5 Ways to Store Food Long-Term
Dry Pack Canning is the process used to store foods that have less than 10% moisture and are low in oil content. When properly done, these items will last a long time, maybe even 30 years under certain conditions.
We’ve talked in the past about the reasons to have extra food on hand. Today we will explore how to store it for optimal freshness. The items suitable for long-term storage include wheat, corn, beans, white rice, sugar, rolled oats, white flour, pasta, powdered milk and eggs, and some dehydrated vegetables.
DRY is the key here. A good way to tell is to take a hammer to it – if it cracks, it’s dry enough. If it smashes it’s probably not a good idea to store it using these methods. The oils will eventually go bad and you risk getting sick.
Doing my own dry pack canning gives me the freedom to choose what I want to store. I can buy items from the bulk bin as my budget will allow, and “put them up” in my own jars or buckets. This food is the foundation of my food storage plan.
The Methods That You Might Consider Using for Dry Pack Canning Are:
- Mason jars or food grade buckets with oxygen absorbers
- FoodSaver machine with bags or Mason Jar attachment
- Dry oven canning
- PETE Bottles with oxygen absorbers
- Purchase #10 cans from a visit to a LDS Home Storage Center
Using a mason jar and oxygen absorber couldn’t be easier and doesn’t require any special equipment. Put your product in a jar, place 1 or 2 – 300cc oxygen absorbers in with the food, put on a new lid and screw the band tightly. It will take approximately 30 minutes for the air to be removed and the top to “plink.”
This is perhaps not the most effective use of your storage space. Canning jars take up shelf real estate, so you will need to decide if you have enough storage area for this method. It will take 24 jars to store 50 pounds of rice this way.
If you have a FoodSaver with a jar attachment oxygen absorbers are not necessary, the attachment removed the air. Oxygen absorbers can be purchased at The Ready Store, at Discount Mylar Bags or at Amazon.
Food grade buckets & oxygen absorbers are fantastic for storing large amounts of food all at once and provide a barrier of protection against rodents. You will need at least 2000cc’s of oxygen absorbers to remove the oxygen from a 5-gallon bucket.
The process is simple, add your food, then place the absorbers on top and securely attach the bucket lid. This is an acceptable long-term storage strategy.
Once I open a bucket and know I won’t be using all the food within the next month or so, I transfer the food to smaller containers using either my FoodSaver or plain old plastic zip bags. The contents of this bucket now become short-term storage and should be used within 1 year.
A FoodSaver machine with attachment also works well for storing small amounts of dry food. I use mine almost every day for keeping the extra food we haven’t used, it’s super handy. When we open a new bucket I break down the contents into smaller, manageable portions.
Sometimes wet food that are stored in FoodSaver bags leak air back into them, so I mostly use it to seal canning jars, or for things I want to place in the freezer. A FoodSaver also works well for storing extra herbs and spices.
And talking about herbs and spices and other small things, when storing dry foods like flour, oats, spices, and fine powders, either place the foods in another bag before vacuum sealing them or use a coffee filter on the attachment to prevent the small particles to get into your vacuum sealer and ruining the machine.
Related post: Store Bulk Flour in 5-gallon buckets
Dry oven canning is not for the faint of heart as involves a lot of work. But this old-time method is a lot safer than the foodsaver method since the food is stored in perfect condition longer (some say up to 30 years!).
Some preppers have reported issues with condensation after using a vacuum sealer, but no one did so with oven canning unless they live in hellishly humid climates, but the moisture should reabsorb at some point (if it does not let the food air dry, add an oxygen absorber in the jar, and vacuum seal everything since the bugs are all dead now.
If done right, canning dry stuff in an oven can prolong dry food’s shelf life by at least one decade past its expiration date.
You can use the dry oven canning method for storing:
- Pinto beans, black beans, etc.
- Dry pasta (without egg as it contains fats that can easily go rancid)
- Rice, including brown rice
- Most grains
- Freeze dried foods
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Crackers, and anything with less than 10% moisture and little to no oils in it.
Through this method, dry foods should last for up to 15 – 20 years without oxygen absorbers. Even though it is not recommended to oven dry can nuts, some preppers claim that they routinely dry can nuts and they’re as good as new after several years as well.
Also, cornmeal, barley, and seeds should be checked regularly as they might not last as long as their less oily counterparts through this method.
The purpose of dry oven canning is to kill the bugs, their larvae and to prevent the eggs from hatching. The mason jars will keep bugs and rodents at bay, unlike mylar bags and plastic buckets.
How to Dry Oven Can:
- Clean the jars thoroughly
- Sterilize jars upside down in a steam bath in a large pot with ½” water and a bit of vinegar for 20 to 30 minutes
- Place the humid jars upside down on the oven rack and dry them out at 225 degrees
- When the small droplets of water on the jars completely evaporate, turn the oven off
- Let the jars cool in the oven
- Wash the lids and sterilize them for 10 to 15 minutes in the oven as well (no water bath required here)
- Place the dry food in the bone dry mason jars (leave nearly 1 inch of headspace); tamp down the jars as you are filling them to remove any air pockets.
