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How to Start a Long-Term Home Food Storage & Prepare for Emergencies

By Miranda Marquit

food storage shelvesEvery other week, it seems there’s a new fringe group forecasting the end of the world as we know it. But even for those who don’t believe the apocalypse is imminent, there are plenty of reasons to worry about the future. The employment market isn’t recovering at a very rapid pace, and for many, the threat of unemployment and job loss is real.

And, of course, rising food prices have been a hot topic as a result of natural disasters, unexpected weather patterns, and inflation. With these very real concerns weighing on your mind, you don’t have to be a survivalist to see the value of increased self-reliance. One of the best strategies to prepare for an uncertain economic future is to create a long-term home food storage system.

Why Should You Consider Home Food Storage?

Having non-perishables on hand for use in a variety of situations is a good way to increase your food security. It can provide a safety net designed to catch you if you feel you are about to fall due to circumstances out of your control. Here are three reasons to consider storing food in your home:

  1. Emergency food supply. As recent tragic tornadoes and earthquakes have shown us, you never know when disaster will strike. It’s conceivable that you might find yourself stranded in your own home, unable to get to the store and buy food. If you have food storage, you can easily feed yourself and your family for a few days in a pinch.
  2. Financial preparedness. What happens if you lose your job, or have your hours cut? Stocking up on food now will allow you to prepare meals for your family without needing to buy as much each week at the grocery store. Food storage can help you stretch your emergency fund further as you look to replace your income.
  3. Combat food price inflation. You can reduce your exposure to rising food prices by buying food now at lower prices. If you know how to can food, you can even preserve the food you grow yourself, providing extra protection against food price inflation. For example, I like to dry the herbs from my kitchen garden for use later. It’s a great way to build the spice portion of my food storage and save money on expensive herbs.

Where Should You Store Your Food?

Now that you’ve decided to build up home food storage, you need to decide where you’re going to put it. If you’re tight for space, you might only have enough room to store two weeks’ or a month’s worth of extra food, but every little bit helps. And you can be creative when deciding where you’ll make room for your food storage. When my husband and I lived in a small townhouse, we actually set up metal shelves in the small space under the stairs and kept six weeks’ worth of food.

For best results, you want to store your food in an area that receives limited light and stays between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Cupboards or pantries are ideal. I also know some people who store their extra food under the bed.

Currently, I keep a portion of my home food storage in the crawl space under my house. But as long as the food is not stored in temperatures above 95 degrees, or kept near hot pipes and furnaces, it’s likely to avoid spoilage. (You should always double-check food before you eat it, though, since there is always the possibility that it has gone bad). You can also buy a freezer chest for storing some of your frozen foods.

What Foods Should You Store?

As you decide what foods to store, it is a good idea to consider what you will actually eat. Our food storage includes items to make chili, as well as pasta, dehydrated fruit, and canned (and frozen) vegetables. We also have extra baking supplies (flour and sugar), as well as rice. One of the keys to successful food storage is to stock up on foods you will eat, since you will need to rotate your food storage anyway. Plus, if you’re not used to eating certain foods, suddenly eating them out of your food storage can lead to digestive problems.

Here are a few suggestions for food staples that you can stock up on. As always, though, it is a good idea to adjust your storage to fit your family’s needs:

  • Canned fruits and vegetables. Many canned fruits and vegetables are good for at least three years and they’re chock full of vitamins and minerals.
  • Dehydrated fruits and vegetables. In many instances, dried produce can have a longer shelf life than canned or bottled versions. Some produce items aren’t ideal for drying, but onions, carrots, apples, bananas, apricots, and peas are especially good for dehydration.
  • Beans/legumes. Dried kidney beans, navy beans, great northern beans, and a variety of legumes have a shelf life of up to 20 years and they’re a great source of protein. You can cook them and eat them plain, or use them in delicious homemade chili recipes and soups.
  • Wheat. Provided you store it properly, and store it whole, wheat can last decades. However, you will need a grinder, and you will need to use it regularly in your cooking so that your body is used to it. In a pinch, you can make your own flour from wheat, and use it in various recipes.
  • Baking staples. I like to store baking staples, such as all-purpose flour, cane sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and other supplies. Stored in airtight containers in cool, dry locations, many baking supplies can last up to five years.
  • Rice. Properly stored, rice can have a shelf life of 8 to 10 years. It’s a great staple to have on hand for a number of recipes. It’s also relatively inexpensive and is a great source of energy.
  • Powdered milk. If you’re going to store powdered milk, you need to make sure that it is not exposed to moisture, and that you keep it cool. Powdered milk can be stored for up to 18 to 24 months. It is also possible to find shelf-stable liquid milk that can last up to a year without going bad.
  • Iodized salt. Interestingly enough, you need the iodine in this salt to survive. If you plan to build long-term food storage, iodized salt is a must.
  • Water. It’s a good idea to have some sort of water storage. Your water should be stored in food-grade containers, and kept in a dark place. You should figure a gallon a day for each person in your home, for hygiene and drinking. The water in your hot water heater can also be used in a pinch. Make sure that you have tablets or a water kit to help ensure that the water is usable for drinking and for cooking.

