What to Look for When Shopping for Food Storage
By Gaye Levy
With all of the varying complexities of food storage and food storage companies, it may be difficult to sort through and prioritize what is important and what is not. I don’t know about you but with the dizzying array of things to take into consideration, you just might want to throw you hands up in dismay and yell “help me!!”
I do not claim to be an expert, but over the years I have learned some things about food storage and food storage companies. Setting aside the very real concern of where to store everything, which is a separate topic altogether, today I want to break down what you should look for when shopping for food storage.
How many calories are needed per day to feed your family
Before you even begin to investigate specific food storage products, you need to do some homework. How many calories per day will it take to sustain the caloric needs of your family? You may already know the answer but if you don’t, try one of the many online calorie calculators. I happen to like this one on the American Cancer Society website.
Resource: Free Online Calorie Counter
All you need to do is answer a few questions based upon your age and current weight and lifestyle, and you will get an approximation of what you need to maintain your current weight. Do this for every member of your family.
Two things to keep in mind are that if you are currently robust in size, you can use your optimal weight instead. If you do, however, keep in mind that if you are ever called upon to use your food storage, you might transcend for a moderate activity level to a high activity level. Your calorie needs will increase accordingly.
Be mindful of the stated “Servings per Package”
This is important. If a meal packet states that it contains 500 calories total and it contains 3 servings, then know from the get-go that is probably not realistic.
Say your calorie needs are 2,100 calories per day. That would break down into 700 calories per meal. Will 500 calories adequately feed 3 people in that situation? Doubtful.
Of course add-on items such as beverages and snacks will add to the overall calorie count. So, using this example, a 500-calorie meal packet or pouch is not a bad thing but rather something to be mindful of.
Note: for the purpose of this article I may refer to a meal packet but the same principal applies to servings per tin, per box, per package or whatever.
Shelf life is important but not the be all end all
Price, the availability of space, and the environmental aspects of that space may dictate a more aggressive rotation of your food stores. Also, the ages of your family members will play a role as well. Remember that tastes, eating habits, and calorie needs will change over time.
All that being said, unless it has turned rancid or is contaminated by vermin, most foods are still edible well beyond their stated shelf life. This, by the way, applies to canned goods used day to day and not just food storage. So, although a consistent food rotation program is a good practice, don’t beat yourself up if that can of peaches is 5 years beyond the “best eaten by” date.
Do you plan to shelter in place, head to a well-stocked retreat, or bug out? Or a combination? If there is any possibility that you will need to evacuate your home, consider portability for at least a portion of your food storage.
Consider a a minimum — a three-day provision of freeze-dried meals in lightweight pouches. The last thing you want to have to do is cart around a 40-pound bucket of food as you bug out following a disaster.
Compromise and find a happy medium. Purchase the more pricey freeze-dried meals to stow in your emergency kit. You may also want to store a three- to five-day supply of freeze dried meals for post-disaster bug-in use. But beyond that? Consider the value of having beans, rice, oatmeal, instant powdered milk and other bulk food items.
Be informed of the nutritional value of your food storage
During times of stress, you want food that is as wholesome as it can be given the circumstances. Seek out nutritious calories from many different food groups. An occasional treat or sugary dessert will help mitigate food fatigue but, at the end of the day, protein, vitamin and mineral-rich foods will be better for you and help you keep a leg up on sickness.
Another question to ask is if the nutritional claims are verified? If you are seeking non-GMO foods, are they Non-GMO Project Verified? Likewise, if organic foods are important to you, are they USDA Certified Organic?
There are a lot of claims companies make that take advantage of loopholes or unregulated areas in food law. The GMO-Free one especially. If it is not Non-GMO Project Verified, and they claim GMO-Free, then you know they aren’t doing it correctly. Go in with your eyes wide open to ensure that you get what you pay for.
Is the meat in the product real?
Does the food advertising and packaging imply meat content but lack a USDA mark? I recently learned that you can track down the final company of origin of a meat product from the number on the USDA mark on the packaging. The mark is only there for foods that contain real meat or poultry.
Does it taste good?
This is often perceived as a stumbling block. That said, many food storage companies offer sample packs for very little cost, and sometimes for free. If you have any doubts, purchase a small quantity and do a taste test.
Is the taste acceptable? Or is it too salty or too bland? How does it smell?
Before making a huge investment in food storage, if you have any doubts, try before your make any large quantity purchase.
What is the quality of the packaging?
Food packaging is something very near and dear to my heart because the last thing I want is for my food storage to spoil. For this reason, I often repackage food myself either in Mylar bags and buckets or, more recently, in large mason jars stored in a cool, dark location. Regardless of how I store the food, I always include an oxygen absorber.