- Put the filled jars in the oven at 220 degrees for 90 minutes (for 1 quart jars) or for 120 minutes (for half gallon jars) – this way the rice gets sterilized too and all the bugs and their offspring are killed off.
- When the time is up, get the hot jars out and screw on the lids really tight (don’t allow the jars cool down); make sure that the lids are bone dry and that the rims are perfectly clean, but not moist.
- (Optional step) You could add some oxygen absorbers at this point, but really if you’ve done everything right there’s no real use.
- You will notice the lids pop down.
Note: This dry oven canning method is the version touted by Janie from OurLittleHomestead (see video below). As she points out repeatedly throughout the video is that this method is only safe for dry goods. Do not use dry oven canning on wet stuff especially if it’s low acidity as you risk growing some botulism spores and nasty food poisoning.
Using PETE Bottles for longer-term storage – from provident living.org
Bottles made of PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic can be used with oxygen absorbers to store products such as wheat, corn, dry beans, and white rice. PETE bottles are identified on the container with the letters PETE or PET under the recycle symbol.
Other types of plastic bottles typically do not provide an adequate moisture or oxygen barrier for use with oxygen absorbers. Do not use containers that were previously used to store nonfood items.
PETE bottles can also be used for shorter-term storage (up to 5 years) of other shelf-stable dry foods such as white rice.
The moisture content of stored foods should be about 10 percent or less. When moist products are stored in reduced oxygen packaging, botulism poisoning may occur.
Packaging in PETE Bottles
- Use PETE bottles that have screw-on lids with plastic or rubber lid seals. You can verify that the lid seal will not leak by placing a sealed empty bottle under water and pressing on it. If you see bubbles escape from the bottle, it will leak.
- Clean the used bottles with dish soap and rinse them thoroughly to remove any residue. Drain out the water, and allow the bottles to dry completely before you use them for packaging food products.
- Place a 300cc oxygen absorber in each bottle. The absorbers can be used with containers of up to one-gallon capacity (4 liters).
- Fill bottles with wheat, corn, dry beans or white rice. Anything that passes the hammer test mentioned above.
- Wipe the top of the sealing edge of each bottle clean with a dry cloth and screw lid on tightly.
- Store the products in a cool, dry location, away from light.
- Protect the stored products from rodents.
- Use a new oxygen absorber each time you refill a bottle for storage.
How long will the food on PETE bottles last? Certainly, a two-year storage time can be achieved. I have my doubts about whether these PETE bottles will really store food for over 10 years.
You will need to decide on the length of time best suited to your storage. In the mean time, I still use this method when I purchase things in bulk that I know I will use within one to two years.
Go to a LDS Home Storage Center in your area.
If you are looking for a ready to go storage container, consider the #10 can. You see them at big box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club for wet items but it’s hard to find a place that will let you purchase rice or flour in a can. Enter the Home Storage Center.
This is one of my preferred storage containers because we can open a can and use it in a reasonable time. Cans that are not open will last for many years with no loss of food.
Home storage centers help people build a basic supply of food for their longer-term home storage needs very fast. Several prepackaged items are also available through their online store and are ready to buy off the shelf or to have shipped to your home.
The prices are always reasonable and you do not have to be LDS to purchase online or in a storage center.
To find available products in your local center and plan your purchases, download the home storage center price list. Fill out the form electronically, print it out, and take it with you to your local home storage center. They also sell oxygen absorbers.
Since #10 cans are quite large, they’re not the greatest option out there if you plan on using them for canning wet food (unless you have a large family to feed). But they are excellent containers for canning dry food, such as grains, beans, flour and so on.
If Home Storage Center’s variety of food and prices are not on your liking, you can buy empty #10 cans, stuff them with the food staples of your choice, toss some oxygen absorbers into the mix (use one 300cc absorber for each #10 can and don’t use more than 5 or 6 at a time as they saturate with oxygen pretty fast if the cans are not sealed quickly).
Last step: seal the cans. However, you’ll have to invest in a can sealer machine, which doesn’t come cheap especially if it can seal all can sizes.
Optional step: You could keep the food up to two weeks in a freezer before dry pack canning it to make sure that no bug larvae are left alive. If you use oxygen absorbers though (which is a must for long term storage), you can skip this step as most bugs should be dead without oxygen.
The benefits of this method include:
– // Dry foods will stay fresh for more than a decade if canned properly
– // Tin cans protect dry food from moisture, light, and pests.
– // Metal containers are a safer bet against rodents and other pests than mylar bags and food-grade plastic buckets.
– // Dry ready-to-eat meals such as those made from freeze-dried ingredients can be cooked directly in the can.
Where to buy #10 cans? LDS used to carry them, and church members even allowed you use their sealers. However, a few years ago, some LDS canneries stopped selling the empty cans to non-members due to liability risks.
Important Note: If you choose this dry pack canning method make sure that you have a can opener around. Imagine a doom’s day scenario in full swing with all your emergency food stashed in tin cans but with no can opener in sight.
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