February 25, 2021

Lessons Learned From a Decade of Food Storage, by Sandi

The pandemic lockdown of 2020 has led to a re-evaluation of my family’s food storage. This is  a food storage that began more than ten years ago. We began actively storing food in large quantities in 2009 and have continued intermittently since then. Where we have failed, however, is in not eating what we stored and not rotating our stock. Our experience with what lasted and what did not may be of some benefit to others as they consider what and how much of certain foods they should store. Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised at how long our food has lasted.

With the presidency of Barack Obama in 2009 and the uncertainty that it caused, my family decided to start preparing. We have a farming background and a self-sufficiency mindset, so preparing came somewhat naturally. For me, food security was of utmost importance. We invested in many mylar-sealed buckets of beans, wheat, oats, sugar, rice, and honey, as well as number 10 cans of dried milk, granola, brown sugar, baking soda, buttermilk powder, etc. We looked at those as long-term food preps, and for the most part, we did not open any of them until recently.

In 2009, we also ramped up our gardening and home canning. We sought out fruit trees that no one was harvesting, berry bushes and grapevines that no one cared about, and we canned the produce. In a two year span, we canned more than 1,000 quarts of fruits and vegetables. We also began canning meats; turkey, chicken, beef meatballs, and shredded pork all found their way into our jars.

My mother started making soups and canned many jars of those. In addition, we began storing bags of store-bought pasta, jars of JIF peanut butter, cans of tuna, jugs of oil, large cans of white Crisco, and many condiments, beverage powders, spices, and candies. All of the food was stored in a climate-controlled environment that stayed between 50 and 75 degrees. As the years went on, we continued to do some home canning but never as avidly as we did the first two or three years, although recent world events have reignited our zeal.

After Ten Years

Fast forward ten years. Most of this food had been stored at my parents’ home, and they lived several states away from me. As they aged, they stopped cooking from scratch so much, so the food preps languished on the shelves. Every time I visited, I would cook from the food storage and check on the stored items, disposing of any jars whose seals had failed or packages that bugs or mice had damaged. This past March, my children and I went to stay with them for several weeks during the initial lockdown. This gave us a chance to honestly assess our food storage. Here are some of our successes and failures.

Home-Canned Foods:

  • Canned fruits and pie fillings that were more than five years old did not fare well. The contents were still safe to eat, but they had degraded in quality, turning mushy. These became chicken food.
  • Canned spaghetti sauce, with and without meat, fared well. It looked, smelled, and tasted the same as it had on the day ten years earlier when we put it in the jar. We had several delicious spaghetti dinners using sauce that was a decade old.
  • Canned meat had also fared well. We are making pot pies and soups out of turkey that we canned in 2011. Stew beef that I canned in 2011 is also good. I am pleasantly surprised that none of the home-canned meat went rancid.
  • Squash, okra and other soft vegetables did not last more than 3-4 years. They became mushy and unpalatable.
  • Home-canned soup was good for the first 7-8 years, but many of the varieties my mother canned began to look like science experiments gone awry. They are still edible, but no one is interested because they look unappetizing. Several jars of those have been fed to the chickens.
  • Jams and jellies lasted for 5+ years. Unfortunately, we made many more than were consumed and several jars turned dark and watery. Those were discarded.
  • Pickles lasted two years before becoming mushy and being discarded.

Store-Bought Foods:

