Best Practices: Storing Long-term Foods and Necessities

For all kinds of reasons, Americans are finally catching on to an idea that is common in Europe, Asia and many other areas: Families need to have a disaster-preparedness inventory of food and essential supplies. World War II taught Europeans to be ready for anything, but since the battles were never fought on U.S. soil, American culture has been slow to absorb basic truths about disaster preparation.

How best to store food and basic supplies for days, weeks, months and perhaps years? Here are some of the well-known, and not so commonly known, tips for socking away food, water and life necessities for you and your family.

What to Store

Everyone’s needs and tastes are different, but we all have to have food and water to survive. Most experienced survivalists store their water first because they realize that humans can go much longer without food than without water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests one gallon of water per person per day for emergency storage. In the event of a hurricane or severe storm that leaves you stranded at home for days or weeks, you’ll want to have plenty of water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing.

In addition to water, it’s smart to have a generous supply of water-purification tablets, a portable purifier and a few gallons of bleach. That way, running out of drinkable water will be the last thing you have to worry about in a dire situation.

As a general rule, aim to make carbohydrates, like rice and pasta, comprise half of all the food you store. After that, canned beans and meats are great protein sources, and should comprise about one-quarter of all your stored food.

Don’t forget to pack away some dried, nutrition-rich foods like dehydrated fruits, powdered eggs, dried milk and ready-to-eat packaged meals. And be certain to put aside sugar, artificial sweeteners, garlic powder, pepper, salt and whatever other spices you enjoy. Eating bland food during a trying time can make things appear worse than they really are! That’s why it’s smart to remember the spice, as well as corn oil and olive oil for cooking flavorful meals.

Non-food items are important too. Every well-equipped storage plan includes utensils, cups, can openers, a small butane stove, fuel, and plenty of cooking fuel backup supplies.

Planning

Long-term storage is doomed without proper planning. For those new to the storage game, keep in mind that dark, dry and cool places tend to be the best places to lay in supplies. Garages, basements, very large closets, and insulated tool sheds are some of the most economical and best-suited areas for food and supply storage that most everyone has access to.

Be sure to measure any space you intend to use, noting its average temperature and security options (like locks, alarms, and air-tight spaces). Knowing the size of the space will provide vital data about exactly how much stuff you’ll be able to store there. Install shelving if necessary, note where you might want to put the really long-term items like water jugs, 25-year food packets, boxes, cans, etc. Experts point out that “space planning” should be done long before purchasing anything to put in the area. You need to know what will go where, how much you’ll be storing, and what items you want to have immediate access to. It’s all about the plan.

Choosing Foods and Supplies: Important Guidelines

  • When setting up your storage area and choosing what to include, try to purchase foods based on calorie counts rather than raw weight.
  • Try to opt for nutrition-rich calories rather than tasty, “empty” calories.
  • Read up on basic nutrition if you don’t already know about the topic.
  • It’s also wise to take a basic first aid course at a local community college or fire/police station.
  • Know how many calories you consume in an average day. The number is different for everyone but hovers around 2,000-,2,500 per day for average-sized adults.
  • Aim for variety so that you’re not eating the exact same meal day in and day out.
  • When ordering online, make sure the company has a good reputation and be careful not to pay too much for handling and shipping.
  • Read up on the different kinds of packaging for long-term food storage and don’t accept claims of “20-year shelf life” foods without checking on the company’s reputation.
  • As with all advertising, there is some deception in the long-term food storage retail sector. Avoid buying “1-year supply” packs and combos, preferring to put together your own packs from smaller, more varied selections.

Smart Storage for Long-term Survival

Water should go into whatever size containers make the best use of your space. Five-gallon drums fitted with pumps seem to be the preference of many storage enthusiasts. Smaller bottles and gallon jugs work well too, especially when they can be covered with shelving and act as a support for other stored items.

Sealable metal and plastic bins are ideal for placing loose containers of beans, rice or vacuum-packed meals. By placing these items in small containers before putting them in the metal/plastic bin, you’ll assure they are bug-free and completely dry for future use.

Label everything, listing its contents and date stored. Always rotate out the longest-term items as you purchase new food. That keeps the long-term items from going bad and helps you get used to working with the storage area and knowing what you have on hand at any given time.

How to Shop Wisely for Containers, Food, Tools, and Supplies

Note that there are really only three categories of items you should be storing for an emergency: Survival food and water, barter items, and “peace of mind” supplies, like candy, good books you haven’t read yet, coffee, candy, joke books, beer and wine. A diet of beans and rice can get pretty old after a day or so, which is why so many prepping enthusiasts make sure to stock a moderate amount of “luxury” items, relatively speaking. In an emergency or catastrophe situation, it’s as important to preserve your sanity as your physical health.

Barter items can be anything you think might be a desired commodity in your area, like water purification kits/tablets, batteries, silver coins, ammunition, lighters, matches, even isopropyl alcohol. If you opt for this storage category, make sure to clearly label the container “for barter only,” so that others in your family won’t mistake it for standard supplies.

The basic category of “survival” supplies usually includes food, water, lighting, shelter (tents, bunkers, etc.), cooking facilities and utensils, any form of electricity, and personal hygiene items of all kinds, as well as a basic first aid kit fully stocked.

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