What are Civilian MREs? Survival Food Storage

What is an MRE?

MRE’s, or ‘meals ready to eat’, are pre-cooked, vacuum sealed meals. They have been used by the United States military since 1980.

Each year the military feeds over 35 million MRE’s to its soldiers. Each 20 ounce meal contains 1300 calories. They are great for emergency preparedness.

MRE’s are also called retort foods because the food is sealed air-tight in a tri-laminate (three-layer) thermal pouch and then cooked in a huge pressure cooker called a retort.

Hot or cold

In 1993 a small chemical heater was introduced to MRE’s.

This heater allows soldiers to heat their food in the field and is now enclosed with each meal. To use the heater you simply remove the entree pouch from the box and insert it into the small heater bag.

Next you add about 1 ounce of water (clear instructions are provided with each MRE) to the level indicated by lines on the bag.

Each bag contains magnesium and iron dust. Adding water to the bag initiates a exothermic chemical reaction which oxidizes the metal dust and generates heat. The temperature in the bag rises to over 100 degrees F.

If you don’t have the chemical heater, just put the sealed food packet into boiling water for about five minutes to heat.

The tri-lamiate pouch is very durable and is unaffected by boiling.

Due to the method of cooking and packaging, MRE’s retain a high percentage of nutrition, texture, moisture, and color of the food. Most MRE’S have an excellent taste as well.

They are very handy in a disaster and each MRE comes in a pouch full of neat stuff: the entrée, a chemical heater, a powdered drink, crackers, a spread (peanut butter, jam, or cheese), a dessert such as M&M’s, Skittles, brownies, chewing gum, candmre packages come in great varietyy, hot sauce, toilet tissue, and other accessories.

The exact contents of the pouch will depend on which accessory packet is included.

Like your other disaster supplies, MRE’s should be stored properly in a cool place with your other emergency preparedness stuff.

The Wornick website states that MRE’s have a shelf life of three years when stored at 80 degrees F, and that cold storage can extend the shelf life.

After about 8 years stored at outside temperatures, the peanut butter and the cheese spreads begin to separate out into layers and the crackers and desserts get a little stale. The entrée is usually the last item to become inedible. None of this will be a problem if you will merely rotate them every three to four years and store them in a cool environment with your other emergency foods.

MRE’s are great for 72-hour kits and camping or hiking trips. Their composition of high energy foods, their convenience and their ease of use make MRE’s perfect for the short-term part of your emergency food storage plan.

Freeze-dried survival food

freezedried food

For advanced food storage in an emergency preparedness plan with less budget constraints, freeze-dried foods are by far the way to go.

Freeze-dried foods taste better and retain vitamins, nutrients, texture, and freshness better than canned goods or other types of dehydrated foods.

In addition, freeze-dried foods are very lightweight and space-saving, since they contain very little water.

Most freeze-dried supplies can be purchased on the internet and delivered to your door, ready for emergency storage.

Freeze-dried foods are superior because of the arduous freeze-drying process which they undergo. According to Tom Harris at howstuffworks.com:

The fundamental principle in freeze-drying is sublimation, the shift from a solid directly into a gas.


Just like evaporation, sublimation occurs when a molecule gains enough energy to break free from the molecules around it.


Water will sublime from a solid (ice) to a gas (vapor) when the molecules have enough energy to break free but the conditions aren’t right for a liquid to form.


The freeze-drying process, or lyophilization, involves rapidly freezing the food as cold as -50 degrees F.

This is done to separate the water from the food tissue on a molecular level. The water is still there, it’s just separated out at this point.

Slight heat and lowered atmospheric pressure are then applied which converts the food’s water content directly into its gas form, or vapor.

The vapor is then drawn into another chamber using a vacuum, where it condenses onto a freezing coil.

This removes all the moisture from the air, thus preserving the food‘s integrity.

By removing the water, the bacterial action is delayed, and therefore the spoilage. The process continues for days as the food gradually dries. Once this is done, the food is sealed in an airtight package with an oxygen-absorber.

Freeze-dried food from Mountain House

Mountain House is the best brand, and has a wide variety of foods to choose from.

Choices include pasta dishes such as spaghetti, all kinds of vegetables, various meats, sea foods, desserts, etc.

