Sunday, May 5, 2013

Three Month's Storage: Getting Started!

I made a conscious decision several years ago that I was going to make preparedness a priority. I began by simply buying one “storage item” each time I went to the store. Sometimes all I could afford was a few extra cans of fruit or veggies. If I had a little extra one week, I would buy a $20 bag of rice or flour. Sometimes I would buy two packages of toilet paper, or two bottles of hand soap, rather than just one. But I was consistently thinking about my short-term storage item on each shopping trip. In a short period of time, I began to accumulate a decent stock that has continued to grow over time.

There are many reasons for having a short-term storage. For me, the biggest reason is simply the peace of mind of knowing that if anything were to happen beyond our control, we’ll still have what we need to survive and be comfortable for at least the foreseeable future. As a practical matter, we have literally saved hundreds of dollars on groceries over a year, since we are not dependent on trips to the grocery store every week. We shop once a month, and make a list of what we need to restock or add to our storage, and as we have accumulated a decent “pantry stock” we usually only purchase items that are on sale, since we rarely run out of things and have to make “emergency” trips to the store.

Getting Started: Start small, and work up. As you are building your short-term storage, you should buy what you currently eat and will use. Shop the ads, and clip coupons for storage items and fresh meats and produce. This will allow you to stock up when things are on sale. This puts you in the driver’s seat as to what you are paying for groceries, rather than being at the mercy of the market price for what you need. By maintaining a short-term storage, you should be able to completely avoid ever paying full price for most items that you use on a regular basis.

Short-term food items include canned soups, fruits, vegetables, beans & meats; boxed crackers, pasta mixes, baking mixes, etc.; pasta, rice, lentils, seeds, nuts, and other dry goods. While you’ll want to include your refrigerator/freezer in your short term storage plan, most short-term food items should be non-perishable and not require refrigeration, in the event that you lose power for an extended period of time.

What To Get: Imagine that because of a storm, you couldn’t get to a grocery store for several weeks, or that food shortages, trucking strikes or unexpected price increases create a situation where you are suddenly limited in your choices at the grocery store. What would you want to have on hand? The more you think about this question, the more creative you can get. I have been working on experimenting with storage items that I don’t normally use in recipes, (ie., switching 2% milk out for powdered or canned milk, or using chopped up SPAM in split pea soup in place of a ham bone.)

Rotate Your Supply: Keep a Sharpie permanent marker in your kitchen drawer. When you come home from the grocery store, before putting any groceries away, mark them with the month & year they were purchased. Mark cans on the top and boxes on the side for quick & easy reference. This will help you remember when they were purchased and how quickly they need to be used.

When you put your groceries into the cupboard or pantry, be sure to put the newest items behind the older ones. This assures that the next time you go to grab a can of tomato sauce, you’ll be grabbing the one that needs to be used up first. Generally speaking, commercially canned items have a 2-plus-year shelf life, so be sure to rotate accordingly so that you will use the oldest items before the newer one. Obviously, boxed items have a much shorter shelf-life than canned goods. Most commercially packaged food items list a “best if used by” date, which can be used if necessary.

NOTE: Canned Pineapple & Mandarin Oranges are an exception to the 2+ year rule. Because of the enzymes and acidity, they can actually corrode and rust through the cans. This corrosion could lead to loss of your investment on the minimal side, or possibly botulism or food poisoning on the other extreme. Because of this, I try not to let mine sit for more than a year. NEVER eat food from cans that are dented, rusted, or bulging in any way. Dents, rust or other corrosion can mean that the seal has been broken, and your food could be spoiled. Don't risk it. Toss any cans that have become damaged. 

We don’t have much cupboard space or a kitchen pantry. Instead, we bought three 4-shelf plastic storage shelves at WalMart for about $20 each. We have organized them so that each shelf has a specific category: baking, fruits, vegetables, proteins. We have them set up in our basement (it’s not a finished basement, so we only keep canned food items that will not attract critters downstairs.) We also bought an inexpensive cabinet at Lowe’s Hardware (about $100) that sits in our dining room and this is where we keep boxed or packaged items that would be inappropriate for storing in the basement. Basically anything that rodents or insects could get into stays in the cabinet upstairs.

Be creative when thinking about storage space. You want to keep your food items in cool, clean, dark places in order to provide ideal storage conditions and extend the life of your supply. Extra closets, under beds and even inside furniture (wardrobes or chests.) If the time comes when it’s necessary to live off your storage, you won’t mind the clutter or crowded space. You can maximize your storage space by using different packaging options and storage containers, but more on that later.

Keep in mind that the idea of “short-term” storage is that you become self-sufficient based on items you have in your home to sustain yourself for up to three months. These items will be different for each family, but staples should be the same, and you should be careful to keep your stock well-rounded enough to supply both nutrition and variety.

Some of Your short-term pantry items could include:

Oats, (regular or instant oatmeal, rolled oats, etc.)
Wheat, (white, red, etc.)
Rice, (brown, white, etc.)
Pasta (spaghetti, macaroni, lasagna, egg noodles, etc.)
Farina, grits, other cereals

Protein Sources
Beans, (dry or canned: black/kidney/garbonzo/pinto/refried/lentils/etc.)
Clams, (chopped/whole/smoked)
Chicken, Turkey, Beef chunks
Tuna, (or other canned fish)
Chili, Pork-n-Beans, canned soups

Fruits, dried or canned
Apple Sauce
Fruit Cocktail
Pineapple (slices/chunks/crushed)
Mandarin Oranges
Dried fruits, (apricots/prunes/berries/fruit leather/etc.)
Pie fillings, (cherry/blueberry/blackberry, apple, etc.)
Veggies, dried or canned
Green Beans, (fancy & regular cut)
Corn, regular & creamed
Green Peas
Black Olives
Green Chiles
Tomato Sauce/Paste
Tomatoes, stewed/whole/diced
Split green peas (dry)
Spaghetti Sauces
Dried onions, carrots, mushrooms, other cooking essentials

Baking Supplies
Cooking Oil, (vegetable, canola, olive, etc.)
Salt, Pepper, spices & seasonings
Sugar, (granulated, brown, powdered)
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Cocoa Powder
Yeast (bulk packaged or in packets)
Lemon juice
Corn Syrup
Any other items needed for the things you bake regularly

Dry Mixes
Jello/pudding mixes
Cake/muffin/brownie mixes
Stovetop Stuffing mixes
Soup mixes
Gravy, sauce, taco seasoning mix

Bottled Water
Apple/Cranberry/Orange/misc. bottled juices (use empty bottles for water storage)
Box sealed soy or rice milk (no refrigeration before opening, 1 year shelf life)
Powerade of Gatorade (great when someone has the flu)
Hot chocolate drink mixes
Lemonade/KoolAid mixes
Herbal Teas
Soda, (orange, root beer, sprite, etc. adds variety or is great for a special treat)
Ginger Ale (I drink lots of ginger ale to help my nausea, so we have a stock of that)
V-8, other canned fruit juices

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