The zombie apocalypse might only be on TV thus far, but real life around us is still filled with potentially life changing events. Everyone should be prepared to survive on their own, at least for a little while, but most people never give a second thought to how they would live through an event that disables grocery stores and public distribution of water and electricity. However, building a food supply means solving the problem with long term food storage.
It is a good idea to continuously buy more dry and canned goods than the family needs to build up a stock. This way, creating the emergency food supply doesn’t have to be a big burden on the family economy. The stock should be rotated, so the oldest is used in cooking and the newest goes “in the back.”
When it comes to bigger quantities, food storage can be a problem. Bulk quantities of food are packaged for transport, not for storage.
Some dry goods like wheat, rice, and beans can last for years when packaged to be protected from oxygen and humidity. They also need to be stored in a dry and cool place. PET bottles – also called PETE – are great for food storage up to five years when combined with oxygen absorbers.
Most plastic containers aren’t airtight. They react to changes in atmospheric pressure, so air and moisture are pumped in and out of the contents, and products grow stale quickly. PET bottles, on the other hand, provide a good moisture and oxygen barrier.
PET stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate. The bottles have a recycling emblem on the bottom, and below that are the letters PET or PETE. The emblem can be difficult to spot. It looks like a triangle created by arrows surrounding the number 1.
These bottles can keep dry contents safe from outside air and moisture, but many dry foods are still susceptible to insects that appear to come from nowhere. This is where the oxygen absorbers come in. In order to keep food fresh, the oxygen content must be pulled down below one percent and held there for at least two weeks.
Oxygen absorbers are small packets that contain an iron powder. They allow oxygen and moisture to enter, but do not allow the iron powder to leak out. The iron rusts from moisture in the packaged food, and in doing so it absorbs oxygen. Whatever air remains in the container is mostly nitrogen that won’t affect the food, or allow insects to grow. There are different sizes, and PET bottles up to one gallon requires oxygen absorbers rated for 300 cubic centimeters of oxygen.
Use PET bottles with screw-on lids that have a plastic or rubber seal. You can check that the bottle is airtight through putting the cap on the empty bottle and holding it under water. If you see bubbles when you press on the bottle, the seal is compromised.
How do you know if food is dry enough to store?
Put a kernel of grain on a piece of paper, or on concrete. If it shatters when you hit it with a hammer, it’s dry enough to store. If it smashes flat or leaves an oily spot, it’s not dry enough to store. This is a crude test, but easy to make without special equipment.
Types of products suitable for storing include:
- Grains such as oat, white rice, wheat, and corn.
- Milled grain products such as rice flour and white flour.
- Nonfat dry milk, and dehydrated fruits and vegetables.
If you buy dry food in bulk, the supplier should be able to tell you the moisture content of the product. It needs to be below 10 percent.
Types of products not suitable for storing include brown rice, whole grain flours, cereal, nuts, brown sugar, pancake mixes, home-dehydrated fruits and vegetables, and other goods with high oil content or high moisture. These types of foods are better kept in their original containers and rotated. If you wish to increase their storage time, they can be stored in freezer bags in the freezer.
The storage procedure is simple:
- Save PET bottles from soda and juice. Verify that the seal doesn’t leak as discussed earlier.
- Clean the bottles with dish soap and rinse them thoroughly. They must be completely dry before you use them for packaging food.
- Place an oxygen absorber in each bottle. They are generally delivered in bags with many absorbers. Only take out the ones you will use in the next 20 to 30 minutes. Take out absorbers in groups to avoid opening and closing the storage bag. It is important to re-seal whatever absorbers you don’t use so they don’t absorb oxygen and spoil.
- Fill the bottles with food.
- Wipe the top sealing edge of each bottle clean and screw the lid on tightly.
- Store bottles in a cool, dry location, away from light. A cool pantry is perfect.
- If you re-fill a bottle, it will need a new oxygen absorber.
Sunlight deteriorates food quickly, so it is important to store the bottles in a cool, dry, and dark place.