How big of a danger is mold and other food decay to a cache of survival food?
A good many of us within a certain age range probably remember the Weird Al Yankovic radio show, and one of the early hits was the song warning us to “Watch out where the Huskies go.. don’t you eat the yellow snow…” I don’t recall the artist or the name of the song these days, but it came to mind as I was pondering a couple of questions regarding the safety of long term food storage. I think a good rule of thumb here is to follow your instincts, and remember that the food you store is only going to remain safe if you strive to keep it that way. Bear in mind that not all foods will keep the same way, and because of that you may want to spate some of your food stuffs into separate storage areas where you can control the environments separately from each other.
Mold and bacteria can kill at the worst, and cause serious illness at the best. When the crap hits the fan and you have to use your long term food supply, the last thing you want to see is green fuzz growing on your food that you’ve worked so hard to process and store. And what makes the situation worse is that you may not have access to any medical treatment. Like everything else I tell you, make sure you take the time to go beyond what I say and learn all you possibly can about these topics. And the safety of foods makes that statement even more important. If it doesn’t smell right, don’t eat it. Check your containers before opening for any swelling, or rust on metal cans. If there is either condition present it’s probably best to throw it out. If the container spurts any liquids when opening, it also may be harboring some bacteriological hazard, so throw it out. Don’t take any chances when you are in the survival zone.
Generally, you’ll want to keep your storage areas well ventilated, insect and rodent free, cool, and dry. Especially dry. One of the biggest enemies to food storage is moisture. A damp environment is a great place to grow mold, and once the crop starts growing it is very difficult to totally eliminate. Ways to store food include cans, jars and plastic buckets and jugs, so there is a wide variety that you may have to deal with. It is especially important to make sure that your stored grains remain dry. Some people keep their grain in sacks, like you see at the feed store. But for anything longer than a few months, you’re just asking to go hungry without the right storage conditions. And very few people have the right storage facilities for every type of food you need to cache, so we must compromise.
You’ll have to deal with two main food types, wet and dry. Dry foods include dehydrated fruits and vegetables, beans and grain. Usually we buy grains in either a bag, normally 50# weight or in a plastic bucket. Try to get them vacuum packed if you can, and add a desiccant if you live in a place prone to high humidity. Desiccants are those little containers of a silica material that absorb moisture. Most food storage and survival supply houses carry them in some form. The best way is probably to vac-pack into 10# Mylar bags, and place those into 5 gallon pails with secure lids.
Grains such as wheat are notorious for insect problems, but do not give into the temptation to add any insecticidal treatments to what you will be eating one day. Freezing of wheat is acceptable, and it will kill adult insects, but does not harm any eggs that may be present. One way to prevent recurring growth of insects is to also place oxygen absorbers into the container if you cannot vac-pack the grain. Another way is through the dry ice method. Place 3 to 4 inches of grain on the bottom of a bucket, and then put in 3 ounces of dry ice. Fill the pail completely full with grain and place the lid on loosely. After ½ hour, seal the pail air tight and date for rotation.
Remember that pails and plastic storage bags are not air tight and oxygen will eventually seep into the container, allowing any eggs to hatch and larvae to grow. Spend the money to invest in a vacuum sealing machine and Mylar bags. And oxygen absorbers are a sure fire winner when it comes to keeping your grains safe for the long haul. Rodents love grain, and they will chew through most anything, so keep an eye out for any possible signs of the little critters. I use those ultrasonic pest repelling units and have had no problems since they went into service. But that’s no guarantee that they will always work. Wheat generally has an accepted life span of about five years, so you should rotate your stocks with that in mind.
Legumes, such as beans and the like are a little different. Keep your beans out of the light, and make sure there is no oxygen present. Oxygen will make the beans turn rancid because of the oils they contain. So, oxygen absorbers should be a requisite when preparing the beans for storage. If you store your beans in a vacuum packed Mylar bag you can expect to get a lifespan of about ten years. Some reports suggest longer under ideal condition, but I would shoot for no more than the ten year rule. Plan your rotation with that limit in mind. If you cannot store the beans under ideal circumstances, that i would suggest no more than 1 to 2 years maximum.
One thing that you need to remember with beans is that you need to rehydrate them by soaking in water to use them, and the longer you store the beans the harder they get. At some point you will not be able to rehydrate them, and your only recourse will be to grind them into flour for baking or adding to soups and stews as a powder.
Remember that there are many things to consider when dealing with food storage that can cause problems. You have to consider microorganisms such as mold, yeast and bacteria, enzymes and chemicals that shouldn’t be present. You also need to be concerned with degradation of quality and nutritional value. And then there is the need to keep stored food out of the light. And don’t forget the temperature factor! Whew! Storing food is hard work, isn’t it? But it will be worth the cost when things go down and you can proudly feed your family when others cannot.
Safety in preparation is absolutely essential, whether you are buying prepared food for storage or preparing your own. Next time I’ll continue on with some more food storage safety tips and strategies.