The most economical way to buy long term food storage is to buy in bulk – 25 or 50 pounds at a time – and repackage for storage. But how do you store it so it won’t get bugs, eaten by rodents, or spoil?
Keeping Food Fresh
There are 3 major causes of spoiled food.
The best ways to store food for long-term will minimize all three of these problems.
While oxygen is important for us to breathe, it isn’t as good for our food. Oxygen encourages the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. These are things that will spoil food in the long term.
Oxygen also increases chemical reactions in food which cause browning and bad odors. This is especially true in foods that have fatty components.
Bacteria can grow and mold forms when food is moist. Moisture can be a problem, especially in areas with high humidity. While some areas – like the high desert – have relatively low moisture, other areas have high humidity which can cause complications.
Some foods are preserved because they are dry. These foods will rehydrate if exposed to moisture. It is necessary to keep the food dry to keep it fresh for long-term.
Exposure to light can bleach out the color of food – just like the sun bleaches a couch by a window . It can also reduce the nutrients in the foods.
For some foods that have a lot of fats, light can cause them to spoil quicker. This is one of the reasons we keep foods in dark pantries or behind cupboard doors.
Food Storage Solutions
The good news is that we have ways of storing food that can control all three of these problems.
There are several ways to remove oxygen from food storage containers. They are all commonly available.
Creating a Vacuum
A vacuum is created by sucking all of the air out of a package. This removes most of the air, including the oxygen. Removing all of the oxygen not only preserves the food, but kills any adult and larval bugs.
Vacuum sealing uses special bags and a machine. I use a FoodSaver. They are available at Amazon, Walmart, Costco, and from FoodSaver directly. There are many different models, but they all perform the basic functions.
Vacuum sealing bags are available in precut quart and gallon sizes and on rolls that can be cut to custom sizes. Some even come with resealable Zip tops. I thought I would love the Zip top bags, but the mechanism for removing the air makes it susceptible to leaking.
Vacuum sealing bags are very convenient, but over long periods of time, air can permeate the plastic bags and disrupt the vacuum. They are also clear, so they provide no light protection without storing them in a dark container. Vacuum sealing bags are also prone to punctures when contents have sharp corners or points.
The effectiveness of home vacuum sealing equipment depends upon the density of the food and the strength of the vacuum motor. It is important that powders or liquids are not sucked into the machine during the sealing process.
Some machines have “moist” settings for foods that are more liquid, but how do you seal food powder without sucking it into the machine?
If you are storing powders in a jar, you can place a circle of coffee filter material on top of the powder inside the jar. This helps hold the powder in place while allowing the air to be pulled out.
How to Vacuum Seal Jars
Mason, or canning, jars can be sealed using a FoodSaver to create a vacuum. This method is for dry goods only, not for foods that need cooking or refrigeration.
How do you get the air out of a mason jar? There are special attachments that fit over the jar and enable the air to be removed and drop the lid in place once the vacuum is created. The attachments come in a set of both regular and wide mouth.
We have found that the wide mouth attachment works much better than the regular mouth device. The regular mouth one takes a little bit of finessing to achieve a seal.
Another way to store food is in a Mylar bag with oxygen absorbers. Add them just prior to sealing. These little packets remove the oxygen in the bag through a chemical reaction.
Oxygen absorbers can be difficult to work with because they must be kept away from air or they will lose effectiveness. Quickly put the oxygen absorbers in the Mylar bag and seal as promptly as possible.
Make sure to store any leftover absorbers in a vacuum sealed glass jar or in a bag that has most of the air removed. Any time spent out of a sealed container reduces the effectiveness of the oxygen absorber.
Once an oxygen absorber has been exposed to air for 15 minutes or more, is no longer effective.
Oxygen absorbers should not be used with plastic bags, Ziploc bags, or vacuum sealed bags. These bags are permeable to air and will reduce the effectiveness of your absorber.
It is important to use the correct size and number of oxygen absorbers. Too many, and you’ve waste your money; too few, and they won’t have the desired effect. That said, it’s better to err on the side of too much absorbing power than too little.
What Size Oxygen Absorber Do You Need?
The most common sizes of oxygen absorbers are 50cc, 300 cc, 500 cc, and 2000 cc. These sizes refer to the amount of oxygen they can absorb. Larger containers require more ccs.
