14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs
by Gaye Levy
Waste is not in my vocabulary. Even before it was considered environmentally responsible to recycle, I would snatch paper out of the trash and re-use the back side before sending it off to the trash bin. The same thing applied to food. I simply hated to waste those bits and scraps of leftovers and eventually found a use for them in what I call “garbage soup”. To this day, the dibs and dabs of leftovers are combined to make the most delicious soups you can imagine.
For many of us, an aversion to being wasteful is the a result of having too little money in our younger days. Like many of you, I have worked from the time I was a teenager and never took anything I had for granted. Scrimping and saving for rainy days is ingrained in my DNA.
I believe that is the case for a lot of preppers; we have always had a mindset that dictated that we save during times of plenty to cover ourselves for those rough patches in life. The only difference is that now we save for more than a rough patch or two; we save food and supplies to last us for six months, a year, a decade and longer as we wind our way through an uncertain economy, droughts, and the threat of an unexpected disaster.
In this journey to save for the future – and whatever the future holds in store for us – I have made some food storage mistakes. I like to call them GOOFS for no other reason than I like to laugh at myself after the fact. I like the word, too; it just kind of rolls of my tongue.
Today I list some of my personal food storage goofs as well as some other common mistakes that are typically made in the quest to implement a long-term food storage plan. I hope you can learn from them.
14 Common Food Storage Mistakes
1. Storing food you don’t enjoy. Number one on the list is storing food you don’t like or will not eat no matter what. We have all done it: purchased an item when it is on sale because it was a great deal. If you won’t eat it now, what makes you think you will eat it later? Spending money and using your precious storage space on food you will not eat is just silly.
2. Not rotating out-of-date food items. This has happened to me. A number of years ago I purchased a few dozen boxes of cake mixes because they were really cheap. After a couple of years, the leavening was dead so I wasted good eggs and a half cup of oil on a cake mix that only rose about a 1/2 inch in the oven. My recommendation? Label everything with the date of purchase. Sharpie pens were created for this purpose. Keep a log, or a notebook, or reminders in your Outlook file. However you keep track, rotate your stored food items well in advance of the pull date.
3. Storing everything in the same place. Think about it. If everything is stored in your basement and the basement is flooded, you may have a problem. I know, you are thinking that everything is packaged in moisture-proof packaging. If you have 3 feet of water in your basement, that will not matter since you will not be able to get to it.
4. You don’t know how to cook it. Remember when I wrote about wheat in Wheat 101 for Newbies? For heaven’s sake, do not purchase wheat if you do not know how to use it. Of course it would not hurt to learn about wheat; freshly ground, it makes a heavenly loaf of bread. Check out the book How to Live on Wheat.
5. Storing a lot of basic foods but omitting comfort foods. This happens to me here at my home. I may be here by myself for a few weeks and am too lazy to go to the store in town (20 miles round trip). So I go for three weeks eating basics – no fresh fruit, no cookies, and no Tim’s chips. Eat well, and eat healthy but be sure to allow for a splurge once in a while, too. (Tim’s chips are a definite splurge!)
6. Improper storage temperatures. This is something you may not think of. I recently purchased 6 jars of mayo on sale for less than half the normal cost. They are being stored in my crawl space cellar and not in the garage where the temperature can reach the 80s in the summer. This will prolong the shelf life considerably. The same thing applies to almost any food that you want to store for longer than 6 months or a year.
7. Not storing liquids to reconstitute your dried items. Have you every tried to cook rice without water or broth? How about pasta? Enough said.
8. Not planning alternate fuel sources for cooking. This should be a no-brainer. When the power goes out, you will need a fire, a grill or a portable stove. Rocket stoves and even propane stoves are inexpensive. If you can swing it, consider a tea light oven.
9. No condiments or spices to wake up the taste buds. Salt, pepper, some chili powder, mustard, sugar, honey – the list is endless. These items do not need to cost a lot nor do they need to take up an extraordinary amount of space. When push comes to shove, however, your eating experience will be greatly enhanced by having a few things on hand to enliven the taste of your stored food stuffs.
10. Not storing a variety of items. I confess that I can go for days eating the same meal of baked potatoes over and over again. That said, most people need and want variety. This is especially true for children, the elderly and the infirm who may already be picky eaters. Plus, you need a variety of foods items in order to get a full complement of nutritional value from your meals.
11. Storing food in inappropriate or unmanageable packages. Your mileage may vary, but I prefer to package food in small, manageable sizes. In my own household, items stored for the long term (beans, rice, lentils, cereals, dog food etc.) have been stored in 1 gallon Mylar bags and not the larger, 5 gallon size. I take four or five of these small bags and put them in a bucket or Rubbermaid bin so that I can pull them out for use one at a time. For me this is more practical since there are only two in my family. Plus, if there is a short term emergency, I can pull out what I need without having to repackage the whole magilla.
12. Improper storage containers. This applies to a lot of things. Here is an example: do not store you rice in a bucket that previously held pickles without pre-packaging the rice in a Mylar bag. Pickle-flavored rice may taste good if you are pregnant but practically no one else will appreciate this exotic dish!
Make sure your food storage containers did not hold toxic chemicals in a prior life and make sure your containers are moisture and pest-proof.
13. Purchasing a kit without evaluating the contents. This is another lesson I learned the hard way. Before purchasing a kit of any type, look at the contents and decide how many of the items will be truly useful. If there are items you don’t want, can you give them away to someone else? Look at the total cost. Is the kit still a good value even though you will not use everything?
This also applies to bulk sized products at Costco, Sam’s or other warehouse type stores. In many cases, I will purchase a giant sized package knowing that a third will not get used. Even so, the purchase is a good value. But do not assume this – sometimes it is better to pay more per ounce for a smaller size.
14. Don’t worry about a 25- or 30-year shelf life if you are 70 years old! I am being a tad bit cynical and facetious here but really, if your lifespan is 20 years, don’t worry too much about 30-year items. Sure, you can give them away, donate them, or use them in less than 30 years but the point is, don’t stress if the items you store away have only a 10- or 20-year shelf life.
Go back to mistake #10, “Variety”. It is better to have a mix of items with varying shelf lives than to get hung up on extremely long storage life.
The Final Word
Are you guilty of any of these food storage mistakes and goofs? Can you think of others? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments below!
Note: This article is an updated version of a similar article posted on Backdoor Survival in July 2011.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!