Other foods that you might consider adding to your food storage, depending on your family’s needs, include powdered eggs, dehydrated/canned meat, protein powder, granola bars, and some kinds of chocolate. Meal Ready-To-Eats (MREs) from military surplus and food storage sellers are also popular items to include in home food storage. (They are also great for 72-hour kits).

Tips for Building Home Food Storage

As you build your home food storage, it is important to understand that you don’t need to stock up all at once. Start by creating a list of items and the amount of each that you would like to have. A plan is essential to making sure you have everything you need. The following tips can help you build your food storage in an affordable manner:

  1. Start small. Don’t try to buy everything at once. Figure out how much extra money you have each week to put toward building up your food storage. Then buy one or two extra items each week. When I first started, I bought two extra cans of a vegetable or fruit each week. Or, one week, I would buy a bag of all-purpose flour for food storage, or two one-gallon jugs of water.
  2. Buy in bulk. If you can afford to buy in bulk on occasion, this can really help you boost your food storage while saving you money and time. We get a discount on our pasta when we buy in bulk, so we make it a point to do so. Getting a discount when you purchase by the pound can be a good way to combat food price inflation as well.
  3. Shop the sales. Keep an eye on sale circulars. When you see that items on your food storage wish list are on sale, stock up on a few. Also keep an eye out for coupons to save money while stocking up.
  4. Extreme couponing. Better yet, combine the two worlds of sales and coupons and save a boatload of money by learning how to extreme coupon. By using coupons on items that are already on sale, you can often save over 90% on each item, with many being absolutely free. The key to extreme couponing is staying organized and going into every shopping trip with a clear strategy.
  5. Grow your own food. Many people don’t realize that their home garden items can be preserved. I remember helping my mother freeze corn and peas for food storage. Tomatoes are easy to bottle, and you can pickle peppers, cucumbers, and other garden items with relative ease. If you have fruit trees, it is possible to dehydrate part of your harvest to allow for long-term preservation. You can build your food storage up inexpensively and healthfully by growing your own food.
  6. Label your food. Write names and dates on each item, and rotate the foods that are close to their expiration date into your regular cooking schedule so you can limit loss due to spoilage. Just make sure you restock what you use with newer items.

Final Word

Your home food storage can provide you with peace of mind, contribute to your financial stability, and help you meet your emergency preparedness goals. With a good plan, you can begin building your food storage, which will allow you to be prepared for times of personal or economic instability.

Have you begun building your home food storage? Do you have any additional food storage tips to add?

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer and professional blogger specializing in personal finance. She writes for several web sites, and her work has appeared in numerous online and offline publications. You can find Miranda's personal finance blog at AllBusiness.com.

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  • RachelMcW

    There are so many options today when it comes to food storage. My kids love freeze dried pineapple and raspberries. We got a discount account from www.shelfreliancesanantonio.com. The food is great and it has a 25 year shelf life, so stock up on items not grown locally. I also bought freeze dried mushrooms and some taco meat TVP. You’ll kids will swear that you must have stopped by Taco Bell!

    • http://www.mirandamarquit.com Miranda Marquit

      I’ve seen some of the shelf reliance stuff, although never tried it. Maybe it’s time to give it a go!

  • Prepper

    I can’t BELIEVE you are telling people beans can be eaten plain (raw?)!!! Beans, especially kidney beans are incredibly TOXIC if they are not boiled for at least 10 minutes and that does not count the soaking! Please do your research before making such a poor and dangerous recommendation!!

    • http://twitter.com/lovemyjaypeas Annette Porter

      You must have misread the article. She said cooked and eaten plain, as in cooked plain beans and not in a burrito or chili etc.

  • Sis

    Need tips on storing 10 5 lb. bags of flour …

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