You can use multiple absorbers to give you the correct number of ccs, but using 3-100cc packs is more expensive than just buying 1-300cc pack. But, you actually can’t just buy one, either.
Oxygen absorbers usually come in packs of 10, 50 or more. Larger quantities are made up of many smaller packages.
5-gallon buckets need between 2000cc and 2600cc depending upon the density of the food. The more pockets of air between beans, etc. the more oxygen that needs to be removed. Small or fine foods such as wheat, flour, and rice only need 2000cc. Most legumes need around 2600cc for a 5-gallon bucket.
Mylar bags big enough to fill a 5-gallon bucket are available, but you should consider how you will use the contents. Once you open that big bag, you’ve exposed the entire bucket to oxygen. Consider using 2 or more smaller bags.
This is a great way to safely store your 1+Year Survival Food.
Make sure to label all Mylar bags before you fill them, so you know what they are once they are sealed. It’s much harder to label bags once they are full.
How Many Do You Need?
|Container Size||Oxygen Absorber Size|
|1/2 Pint jar||50cc|
|Pint jar or Mylar Bag||100cc|
|Quart Jar or Mylar Bag||300cc|
|Gallon Mylar Bag*||500cc|
Sizes are for powders or grains.
Bulky items with lots of holes, such as pasta will need more.
How Do I Know If They’re Still Good
Oxygen absorbers come with an indicator to let you know when they are no longer good. These indicators are bright pink or red when there is no oxygen, but they turn blue once they have been exposed for too long.
If you don’t have an indicator, you can tell by pinching the packet. A good packet will feel soft or like it is full of a powder. If it feels hard or solid, it is spent.
What to Store and Not to Store with Low Oxygen
Use vacuum sealing or oxygen absorbers with some types of food. Others don’t need it. Foods should have less than 10% moisture content to be stored with low oxygen. Storing in low oxygen will greatly extend the shelf-life of the food.
Foods to use oxygen absorbers or a vacuum sealer with:
- Grains (wheat, rice, oats, rye, etc.)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, etc.)
- Dry milk
Foods that are high in moisture should not be stored with low oxygen. High moisture and low oxygen may encourage botulism growth. Botulism toxins are potentially fatal, but usually rare. They can cause weakness, blurred vision, feeling tired, and trouble speaking.
Avoid storing in low oxygen:
- Brown rice
- Pearled Barley
- Dehydrated fruits or vegetables (use moisture absorbers instead)
- Leavening Agents (baking soda, baking powder)
- Salt (already lasts forever as is)
- Sugar (already lasts forever as is)
Sealing Mylar Bags
Mylar bags are sealed with heat. Some people use an iron, others use a ceramic hair straightener, while others use the seal function on the FoodSaver.
When using a FoodSaver to seal Mylar, seal the bag twice, with both seals near each other but not touching. This will help avoid seal failure.
Carbon Dioxide in its solid form is known as Dry Ice. It has a temperature of -109.3°F Because it is so cold, you must wear gloves when using.
Because carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen, it will displace oxygen in a not-quite closed container. This is especially helpful if storing grains or beans directly in a food-grade bucket. The container is closed once the dry ice “melts.”
Since I package all of my bulk food in bags before placing them in the buckets, I don’t use dry ice. If you are going to try this method, I recommend you check out this article by Real Food Living before starting.
Keeping your food storage dry is a little more straightforward than removing oxygen.
Desiccant packs are made of silica gel. They are the packets you find in almost everything you buy. The ones that say on them, DO NOT EAT.
Desiccants are especially useful with dehydrated goods stored in mason jars. They will remove any leftover moisture that may cause spoilage, holding 30-40% of their weight in water.
Desiccants can be used with a vacuum sealed mason jar or vacuum sealed bag, but if you use them in Mylar bags, remember not to use them at the same time as oxygen absorbers.
Make sure you get food-safe desiccant packs. Do not skimp and try to reuse packs that came with consumer goods. Save those for drying out cell phones that have gone swimming.
Food packaged with desiccant packs should be dry, not moist. They should not be used with salt, sugar, flour, grains – basically everything you’d use an oxygen absorber with – those foods require a certain amount of moisture.
The size you need to order depends on what you want to store and how big each container is. Desiccant packs range from 1 to 10 grams in size.
