The Basics of Emergency Food Storage and Resupply
Food and shelter are the two most vital requirements in a time of crisis – whether the situation is a short-term one or an all-out calamity. Now, you’re probably just about ready to give me the “blindingly obvious” award for that statement, but hear me out for just a moment.
What seems on the surface like an obvious and easily-implementable principle of disaster-readiness is actually a little more nuanced when you dig into it.
There are, for instance, various factors to limit food degradation that need to be taken into account. Equally, long-term storage plans (six to twelve months) need to be adapted to account for caloric intake and nutrient requirements. And finally, the way you store your food should allow for it to be used and replenished as part of your normal cooking routine (cyclically using and replacing to maximise shelf-life).
What to Store
There are various options when choosing foods to store. Here are some of the best:
- Canned foods: The obvious choice is to go for canned products – they tend to have a shelf-life of several years and many also have desirable caloric profiles. A tin of kidney beans, for instance, usually contains upwards of 700 calories. Vegetables, fruits and meat products are available and often do not need to be cooked to be edible, which could be important.
- Nuts and seeds: Similar in a way to canned foods, nuts are ideal because of their high nutrition to calorie ratio. These are fresh foods, so they will need to be vacuum-packed for longer-term storage.
- Dried foods: Though these edibles – beans, dried fruits, pasta, flour etc. – usually have a good shelf-live without being packaged, for optimal storage times you’ll want to prepackage them so as to limit their deterioration over time.
- Dried ready meals: These are better as additions, rather than as core constituents, of your stockpile. They’re good to have around as quick, high-calorie meals and tend to store well for long periods of time.
- Powders and pills: Protein powders, vitamin pills, fish oil supplements – all are long-lasting options that will effectively supplement your diet.
How to Store Your Food
There are three key factors to take into consideration: temperature, humidity and atmospheric oxygen.
- Temperature: The higher the temperature, the higher microbial activity and thus the rate at which food degrades. The simplest advice is to store in as cool an area as possible. We can use the Q10 Temperature Coefficient to determine that a decrease of about 18°F will lead to a doubling of shelf life.
- Humidity: Humidity is a measure of the amount of moisture in air relative to its maximum water holding capacity (what is called full saturation). So, for instance, if the maximum amount of water that air in a given space could hold is 100 grams and it’s currently holding 20 grams, humidity is at 20%. In the same way that higher temperatures increase microbial activity, so do higher levels of humidity. Homes tend to be very dry naturally but around 10% is a good number.
- Atmosphere: Nearly all living organisms require oxygen to live and that’s true of air-borne microbes. Low oxygen environments, therefore, are less conducive to food decay.
There are various methods for ensuring that your food remains fit for consumption, here are some of the most common (and effective):
- Vacuum packing: Sealing food in air-tight plastic bags removes moisture and oxygen. Products like the foodsaver are good, inexpensive options.
- Airtight containers with oxygen removal: A popular method is to store dried foods in an airtight bucket (it must have an airtight seal) with the addition of an oxygen absorber or remover. These will create a high-nitrogen environment in which it is very difficult for bacteria to flourish.
- Canning: Cooked food is heated in air-tight jars to kill any bacteria. It’s a simple method and food stored this way will will often last for periods in excess of three years.
Ultimately, the only way you’re going to be able to set up a long-term, sustainable supply of food is through growing it. There are various strategies for achieving a completely self-sufficient homestead – everything from deterring pests through proper companion planting to effectively replenishing your soil with homemade compost – but they’re beyond the scope of this short article.
The thing to remember is that food-growing itself is an easy skill to learn (it’s a prime candidate for the “easy to learn, difficult to master” label). Equally, many staples (turnips, potatoes, wheat) are forgiving of poor soils and less-than-ideal care. Human beings can, if they’re required to, live off potatoes and butter alone, so don’t worry too much if you haven’t got any skills in this area.