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Stocking up on food takes time, patience, and of course, money. When you look at the food on your shelves, remember that it was once money in your pocket. You wouldn’t throw money away, but that’s exactly what you’re doing if you’re not taking care of your food storage.
That’s not the only reason you should store your food properly. Eating rancid food is very dangerous. Just a single bite of food gone bad can be toxic enough to make you ill. Or worse: dead. Don’t let something that dangerous end up in your kitchen where someone might eat it.
To make sure these things don’t happen and to get the longest possible shelf life out of your food, study this list of 10 things that can destroy your food storage cache.
Heat can destroy your food in a single day. That’s why you need to set up your food storage in a place that is temperature controlled. Ideally, you want your food to be in a room that is between 50 and 70 degrees F. Most people will probably set their thermostats to 70 degrees and that’s fine, but keep it there year-round because temperature variations will shorten shelf life as well. Temperatures higher than that will significantly shorten shelf life. And before you put your food in the attic or garage for winter, remember that freezing temperatures can spoil food that isn’t meant to be frozen. Never store your food anywhere outside unless it’s a well sealed hidden cache.
Air is another enemy of food. Air means oxygen and oxygen means moisture (see next item). You want your food sealed up tight to keep the air out. Plus, it leaves food with a stale taste or can harden it so much that it isn’t even edible. Flour-based foods will not store well for long if exposed to air. You can help keep air out of your food by using Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers.
Moisture can quickly cause mold to grow on your food. Anything in cardboard packaging or flimsy plastic is susceptible to moisture damage, so choose your storage space carefully. Food shouldn’t be stored in the bathroom, laundry room, under a sink, or anywhere damp. You will want to store things like dried beans, flour, and pasta in airtight containers. Keeping the air out will keep the moisture out.
Light is just as dangerous as air and moisture, and it can degrade the nutritional value of your food. Because of this, it’s very important to keep your food in the dark. Basements are a great option. However, you could also store your food in a closet or hang blackout curtains over the windows. Another option is to store your food in food-grade buckets. Even then, you don’t want direct sunlight hitting the buckets because it can heat them up (see the problem with heat above).
Bugs are a huge problem, especially in things like wheat and flour. Ants, fleas, roaches, weevils… any one of these can ruin your food storage. The solution is diatomaceous earth. Just add 1-2 cups to every 50 pounds of food. (Read this article for more information.) This bug killer is inexpensive and well worth the investment. Another trick is to add a few bay leaves to the bottom of a bucket before putting the food in. This well help repel pests.
Rodents can be very persistent. If they’re hungry enough, they will get through even the strongest packaging. That’s why you should invest in some 5-gallon food grade buckets for your food. You should also set out traps, poisonous bait, or peppermint oil (a great rodent repellent). Check your food storage area often and look for evidence that rodents have been checking it out, and seal up any holes in the area with a piece of steel wool. If your home is in a remote location, you might have bigger problems such as raccoons or even deer. This is another reason why you shouldn’t store your food outside.
Unfortunately, time is one of the most common destroyers of food. People buy huge amounts of food in bulk, shove it in the back of their pantries, and forget about it. By the time they get to it, the expiration date is long past. To avoid this, just follow one simple rule: first in, first out. Always put new items behind old items, and be sure to use up anything that is close to expiring. (Here are some tips for rotating food.) Every time you rotate your food, check the expiration dates. To make this easier, get some masking tape (to use as labels) and a black marker and write the dates in large numbers.
Chemicals have a nasty way of infiltrating plastic bags and cardboard. There is also the risk of spills that could contaminate your food. Avoid storing things like household cleaners, gas, and other chemicals in the same area as your food storage. Paint, fertilizer, and pesticides should also be kept away from your food. If you have to keep certain cleaners or things like bleach in your food storage area, put them on the bottom shelf in case the containers leak or spill.
Bacteria on your hands can easily contaminate your food. Always wash your hands with antibacterial soap before handling any foods. This is especially important if you are canning or dehydrating food. You won’t see the bacteria on the food until it’s too late. If your canned food is contaminated, eventually you will see mold growing inside the jars. If that happens, the food cannot be saved and needs to be tossed, jar and all. Don’t even open it. You can learn more about canning safety here.
People who don’t understand why you’re storing food and why it’s important are a major threat to your food storage. I’m talking about friends, family members, and children. For example, if they don’t understand the importance of Mylar bags, they could open one up, eat some of the food, and put it back without sealing it, causing the rest to spoil. That’s why it’s important to tell anyone with access to your food storage to leave it alone until it’s time to eat it.
Your food storage is far too important to leave to chance. Do your best to follow these rules so you can protect your food and make it last as long as possible. Someday, your life may depend on it.