Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thoughts on Emergency Food Supply

A friend came by and we got into a discussion about emergency food storage. I opined most people are clueless about how to do this both reasonably and on the cheap.

A shed tends to get hot in the summer and is not a good place to store food, even canned food, in much of the U.S. And you need to keep your food away from varmints, so some planning or construction, simple but effective, is needed.

If you have a basement, you are already set. If it's unheated, even better. If it is, you should partition off a space, insulate it, and let it come to ground temperature. If you have no basement, you ideally want something like a root cellar. In the U.S. ground temperatures won't go much over 70 F. and that's in Florida. At higher latitudes, lower than that. It should have several feet of soil atop and surrounding it to keep out the summer heat. A dry crawlspace is suitable but an annoyance to access. It will do, though.

The old root cellar, ideal for long-term storage, is unfortunately passe. It was a well-sealed below ground pantry. It should be in well-drained soil which won't fill with water regardless of recent rains. If that's not possible, I have seen on the internet simple buried steel trash cans. My opinion is that you should enjoy a root cellar for regular life even when there are no emergencies going on, so it should be easy to get to on a routine basis. If you wanted to go to the trouble of building one right under your kitchen, with a hatch and a few steps down into it, I think that would be excellent. I know, that's not cheap, and it's old-school. I wish more people demanded such from builders.

Root crops such as carrots, produce, potatoes, and apples will last very well. Canned food, either home-preserved in jars, or commercial canned food, will last nicely at ground temperatures. Excessive dampness must be controlled to keep cans and lids from rusting, though. Plastic bags should work well, preferably clear so you can see inside easily to read labels or see what's in jars.

Unfortunately, wholesale foods are disappearing. By wholesale, I mean 50 lb. bags of flour, cornmeal, oatmeal, dried field corn for making tortillas. Rice, beans, and dried peas. Even the one gallon cans of prepared beans have disappeared from many grocery stores.

Restaurant supply houses are your friend. By hook or by crook, you have to get them to sell to you. Rural communities might still have some working mills for some of this, such as cornmeal and flour.

Ideally you should store food you actually use and know how to use. You won't end up with a ten year old bag of rice if you regularly eat from your supply and replace it off and on.

Keep in mind that a 25 lb. bag of wholesale cornmeal, per dollar, is hugely cheaper than 25 lbs. of cornflakes.

And five gallon metal buckets with lids - or five gallon food grade plastic buckets with lids - are your friend. I wouldn't store food in a metal paint bucket unless it was super-cleaned to zero residue. Or sandblasted inside even. And even then I'd line it with a plastic bag. Again, think wholesale. Buckets are ridiculously priced at big box stores, and aren't necessarily food-grade, if plastic. Try to find a wholesaler, and they should go for much cheaper. Find a restaurant that serves lots of pickles or something that they get in five gallon buckets, and see if you can get some free used buckets. Don't forget the lids.


talitha said...

Very nostalgic now for the root cellars under my great-grandmothers' kitchens. I always loved being sent down to retrieve a jar or pickles or some apples or whatever was needed at the time.
Thanks, Jumper!

Wheezy said...

Is that your basement, Jumper? Until a few years ago I had a house that was 130 years old, and those basement steps (with the falling plaster and mortar included) look sooo familiar! My basement was way too damp for storing anything you wanted to keep, though.


Wheezy said...

Another question (sorry) - do you have any idea if one could, in a pinch, re-use regular jars from the store (pickle jars, or whatever) for canning? I know you *should* use ball jars with new lids, but if you sterilized, and processed them till the lid popped down, wouldn't that do?

I ask because I read a kid's book a while back where people during the Depression searched through the dump for jars and lids, sterilized them, and packed their garden produce in them. Wondered if that was accurate.

Jumper said...

Well, I'm no expert but I think those lids should last at least twice. I think the seal on commercial American jar lids may be more durable than Ball jar lids. I don't know about foods with high risk of botulism; one might want to use new seals.

Jumper said...

No, not my basement. For a good view of root cellars, see here:

Although some of them look decidedly UN-handy.

hcg said...

It is a very informative and useful post thanks it is good material to read this post increases my knowledge