Storing Food in a Hot Environment

November 12, 2012 by | Be the first to comment »

Let’s face it; enough food to stock a Walmart warehouse is of no use to you if it loses its nutritional value before you have the chance to eat it. This happens more frequently than you might think, for a variety of reasons, but it’s easy to avoid, which means that not only can you save money while building an adequate reserve of food more quickly, but also that you’ll be more likely to have enough to feed your family (and possibly friends) in the event of an emergency.

The first step is choosing the right type of food. I’m not trying to be a lunch Nazi like Michelle Obama and tell you to eat your vegetables; I’m talking about the packaging method—although a properly balanced diet is still a good idea.

People often model their decisions on what our military does, which leads them to stockpile cases of MREs as their primary emergency food source. Don’t get me wrong, MREs have a lot of advantages, and they’ve come a hell of a long way since my days in the Marine Corps, but you have to look at how they fit into the supply chain to understand why they aren’t appropriate as the bulk of your food storage. First of all, they don’t last very long; in a perfect world, you’ll get about 60 months of shelf life out of them, but in a hot environment like you’d encounter in Florida or Texas, you’ll be lucky to make it one or two months before they go bad.

MRE Shelf Life Chart

That’s acceptable in the military where frequently, our troops only dining options are MREs and the supply staff are able to constantly rotate them using the FIFO (First In, First Out) method. It’s not acceptable when they’re tucked away in your garage where they won’t be given a second thought until disaster strikes. They’re also much more expensive than other options, at about $8 per meal. Given the shelf life and cost, I would steer clear of them except perhaps for a hiking or camping trip, though even that is doubtful since I’ve already eaten more than my share.

Next up is canned goods. They saved many of our grandparents’ asses during the Great Depression and have to potential to do the same for us. The primary disadvantages are bulk and weight, but this is more than made up for by their low cost and long shelf life. According to analysis by chemists at the National Food Processors Association of canned foods retrieved from the steamboat Bertrand, which sank in the Missouri River in 1865:

In 1974, chemists at the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) analyzed the products for bacterial contamination and nutrient value. Although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, the NFPA chemists detected no microbial growth and determined that the foods were as safe to eat as when they had been canned more than 100 years earlier.

The nutrient values varied depending upon the product and nutrient. NFPA chemists Janet Dudek and Edgar Elkins report that significant amounts of vitamins C and A were lost. But protein levels remained high, and all calcium values “were comparable to today’s products.”

NFPA chemists also analyzed a 40-year-old can of corn found in the basement of a home in California. Again, the canning process had kept the corn safe from contaminants and from much nutrient loss. In addition, Dudek says, the kernels looked and smelled like recently canned corn.

The fact that this food remained nutritionally complete and palatable after all these years was no doubt, due in part to the cool temperature of the river water it sat in, but another  canned food shelf life study conducted by the U.S. Army revealed that canned meats, vegetables, and jam were in an excellent state of preservation after 46 years. While heat does still affect canned goods, the effects are not anywhere near as significant as with MREs. In my opinion, thanks to their value and robust shelf life, canned goods score a tie with our next option.

Freeze dried foods advertise a shelf life of 25 years, but I’d be willing to bet they’ll last a hell of a lot longer than that, especially considering that canned foods have routinely exceeded their advertised two-year shelf life by a long shot. The fresh food is freeze-dried to retain maximum nutrients, then sealed in nitrogen flushed Mylar pouches, and further sealed in stackable Polyethylene buckets, making them far less susceptible to the degrading affects of heat. Plus, they are significantly lighter and due to their packaging, more easily transported.

Now that we’ve determined the ideal food for storage, especially in a hot environment, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your investment.

I’ve lived everywhere from military barracks, tents, and sometimes nothing more than a pile of leaves and a poncho, to tiny condos in busy cities, and even in large homes. One thing this has taught me is that you never have enough space for storage. Most people, myself included, resort to cramming everything possible into the garage, and while this works fine for old baby cloths and Christmas decorations, it doesn’t work as well for food storage. In my situation, although this is far from ideal, it is less of a problem because we regularly eat from our food storage, so it’s constantly rotated.

There are other (better) solutions though that will allow you to store your emergency food source inside your home, away from the elements.

For example, you’d be surprised just how much space you can find in your home if you really try, such as:

  • Under beds
  • Behind couches
  • Inside the cold air return
  • In a basement
  • Under the stairs
  • Inside an ottoman
  • In your entertainment center
  • Closet floors
  • Utility room
  • Inside tables
  • The space in a corner cabinet
  • Or you could get really creative and build a fort in your kids rooms from cases of food

There is one more option that you should consider in addition to the food stored in your home. It’s called caching, which military units (such as special ops or other forward units) often do when operating far from support units. Basically, you’ll take a portion of food, and hide it, usually underground. You can do this in your own back yard as well as other locations around town. Simply box it up, wrap it in a few heavy-duty garbage bags and seal it with plenty of duct tape. There are several advantages to this method:

  • Temperatures three to four feet underground usually remain at around 70° even through the peak of summer, so your food will last longer
  • In the event of looting, you’ll still have reserves to fall back on
  • If you are forced to evacuate your home, you’ll still have access to your other cache locations

Are you using any other food storage methods in a hot environment? Share your techniques with our readers in the comments below.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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