Survival Basics

Packaging Food for Long-term Storage

Any food we stockpile for survival must be packaged to survive the worst. After all, there’s a pretty good chance that it will, before it is used. If not properly packaged to last 20 years, then it may not even be usable when we need it. Let’s explore how to do food packaging for long-term storage.

But little of the food that’s in our grocery stores is actually packaged to last that long. Even that which is might be a bit questionable. I say that, because even canned food, which will usually last for decades, can go bad. The US Marines leaned this in World War II, when pallets of canned food got caught in torrential rain in the Pacific. First the cardboard boxes became soggy and fell apart, then the glue holding the labels on the can dissolved, leaving a bunch of unlabeled cans of who knew what?

Packaging Food

Canned food

Still, most canned food will keep for much longer than the date stamped on the can would indicate. As long as the top of the can remains concave from the vacuum that’s created during the canning process, the food inside is probably going to be good. I’ve seen examples where that was true even if the food was 40, 60 or even 80 years old. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen canned food that was less than two years old which went bad. The difference was that the can itself had become compromised, probably due to the plastic lining on the inside of the can becoming nicked, and then the acid in the fruit inside it attacking the metal can. 

Unfortunately, not all our food is canned and while the selection in canned food is rather extensive, we really can’t count on just canned food to survive. There’s a lot of dried food in the grocery store, which we want to include in our survival stockpile. Most sources of carbohydrates, where we get most of our energy from, are included in those dried foods. 

Dried food

The packaging that those dried foods come in isn’t designed for long-term storage; it’s designed to keep the food fresh for a few months. While bacteria won’t usually attack dry food, as they can’t survive without moisture, insects and rodents can still get into it, eating it before we do. 

So what do we do about all that dry food, to ensure that it will be available when we need it? 

Packaging of dried food

Fortunately, there’s a way to solve that problem. It involves repacking that food in such a way that will kill any insects, insect larva, or insect eggs and then keep both insects and rodents out of the package. Repackaged this way, most dry foods will last 20 years or more. 

In order to do it, you’ll need five-gallon buckets, which you can get at your local home-improvement center. The white ones are “food grade” which is desirable, but not required. You’ll also need six-gallon aluminized Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers. These can be purchased from a number of online vendors, pretty much all of which carry both. 

Repackaging the food

You’ll want to have a lot of food to repackage at one time. The oxygen absorbers have a very short life. Once you open the package, you’ll want to use them right away. So, to repackage the food:

  1. Start by opening the aluminized Mylar bags and putting them in the five-gallon buckets. 
  2. Fill the bags with food, up to about an inch shy of the bucket’s rim. Typically, only one type of food is put in a bucket. 
  3. Mark the outside of the bucket in several places, stating the content. 
  4. Using a hair straightener or clothes iron, heat seal the top two inches of the bag, leaving about a 2 inch opening that is unsealed at one end. 
  5. Place an oxygen absorber in the bag. Then working quickly, just barely stick the end of a vacuum cleaner hose into the opening and suck out as much air as possible. Don’t stick the hose in far, or it will suck out the food too. 
  6. Heat seal the last two inches of the top of the bag.
  7. Fold the bag over, laying the flap on the top of the food. Then drive the lid on with a rubber mallet, ensuring that it seats all the way. 

Keep the food in a cool, dry place. The combination of the bucket, bag and oxygen-free environment will protect just about any food from going bad.

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