properly canned foods can last years (with many people reporting decades of shelf life).  Generally speaking, the nutritional value of canned goods (whether commercially-purchased products or home-produced items) will degrade over time.

Fruits can be canned using the less time- and resource-intensive Water Bath method.  As with the pressure canned foods, water bath preserved fruits (and jams/jellies) can last many years.

Curing/fermenting is the process of adding some sort of ingredient - generally salt and/or acid - to the food to inhibit spoilage.

Curing is used exclusively with animal proteins.  Salt and other ingredients are applied to the meat.  This draws out much of the water that is present in the meat, resulting in a product that is less susceptible to spoilage.  Cured meats include sausages such as salami and fish such as salt cod.

Care needs to be taken when preparing cured meats.  If improper amounts of time, cure ingredients and temperature are used, the cured meat can result in illness and death.

Fermenting  for home storage generally refers to lacto-fermentation.  This is the addition of an acid - usually vinegar - to meats and vegetables.  Common examples are sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), pickles (fermented cucumbers) and pickled fish.  Hard-boiled eggs are also another staple.

You can also ferment milk to make yogurt, buttermilk and sour cream.  Generally speaking, these dairy products will require refrigeration after they are made, but the shelf life of the dairy product will have been significantly extended.

Drying is the process of removing all or most of the moisture from a food.  Common examples are beans and peas, pasta, grains and corn, vegetables and meats.  Dried legumes and grains can easily have shelf lives of decades, if not centuries (!) when properly stored and kept separate from sources of moisture.

The drying process can be done by the sun, but most home preppers use a dehydrator or a low oven setting.  Either method requires the right mix of time and temperature to achieve the best results.

The major benefits of drying foods are the significantly extended shelf life, and the large reduction in weight and bulk of the item.  With the weight of water being over 8lbs per gallon and generally taking up the majority of the volume of most foods, drying foods allows you to store more food in less space.

It is also very beneficial for preps that need to be carried, such as when camping or in Bug Out Bags or Get Home Bags that are kept in your vehicle.

To ensure moisture does not come in contact with your dried foods, packaging is very important.  Home vacuum sealers, mylar bags/food grade buckets and other containers impervious to moisture must be utilized.

Many dried foods - including freeze-dried foods - are available commercially.  They can come in a variety of packaging, from nitrogen-flushed cans to individual meal mylar packs.  The prices of these commercially purchased goods is generally much higher that a similar, home-dried product.

Tomorrow:  Part 2 - Storage locations and Eating Preparation options.

Accept The Challenge

After running the various food needs calculators, it can become a bit daunting when you see how much food you need to store.  Don't panic!  While you should start with your preps immediately, if finances don't permit you to immediately buy everything you need right now, buy or produce what you what you are able when you are able.

Just be consistent and dedicated.  Buy a few dollars of prep foods each time you go to the store.  You'll be surprised how quickly your personal stores will grow.

Start developing the skills you will need to properly prepare your stored food.  Learn how to pressure can foods.  Learn how to cure meat.  Learn how to make pickles.  Make dehydrated meat (beef jerky) with store-bought meat - the same process will work with venison you shoot or are given.

Copyright 2009 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Andrea said...

Great first post! Can't wait to see tomorrow's post.

We started our food stores on a $10/week budget. After cashing his check on Friday, my husband would stop in to Aldi's and pick up $10 worth of *something*. Usually pasta, beans, rice, canned milk, flour, sugar, salt, spices. Something different every week, but only $10, give or take. It adds up so quickly!

We started with the bare bones that the LDS suggested, though not necessarily in the same quantities. Then we started adding the proteins and comfort foods. We grow most of our own veggies and barter for most of our fruits, so the preserved fruits and veggies are free, with the exception of labor.

Like you said, with some consistency and dedication, your shelves begin to fill up very quickly.

Chief Instructor said...

We started much the same way, and had the occasional big-buy when prices looked like they were rising on some product, or when a price dropped dramatically so we could really bulk up.

My problem now is one of space. We have a perfect space in our home right now - under the stairs - that stays pretty temperature-consistent year-around. But it's full! I have a space in our garage that could hold a good deal more, but the temps get quite high in the summer, many times hitting 100. Not good for food storage longevity.

Anonymous said...

A food dehydrator calculator can estimate the weight of various foods after they have been dehydrated.

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, much thanks! The link has been added to the Resource Links in the left side bar.