"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 23, 2014
Shelf Life and Proper Storage of Food
by Carolyn Nicolaysen

Since we are building a General Store in our homes, it is important to understand how storage conditions can affect our 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 six 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 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 because it takes four times as much water as original product contained to reconstitute. If water is scarce, you may be left without edible food.

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 food 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. Foods 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 (less than 15 percent humidity), 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 the 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 attached 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.

Dry mixes should be placed in the freezer for two days to kill larva for meal moths that may be in the items. If this is impossible, seal ends of packages with wide packing tape to prevent moths from getting in or out of packages.

Humidity levels should be less than 60%. 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.

So what are some good storage container 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 that 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 crisis. 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.

  • Plastic buckets or bottles: Only food-grade plastic containers should be used for storage. Other plastics have been manufactured using chemicals, which can be toxic. If you are unsure, check with the supplier or manufacturer before storing food. Determined rodents have been known to enjoy a feast that was 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 can not get in to the protected boxes, and if a box came from the manufacturer infested, the 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, which 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 containers, but only if you put them in a glass or metal containers afterwards. Cardboard, like paper will absorb moisture in the air, and is an easy target for pests.

Be sure to check out Carolyn’s Facebook page for preparedness tips. Develop a personal preparedness binder by subscribing to the Totally Ready Newsletter. Contact Carolyn at: Carolyn@TotallyReady.com

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About Carolyn Nicolaysen

Carolyn Nicolaysen grew up in New Jersey and joined the Church while attending Central College in Pella, Iowa. With a degree in Home Economics, she later worked as a high school teacher, and served as an elected trustee of her local school board. Carolyn has taught personal and family preparedness to all who will listen. Having lived in areas that were threatened by winter storms, hurricanes and tornadoes, and now living in an earthquake prone area, she has developed a passion for preparedness. Carolyn started her own business, TotallyReady, when she saw the need for higher quality emergency information that could truly sustain families in a disaster.

Carolyn is FEMA trained and is an Amateur Radio first responder. She serves as Relief Society president of her California ward.

Carolyn is the author of three ebooks, Mother Hubbard, What She's Doing Now (food storage for the 21st century), Prep Not Panic (preparing for a pandemic of medical emergency) and That Won't Happen to Me (a discussion of disaster preparations). She has also authored a glove box book, Totally Ready for the Road and writes a monthly newsletter and the Totally Ready facebook page.

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