  • Most of our pasta has lasted 10+ years. We are eating lasagna, penne, spaghetti, angel hair, and rigatoni that are a decade old. None of it was stored in a special way; it is all still in its original packaging. The exception to pasta longevity has been egg noodles. Around year 7 or 8, the egg noodles began to crumble and disintegrate.
  • JIF peanut butter has lasted 10+ years. Considering its fat content, I expected it to become rancid, but that has not been the case. Some of the oil has risen to the top, but once stirred back in, the peanut butter is the same as the day we bought it.
  • White rice has lasted 10+ years.
  • Beverage powders have absorbed moisture, making them difficult to use. They have to be chiseled out of the container with a knife, but they are still drinkable.
  • Salt had to be repackaged around year 7; the paper packaging started to absorb moisture. We poured all of the salt into quart jars.
  • Liquid oil has only lasted 2 years at best before going rancid.
  • White Crisco has performed well; we are using large cans of Crisco that are 10+ years old. They are not rancid and have not degraded in quality. This was a very pleasant surprise.
  • Store-bought cans of fruit, such as mandarin oranges and pineapples, began to rust through around year 6, and many had to be thrown away.
  • Bricks of yeast, which were stored in the freezer, lasted 9+ years. During the lockdown I pulled one of these bricks out of the freezer, dubious as to whether it would work, but when I sprinkled the yeast in lukewarm water, it bloomed as if it were fresh from the store.
  • White flour stored in plastic buckets has not lasted more than two years before becoming rancid.
  • Chocolate chips stored more than a few years have become chalky and crumbly.
  • Spices and spice blends in plastic containers have absorbed moisture and become a solid brick. They are still usable, although it takes some effort to chisel them out.
  • Candy: In 2009-10 we stored some hard candies, thinking that they would last the longest and provide a nice treat in any TEOTWAWKI situation. My mother also stored several large bags of her favorite candy, Hot Tamales. During the lockdown, late one night, my mother wanted Hot Tamales but thought she had eaten them all. My girls went to storage and brought back Jolly Ranchers. They were inedible; they had softened and stuck to their wrappers and had to be discarded. The same was the case with a bag of Dum-Dum suckers and a bag of peppermints. On one last trip to storage, my girls found a bag of Hot Tamales that my mother had missed. They were in perfect condition! In that moment, those Hot Tamales felt like a gift from God, and we all laughed thinking that He had hidden them from my mother until just the moment when they were needed for a pick-me-up. For food storage, it showed me the importance of having special treats, and we will be buying more.

Dehydrated Foods:

We purchased a dehydrator and filled many canning jars with produce.

  • Home-Dried bananas, figs, and apples have lasted 7+ years.
  • Raisins crystallized somewhat but are still edible; when using in baking, I rehydrate them in some warm water first.
  • Fruit leathers have lasted 8+ years.
  • Home-dried vegetables, such as carrots, celery, and onions, lasted for several years.

Dry-Canned Foods (heated in the oven with oxygen absorbers):

  • Crackers such as saltines and Ritz have lasted 3+ years.
  • Oatmeal and Cheerios have lasted 5+ years.
  • Dried soup mixes have lasted 5+ years.

Number 10 Cans and Cans of Foods from Online Survival Stores:

  • Brown sugar, which I had heard would only last 2-3 years, has lasted for 10+. I am currently using it in my baking.
  • Granola that is 8+ years old is still delicious.
  • Non-fat dry milk powder, which I also did not expect to last, is in perfect condition.
  • Large cans of tomatoes began to rust around year 7. We made spaghetti sauce and salsa out of them and re-canned them in quart and pint jars.
  • Small cans of Bega cheese did not last long. Their texture and flavor were off by year 6.
  • Cans of candy, pretzels, and other treats did not last long term. The lost-and-then-found bag of Hot Tamales did much better than these sealed treats.

Mylar-Lined, Sealed Buckets:

  • Rolled oats started going rancid after 7-8 years. They were fed to the cows.
  • White sugar solidified into a giant sugar cube, but it is fine once it is chiseled loose.
  • Wheat, as expected, has lasted well.
  • White rice has lasted.
  • Honey has crystallized and partially solidified, but it is perfectly edible once gently heated.

It has been somewhat sad and a bit disheartening to have to dispose of so many jars of fruits and other home-canned and store-bought goods; it seems like many hours of work and hard-earned dollars wasted. On the other hand, we are pleased with how well most of the food we stored has lasted. In hindsight, we could have extended the shelf-life of many things by repackaging them in canning jars rather than leaving them in their original packaging.

When we started this preparedness journey more than a decade ago, we looked at all of the food storage, especially the long-term foods, as insurance. It was something that we never wanted to need, but we wanted to have it just in case. Despite some failures and some wasted money, I feel the same about it today. Having a deep larder brings us peace of mind. I never want to have to look at my starving children and tell them that I have nothing to give them.

Going through the recent lockdown has reinforced for me why we started to prepare in the first place, and suddenly friends and family members who thought I was a little (or a lot) crazy in 2009 don’t think so now. While people around the country were scrambling to find meat, toilet paper, yeast, flour, and other scarce goods during the lockdown and panicking when they couldn’t get the necessities, my family had everything we needed, and we were never worried. And that, my friends, is priceless.

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