Last week’s article talked about how much food to store and how long it can be stored. The “how long” is affected by many factors — most of which people can control.
It is worth the effort. We are not talking about hoarding food here. Becoming obsessed with tucking away foods that will last often means saving foods you don’t eat and don’t know how to use. I’ve heard the words “if we were hungry, we would eat it.” Perhaps. But it could be a miserable experience both physically and emotionally.
In any case, a basement full of such items means that after years pass, you may not be certain whether the food is safe to eat and it must be discarded. Flavor deteriorates, quality declines and the food must be tossed. This could be a waste of thousands of dollars. There is little difference between tearing up money and throwing away unused items purchased with it.
Think of storing food as food management rather than just as a safety net. Besides storing a supply of foods that you already like to eat, make a habit of using the long-term foods you have stored as well. By using it regularly, family eating habits and bodies will adjust to the foods, it can be rotated so you are eating it fresh, and the cooks will already have the ability to cook with these foods. There are some pretty tasty dishes that can be made with long-term food storage.
Last week I mentioned several long-term storage items that can be stored for 30 or more years. This means putting it in a cool, dry place and protecting it from infestations. Insects and rodents will infest foods like wheat, rice and beans if they are given the chance.
Insect infestations usually start from infested food items or plant materials brought in from other sources. Check foods for insects before you store it. Kill insects that may be present in food by placing the items in a freezer for three or four days.
While bulk purchasing can be less expensive, consider your ability to protect it from spoilage and infestations. It makes sense to purchase dried food in package sizes that you can use in a short time. Use older packages before newer ones. Packaging provides protection. Once you open a package, use it before you open another. When purchasing packaged foods for storage, check the container for damage and be sure all the seals are intact. Check items packaged in clear plastic or wax paper for the presence of insects.
Fortunately, most packages now have a “use by” or “purchase by” date inscribed. Check the date to purchase the freshest possible products. It can be helpful to circle or otherwise mark those dates so you can use the oldest packages first.
Thin plastic wrap, cardboard and paper containers are not insect proof over a long period. Store dried foods in insect-proof containers such as screw-top glass, heavy plastic or metal containers to prevent entry or escape of insects and rodents. You may wish to place smaller packages of dried food inside a large plastic or metal container without opening them. They take up more room than bulk storage, but are convenient to use in the kitchen. Once opened, 50-gallon drums may develop insect problems. Storing dried foods in a home freezer after opening will stop pest infestations.
Finding insect-infested food products in the kitchen and pantry is relatively common. Reduce the incidence by following a few simple precautions.
Keep food storage areas clean and do not allow crumbs or food particles to accumulate, as exposed food attracts insects and mice. Cleanliness is also important in areas where pet foods and birdseed are stored. Keep such items sealed or closed tightly.
Inspect food and storage areas regularly, using a portable light to carefully examine food products and storage areas. Generally, insects appear in foods that are seldom used or in undisturbed storage areas.
Remove infested food items well away from storage area to dispose of them to prevent reinfestation. Despite your efforts to kill insects by freezing before storage, eggs may be inside that will hatch out later.
If you find an infestation, thoroughly clean the storage area. Remove all food packages, utensils, dishes and other related items from kitchen and pantry cabinets to clean them. Vacuum all spilled and loose food crumbs and particles present in cabinets, on shelves, and in cracks and crevices. Scrub cabinets and storage areas using soap, water and bleach.