A Quick Look at Food Storage

I wanted to give a little overview post on some basic food storage techniques.  I’m not going to go too deep though, this will just touch on dry storage and canning.  For many, this is a boring topic, but it is essential.

 

Dry Storage

Because it’s an easy one, we’ll first look at dry storage, specifically dry bulk storage.  The reason for this is that commercially- as well as home-canned goods are going to get old after awhile.  You’re going to want variety because “food fatigue,” eating the same thing day in and day out, really sucks.  Plus, there’s something about a home cooked meal that helps with morale.

So what kinds of things are we talking about here?  Things like dried beans, whole grains, and dehydrated or freeze dried fruits and vegetables.  One of the upsides is that not only do properly stored dry goods last for a long time, like so many other things, it’s cheaper when you do it yourself.

What do you need to store bulk dry goods?  Just a few basic things: mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and a clothes iron.  Just place what you’re storing into the bag, drop in an O2 absorber, squeeze as much air out as possible, and then seal the bag shut with the iron.  You’ll need to make sure that the O2 absorbers are of the appropriate size for the mylar bags you’re using.  I recommend Discount Mylar Bags, as I’ve used their products for several years with great success.

Here’s a good video that demonstrates how to store food in mylar bags:

 

Home Canning

 

Home canning is more involved,  but it’s a great way to preserve all manner of fresh foods.  While pressure canning is not that really that difficult, I can not stress enough the importance of paying attention to what you’re doing.  Paying attention and using quality equipment will allow you to safely pressure can your own food.  For this, I’m going to make a few recommendations:

  1. Get a copy of the Ball Blue Book of Canning.
  2. If you’re not confident that you can properly and safely can your own food, find and take a local class on this art.  The best place to check is with your county agriculture extension agent or community college.  There may be other instructional resources in your area as well, such as prepping oriented stores or garden clubs.
  3. Get a quality canner.  A cheap one is fine for starting out, but if you want one that will last, get an All American canner (I have an All American 921).  It’s American Made and built like a tank…your great grandchildren will be using it.
  4. Regular canning lids are meant to be disposable.  That’s not a problem when normal manufacturing and supply chains are functioning, but if you anticipate a situation in which the availability of replacement lids is questionable, consider having a good stock of Tattler Reusable Canning Lids.

 

If you have questions, feel free to drop me a comment. Happy food storing!

A Little Primer on Prepping

This was posted over at “the old place” and was originally written as a submission for a prominent blog (I was not taken up on the offer), but I wanted to resurrect it since the current climate has more and more people figuring out that they need to be ready for whatever may be coming our way.
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The Burning Times Are Coming – Are You Ready?

I’m intending this to be a weekly post covering generalized aspects of Emergency Preparedness, aka “Prepping.” I’ve been a “prepper” off and on for several years now, but I didn’t get truly serious about it until after a tour in Iraq. I came back from seeing what Chaos can do and decided that should Chaos descend upon The Land of the Free that I would be able to take care of myself and those around me. No, I don’t have a bunker in the backyard, but I do have a friend with a farm in the boonies an hour away that I will go to should SHTF. To put it another way, I’m like most preppers: we in no way resemble what’s depicted on the National Geographic show Doomsday Preppers.  We’re mostly like everyone else, just everyday people trying to get by; the difference is that we look at the political, economic, and natural world around us and recognize that in an instant our relatively idyllic lives can change. Usually, the media will attach the term “survivalist” to the prepper lifestyle, because it invokes images of Rambo or nutjobs like Eric Frein.  This is precisely why the vast majority of preppers reject the “survivalist” label.   While popular culture paints preppers as being monolithically politically conservative, rural, Christian, and white, nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, most preppers are hugely anti-GMO; however, this stance based is not so much on “ZOMG FrankenFood!” as it is the knowledge that growing a multi-generational garden from GMO seeds borders on the impossible.  I can also point to examples that highlight the diversity within the crowd of preppers that I interact with: a hippie girl that makes a living selling tie-dye and as the landscaper at a nudist colony, a grandmother raising her mixed race grandchildren, and a lesbian couple.  Does this mean that there are no tinfoil hat-wearing types out there prepping?  Of course not, there are plenty of them…but they are a highly vocal tiny minority and face it, you’re going to run into them anywhere you go.  This brings me to another point: often people are in some form or another already a prepper without even realizing it.  Like the Moron Horde.  Don’t believe me?  Look at what gets posted in here on the weekends: a gun thread, a food thread, a gardening thread.  All of these are cornerstones of prepping.

 

NOT A PREPPER

A PREPPER

 

So, you’ve thought about it and this prepping thing sounds like it might make some sense, but you’re not sure where to start.  That’s where this post comes in.

First, you have to determine what it is you are prepping for.  What is your “worst case scenario” (within logical reason)? Is it a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake? Is it financial collapse and hyperinflation? Maybe it’s a pandemic outbreak of some dread disease. Maybe it’s on a smaller scale, but no less catastrophic to you and your family, such as an unexpected job loss.  I know several preppers whose time in the unemployment line was made much easier because they had food stashed away and were able to eliminate that concern when their cash flow was interrupted.

