Long-Term Food Storage

The question is not “will the food supply fail?”, the question is “when and where will the food supply fail next?” Food scarcity caused famine and death in China in the 1950’s, across Europe in the 1940’s, in Russia in the 1910’s, and in the American South in the 1860’s. During these time periods, millions of people were cut off from reliable supplies of safe and nutritious foods. In China alone, approximately 30 millions people died of starvation during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.”

Historically, bad government is the #1 cause of famine, but food shortages can also be caused by a wide range of natural disasters. Imagine a blight which ruined one season of wheat production in the American mid-west. Now imagine that the bug which caused the blight spread worldwide, or took more than one year to eradicate, or affected other crops in addition to wheat.

Long-Term Food Storage

Many foods can be safely stored for extended periods of time. Most require that moisture, oxygen, and sunlight be limited during their storage. The food should also be protected from pests, such as insects and animals.

Storage Containers

Metal containers provide the best protection against breakage, pests, oxygen, moisture, and sunlight. A mixture of metal containers of various sizes works best, from #10 cans to 55 gallon drums. It’s hard to beat .30 or .50 caliber ammo cans for convenience and durability.

Plastic containers are inexpensive and easy to work with. If you are going to store food directly in a plastic container, be sure to use only containers which are clearly marked as being “food grade” containers. Some plastics contain unhealthy chemicals which can seep into your food. Food grade plastics are normally made of High Density Polyethylene and are labeled either “HDPE” or have a “2” stamped in the middle of the recycling symbol. Plastic containers will allow air to seep through, over time.

Glass containers are a traditional favorite for home canning, but are subject to breakage. They also offer no protection against sunlight. Glass containers are most commonly used now to store wet foods, such as canned vegetables.

It is best to store food in vacuum-packed mylar bags and then to store those bags in metal containers. The mylar plastic bags will protect against oxygen and moisture, while the outer metal container will protect against breakage, pests, and sunlight. A major advantage of this approach is that you can use open the metal canisters as needed, only withdrawing mylar food packets that are for immediate use.

Oxygen Absorbers

Oxygen absorbers are small packets of powered iron oxide which are used to absorb excess oxygen in a dry food storage container. They help to trap oxygen that was present in the container at the time of sealing.


Desiccants are small packets of various chemicals which absorb excess moisture in a dry food storage container. They help to trap moisture that was present in the container at the time of sealing.

Vacuum Sealers

Vacuum sealers are machines which suck the air out of storage containers and then heat-seal them closed. These can be used to augment or replace oxygen absorbers and desiccants.


The key to a known working long-term food storage system is rotation. Foods should be stored in a First-In First-Out (FIFO) queue. This means that you should eat the oldest food in your storage system — which will ensure that the oldest food in your storage system is known to be good. This should be done, not during an emergency, but every day.

This also helps to ensure that you are storing foods that your family will eat. An emergency situation is no time to discover that one of your family members is allergic to lima beans.

Food Selection

Store what you will eat. Try to store foods which are as close as possible to the foods your family eats now. This will help maintain a sense of normality during an emergency situation.

Most likely, your food selection will end up being short of at least one necessary vitamin or mineral.  Be sure to pack multivitamins to maintain proper nutrition.

Don’t forget necessary ingredients. If you store pasta, remember to store pasta sauce. If you store popcorn, remember to store vegetable oil. Spices will be even more appreciated during an emergency.

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