When purchasing packaged food for long-term storage, make sure the company states that oxygen has been removed from the packaging by using an oxygen absorber or by nitrogen flushing. If you are purchasing a bucket or bulk food, ensure that the product is sealed inside a metalized bag.
So how do you tell if the food is packaged correctly? One test is smell. If you can smell the food when you open the pouch or bucket then you know that the packaging is not properly protecting the food. The molecules that cause smell are bigger than oxygen molecules. If smells get through the packaging, you know for a fact oxygen can too.
Recently there have been some studies of the various packaging methods used by different food storage companies. The results, to me were surprising. Although some companies fared better than others, I feel that regardless of the company or manufacturer, our overall reliance on Mylar or metalized bags by itself may be faulty. More and more I am recommending that we place such bags or pouches in buckets or sealed tubs not only to decrease permeability, but also to keep out pests.
That brings up another point: pests such as mice are attracted to smell. If they can’t smell it, they don’t know it is there. As far as I am concerned, this is another reason to package food items in bags, and then in a bucket or plastic tub.
The integrity of the company selling the food storage items
This may be one of the more difficult aspects of food storage to evaluate. One of the first questions to ask is “How long has the company been in business? Are they looking to make a quick buck?” Be wary of a new company that pops up within weeks of a major, public disaster or disruptive event.
Avoid fear-mongering at all costs
You might be surprised at the number of companies that started up right after Katrina, Sandy, and the more recent Ebola scare. These companies used (and continue to use) fear-mongering to promote their products. If you examine their web sites, you may find no mention of a physical location or corporate presence.
If a company’s advertising is based on fear or you feel any sort of pressure, run for the hills! There are plenty of credible choices out there both online and locally. Move on. Please.
Don’t ignore price but don’t become obsessed with it either
The saying “you get what you pay for” does not always hold true when it comes to food storage purchases. As stated above, some companies will prey upon your fear and charge you way too much for too little of an inferior product.
A better way to approach price is to look at price per meal or price per serving. Just be mindful that the price per serving will be based upon your own calorie calculation and not those of the company selling you the product.
After narrowing your choices, identify the other factors that are important: tastes, shelf life, packaging, and special nutritional considerations such as non-GMO, organic, or gluten free.
Be sure to also scrutinize shipping and handling costs and make those costs are part of the total price proposition. Free shipping is sometimes truly free and sometimes not. You need to compare apples to apples and look at total costs. The results might surprise you.
On the other hand, most companies have fantastic monthly sales. Shop those sales; and even with shipping costs, you will save a ton of money.
Resource: Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials (as an example)
Read reviews, try small quantities before you make a large purchase, and most of all ask a lot of questions. Any reputable food storage vendor will have knowledgeable staff on hand to answer your questions by phone or by email.
There are no dumb questions. If at all in doubt, ask. One other thing: ask about their satisfaction guarantee. Look for a 30-day guarantee and, again, take advantage of it by taste testing a small portion of your purchase. Just remember that once you open a can, bag or bucket, it must be properly resealed with O2 absorbers unless it is going to be consumed within a year.
Free Food Deal – Get a 100% Free Sample from Mountain House
So here is a free food deal that is a little-known secret. Did you know that you can request a free sample meal from Mountain House (officially OFD Foods Inc.) just by asking? I have confirmed this with my contact at Mountain House, and now I want to share it with you.
To request your free sample, all you need to do is call 1-800-547-0244 and ask. Or, if you prefer, reach out online via their customer service form here. A hint though? Calling is a lot simpler!
That’s it. This is a free lunch. There are no shipping charges and no handling charges. Free is free. I was specifically told that they would love to have Backdoor Survival readers new to freeze-dried foods call them up and request a sample. Thrilled, actually. Of course it does not hurt that Mountain House has received top scores in independent third-party testing of emergency survival meals.
Why do they do this? Their attitude is that companies can talk all the marketing speak they want but what really sells is the product itself. I could not agree more.
Note: I have no financial relationship with Mountain House and am sharing this information with you because I love their products. MH Chili Mac? That is my number one freeze-dried meal favorite!
The Final Word
If you have made it this far, congratulations. You now know more about shopping for food storage than 95% of the population. Just keep in mind that as you shop, taste preferences differ from person to person. What is good to one person, may be mediocre to another. Make an evaluation of what is best for you and your family based upon the tips I have outlined and you really can’t go wrong.
Finally, I do want to put a plug in for the many fine food storage companies and purveyors that support Backdoor Survival with their ads. Because of them, this website is and will always be free for everyone. I do not accept donations but, instead, ask for your support by shopping with my sponsors.
Whatever you decide, please know that building food storage is an individual thing. Three months, one year, two years? How much is enough? Go with your budget and your comfort level. You really cannot go wrong as long as you just do something!
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!