In each case, how you prioritize your preps will be different. Some of this answer should be driven by your location. If you live in Phoenix, Arizona, how you prep is going to differ from your cousin in Ypsilanti, Michigan or your aunt in Coral Gables, Florida will prep. Each environment poses its own challenges and will dictate how you conduct business and acquire materials and skills. That guy in Phoenix is going to have to consider water much differently from the one in Ypsilanti. The guy in Ypsilanti will have a higher priority on heat sources than the lady in Coral Gables. Another factor in your prepping will be how you answer the question, “Where will I go when SHTF?” Again, this is should be driven by where you live as well as whether or not you actually have somewhere to go. Some preppers have made their plans to “Bug In,” i.e. stay at home, while the majority have some sort of plan to “Bug Out” to a more secure location (we’ll discuss these options in future posts). The upside to prepping is that it usually covers multiple scenarios to some degree.

So where do you start?

As always, start with the basics!

FEMA recommends a baseline kit that covers you for 72 hours (you can also point to this when you need to shut up liberals when they question your prepping). A 72-hour kit is very easy for most people to assemble and usually consists of gathering items that you already have around the house into a single place so that it’s readily accessible. Additionally, there are many vendors that sell pre-made 72-hour kits but these sometimes will contain low quality items. When considering these, caveat emptor definitely applies. Most preppers prefer to assemble their own kits, as this allows them to customize for their own needs as well as avoid purchasing items that are either of inferior quality or are simply unneeded. I would recommend that you use the FEMA guidelines as just that: guidelines. Build your kit to address your specific needs, but plan on expanding to more than just 72 hours. Anyone that has paid attention to history knows that a mere 72 hours of supplies is insufficient. Just ask Katrina survivors.

No matter what you’re readying yourself for there are some primary considerations that every fledgling prepper must take into account: water, food, and shelter. Since water is the most essential of these, that’s what we’ll look into today. The conventional wisdom is that a person can survive 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food (some also include “3 hours without shelter”). Assuming O2 will always be readily available, water is of primary concern. There may be a time when that kitchen faucet doesn’t have clean, potable water flowing from it and the stores have all been raided of bottled water. What’s your nearest water source? Is it a creek or pond in your neighborhood? Maybe you’re a One Percenter and have a pool or a hot tub and can draw water from there. Perhaps you have several 55 gallon drums of water tucked away in your garage. If you’re really set, you’ve got your own well equipped with a hand pump. Once you’ve identified where your water is going to come from you have to figure out how to make sure it’s safe to drink.

There are numerous methods of purifying water, everything from tablets to liquid chemical additives to filters to boiling. Ideally, you’ll be able to use a combination of methods. What I prefer to do is filter, then boil, my water when the source is  questionable. I have a few different filters for water, used depending on whether I’m at home or traveling or hiking/camping. For home use, I have one of the “Berkey” family of gravity filters (in my case, a Berkey Light). These tend to be pricey, but then again, most quality prepping items of this nature are. As a note, there have been some issues with some “candle” (so called because of their shape) filters leaking. However, there is a simple solution for this problem in which some silicone applied to the base of the filter resolves the leakage. To test your filters, add a few drops of food coloring to the water. If the “clean” water retains any of the coloration you’ll know you have a problem. These filters are typically rated to purify 3000 gallons each, so you’ll want to have some spares if you’re anticipating a long term situation. If you’re a real Do-It-Yourselfer, you can build your own gravity filter system.

        A “Berkey Light” with food coloring in the source water to test the filters.

If you’re on the road or trail, you’re going to want something smaller to filter your water. Personally, I carry a few different methods (along with some purification tablets). One of these is a water bottle with an inline filter. There are several different manufacturers for these; in my case I got three of them included when I purchased my Berkey Light. One is at my desk at work (our water supply is foul-tasting), one is in the “Get Home Bag” that stays in my truck, and one is on the shelf as a spare. Another item that I have handy in my gear is a Sawyer Mini Filter System.  Alternatively, a hugely popular option is the Lifestraw Personal Filter.

When considering chemical purification the generally accepted best method is the use of chlorine bleach. This is fine as long as you have relatively fresh bleach with no additives such as scent enhancers. The accepted ratio for mixing bleach with questionable water is tiny, so a gallon of bleach would last for a long time.

 

                Table shamelessly stolen from ModernSurvivalBlog.com

(check ‘em out)

 

The problem with liquid bleach is that it will degrade over time. If you’re looking for something that you can put away in storage that will last indefinitely, you’re going to need to head for the pool supply store. Powdered calcium hypochlorite, aka “pool shock,” gives you the ability to manufacture your own bleach solution. This solution can then be added to your questionable water for purification. According to the EPA:

“Add and dissolve one heaping teaspoon of high-test granular calcium hypochlorite (approximately ¼ ounce) for each two gallons of water, or 5 milliliters (approximately 7 grams) per 7.5 liters of water.

The mixture will produce a stock chlorine solution of approximately 500 milligrams per liter, since the calcium hypochlorite has available chlorine equal to 70 percent of its weight.

To disinfect water, add the chlorine solution in the ratio of one part of chlorine solution to each 100 parts of water to be treated. This is roughly equal to adding 1 pint (16 ounces) of stock chlorine to each 12.5 gallons of water or (approximately ½ liter to 50 liters of water) to be disinfected.

To remove any objectionable chlorine odor, aerate the disinfected water by pouring it back and forth from one clean container to another.”

I hope this has been a good introduction into the world of the prepper.  Remember, it’s not about militias and Wolverines, it’s about you being able to take care of yourself and your family should all hell (whatever that is for you) break loose.

Books of the Week

Non-Fiction: The Disaster Preparedness Handbook: A Guide For Families (Arthur T. Bradley, PhD)

Fiction: Lights Out (David Crawford)