I buy the one gram size because I want the flexibility of using less in smaller containers. Remember to keep them sealed in a bag or jar until ready to use.
Unlike oxygen absorbers, desiccants can be used with Ziploc bags and vacuum sealed bags.
How Many Desiccants Do You Need?
How many desiccant packs you need depends on the size of your container. It doesn’t matter how full the bag or jar is, the desiccant pack will remove moisture from the entire container.
|Container Size||Desiccant Size Needed|
|1 pint||1 gram|
|1 quart||2 grams|
|1 gallon||5 grams|
|2 gallon||10 grams|
How Do I Know If They’re Still Good
The good news is that desiccant packs are reusable. You just need to get them to release the absorbed moisture. If you plan to reuse them, they should have no food residue stuck to them.
The easiest way to dry them out is to put them on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake them in the oven for about 15 minutes at 175°F. Once they are finished, seal them back in a Ziploc bag or mason jar until you need them again.
Keeping Out Light
As mentioned previously, light can fade food colors and remove desired vitamins. The best way to keep light from affecting your food is to store it in a dark cabinet or closet.
Many solutions used in reducing oxygen and moisture also protect from light, especially Mylar bags and/or buckets.
What Do We Do?
We don’t use just one storage technique. Each method has its uses and we use whatever is most appropriate for our ingredients, storage space, and usage expectations.
Dry Goods in Buckets
We store our grains and legumes in 2-gallon Ziploc bags in 5-gallon buckets. Why have we made this choice? Our food storage is part of our working pantry. We have smaller containers of each item in the house for regular access. When they run low, we refill from the buckets in the garage.
Here’s how we fill and store our buckets.
- Label 2 Ziploc bags with Contents and Date
- Fill 1st bag and temporarily seal
- Lay 1st bag in bucket
- Half fill 2nd bag
- Stand up 2nd bag in bucket
- Open 1st bag to let excess air out
- Finish filling 2nd bag
- Seal both bags
- Label Bucket
- Put on lid (regular or Gamma)
This procedure works with rice, grains, beans, and most other dry foods.
If using a chalk marker to write on labels, like I’ve shown here, put the label on the container first. Then, write the contents. If you write on the label first, you will mess up your label trying to apply it. This is because the chalk hasn’t had a chance to dry and set.
We use a Gamma lid on only the 1st bucket of any type of food. Subsequent buckets get plain white lids. Gamma lids allow for easy access to the bucket contents for refilling our main pantry containers, but they are considerably more expensive.
We have a color coding system to help us identify the type of storage in each bucket.
|Lid Color||Ingredient Category|
|White||Milk & Beverages|
|Red||Mixes & Specialty Items|
Vacuum Sealing in Bags
We purchase our flours and other powered dry goods in 50 pound bags, but feel they’d be too messy in a bucket. So, we use vacuum sealed bags instead.
To keep powdery ingredients out of our FoodSaver, we package the flour (or other ingredients) in paper lunch sacks, weighing them out for uniformity. We then vacuum seal the paper sack in a vacuum bag.
The paper sack helps protect from light and the sealed bag keeps out bugs. These are then stored in totes.
We use this process for our brown sugar as well. Once the air is sucked out, the brown sugar feels like a brick. Don’t worry, though, once the package is opened, it falls right out with the consistency of kinetic sand. The moisture level isn’t high enough to worry about botulism – only 2-4% – and my brown sugar never dries out.
We use our Mylar bags to store our very dry dehydrated foods. This protects them from light, moisture, and oxygen.
The sealed Mylar bags are put in plastic totes to give another layer of protection from rodents. I don’t have to worry about light as the Mylar blocks it all.
Note how the oxygen absorber caused the bag on the right to conform to the contents. This bag just happens to hold dehydrated marshmallows. You should try them some time, but beware, they can be addicting.
We keep dry mixes and a variety of dehydrated vegetables in half gallon mason jars in our regular pantry. Many of these are vacuum sealed, especially if we don’t use them as often.
Note the one jar with a white screw on lid. This type of lid will not work with the vacuum sealer attachment. Only the flat lids that come with the jars and are used for canning will work.
As you can see, there are multiple ways to safely store your dry goods. If you can avoid oxygen, moisture, and light in your storage, your food will last much longer.
What ways do you store your food? What new ways do you want to try now? Tell us in the comments.