The world today faces the looming threat of food shortages. Already, many parts of the globe are reeling under drought and famine and this is not restricted to the so-called “developed” nations. Many parts of the more economically advanced countries face certain types of food shortage and are dependent on imports. Food riots are breaking out in parts of Africa, while unnatural weather events take their toll on other countries. Floods, droughts, earthquakes and tsunamis can strike at any time, anywhere.
In such a scenario, many people are taking important steps to ensure food safety for themselves, their families and communities.
History of Food Storage
Documentation providing information about ancient food-storage techniques is available from about 2000 years ago, in Chinese tombs. Salting and drying of foods are described, and these methods essentially remove moisture and prevent entry of decomposing bacteria.
Grain-storage has an even older history, dating back to 9000 BC in agrarian societies where complex systems of underground silos were created to prevent rotting of food-grains and preventing insect/rodent infestation. Meat preservation under water in winter was common among ancient hunters in cold climates. Preservation of seasonal fruits and vegetables, use of spices to aid storage and development of techniques like canning and bottling also evolved.
Today, these and other modern techniques of food storage are more efficient, convenient and cost-effective.
Long Term Food Storage
- Store foods in their most natural form. This is true especially of spices and herbs. You can grind, dry and store in air-tight containers or bags.
- Low-moisture foods properly packed and stored can last for a long time. Some foods like honey and certain types of wheat can last for 100 years if stored correctly. Barley, rice, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, whole oat groats, dry vegetables and fruits can last for 30 years, while freeze-dried items like milk, cocoa/coffee powder can last for at least 25 years.
- There may be loss of nutritional value, taste and flavor in long term preservation, but stored foods can certainly sustain life.
- Botulism is a serious risk if moist foods are stored in packaging that reduces oxygen. Ensure that the product is dry (less than 10% moisture) if storing in airtight containers.
- Storage is affected by temperature, moisture, light and insects/rodents. 24C or lower is the ideal temperature, storage spaces should be away from the floor-level, cooking oil in PET bottles should be kept away from light.
- Use oxygen absorber packets. They are available from home-storage facilities. They contain iron powder that absorbs oxygen which oxidizes the iron. They are ideal for storage of dry foods.
- Store well-dried food in well-sealed plastic food pouches in cool, dry, rodent-free locations, away from direct contact with concrete floors/walls.
- Hard liquor, distilled white and apple cider vinegar can be stored for a long time if the bottles are unopened and well-sealed.
- Ghee is an Indian and South Asian cooking medium that can last for centuries if preserved properly. Made from clarified butter, it can be stored in sealed jars away from light and heat.
- Salt and sugar have indefinite shelf-lives provided you store them in dry, cool places. Adding some grains of rice to tightly-sealed containers prevents absorption of moisture.
- Multi-barrier systems are the perfect solution for preserving a variety of foods. This system uses food-grade plastic containers, gamma lids, mylar bag-liners, oxygen absorbers, dessicant packaging, food-grade diatomaceous earth added directly to the foods.
- In the absence of electricity, freezers and refrigerators will be useless, unless you have invested in solar. Stockpiling fresh vegetables can be done by canning, dehydrating, smoking and preserving in vinegar or brine.
- Recipes like “hardtack” were used by soldiers and sailors. These foods can be made in large quantities by communities and individuals and stored in air-tight containers in cool, dark and dry places for long-term use.
- Pasta is a good option that tolerates storage well, provided you store it correctly. It helps you avoid food fatigue and is filling, tasty and nutritious as well.
- Dry ice can be used to store certain types of food like grains and dried beans. You can use a bucket with a tight-fitting lid.
It’s important to plan ahead for emergencies. It’s impossible to predict when such disasters will strike so it’s a good idea to begin storing now. Store more than you feel you’ll need because the shortages may last longer than expected, some amount of spoilage will take place and you don’t want to be caught short.