Nitro-pak is also a good company with a wide variety of freeze-dried foods. You can buy individual meal packs or large sealed #10 cans, which are roughly one gallon in size. You get a lot more for your money with the #10 cans and they have a much longer shelf life, making them ideal for an emergency preparedness plan.

The smaller packs are handier for camping and backpacking.

How long does freeze-dried food last?

Freeze dried foods in an unopened #10 are reported to have a shelf life of 30 years if stored properly at cool temperatures, although some sources dispute this.

Preparation is easy; just add water and heat for 20-30 minutes.

Be advised: these dishes take a lot of water to reconstitute them. The wide variety of common dishes ensures that you should be able to pick items that you family will happily eat in times of stress.

Choose wisely

Some would say that another downside to freeze-dried foods is that they require water to cook, which may be in short supply during a disaster.

But if you don’t have ample water as part of your emergency food storage plan, your plan is doomed anyway.

As with home dehydrated foods, you should not rely exclusively on freeze-dried foods in your storage plan.

Instead, make them part of a well-rounded supply of canned goods and dried food such as pasta and beans.

Freeze-dried foods have the best nutrition, the longest storage life, the best taste, and they are familiar foods that we eat everyday which can be critical in a crisis.

Survival food storage: Health benefits of dehydrated food

dehydrated food benefits

Another possibility in emergency food storage is food dehydration. The concept is simple: just dry out the food because the decreased moisture level delays the action of bacteria and other things which cause food to spoil.

Buying an electric food dehydrator is the way to go, provided you don’t wait until the power grid crashes to get it out of the box. It takes a couple of trial runs to get the hang of it

The best food dehydrators are relatively inexpensive and come in all sizes with endless options.

Generally speaking, most people in preparing for an emergency will get the most enjoyment out of midsize models that will fit on a countertop. They are handier and more enjoyable than the largest ones.

How to use dehydrated food


dehydrating foodTo use the dehydrator, slice up the food into thin, uniform-sized pieces and lay them on the dehydrator shelves. The dehydrator circulates the warm air and dries the food out. Some foods require pretreatment such as ascorbic acid dipping solutions, water or steam blanching, or peeling.

A key to successfully dehydrating food for emergency preparedness is to use only prime cuts of meat and the freshest fruits and vegetables available.

To reconstitute the food during a crisis (rehydrating dehydrated food ), you simply soak it in water.

Some foods such as carrots, onions, and tomatoes tend to reconstitute better than others. Other foods do not need reconstituting at all.

Dried fruits and dried venison jerky make great dehydrated snacks.

The companies that make dehydrators want you to enjoy your new piece of machinery and they usually include a very good instruction booklet with complete directions and tips for success. But in case the manual is not enough, Food Storage For The Clueless by Clark and Kathryn Kidd is a very good book on the details of food dehydration.

Dehydrating food without a dehydrator

If you live in an arid climate, you can try air drying, but a lot of your food may spoil instead of drying. If temperatures are hot enough and humidity is low enough, you can dry your food in the sun.

You can also use your oven at home, but we do not recommend this. It can be a hazard to children since it involves leaving the oven door cracked. It also runs up your utilities bill and it can get hot in the house if you are running an oven during the summer months with the door ajar.

Foods that can be dehydrated

  • Fish can be dehydrated but it doesn’t keep well.
  • Pork should never be used for canning purposes because of the danger of contracting trichinosis. This is a condition caused by the ingestion of improperly cooked pork which contains tiny invisible cysts of the nematode worm Trichinella spiralis. Once in your small intestine, the larvae become adults in five to seven days. Each female will deposit up to 2,000 larvae which will enter the blood stream and be circulated to various skeletal muscles throughout the body. Once embedded in the muscles, the worms grow to an alarming size and the pain is excruciating. If untreated, trichinosis can be fatal.
  • Lean beef works much better for dehydration, and beef jerky can be combined with dried berries, nuts and other ingredients to make pemmican.
  • A favorite snack food to use a dehydrator for is venison jerky.

The instruction booklet that comes with your dehydrator will include several good marinade ideas, and it is important to let the meat soak overnight. There are also countless good marinade recipes and raw dehydrated food recipes available on the internet.

It has been said jokingly that properly cooked jerky can be sharpened and driven through a wooden plank.

Although that is perfect for emergency preparedness, most prefer jerky to be a bit more tender than that.

Making good jerky is a double-edged sword: the longer you dry it, the less water content it has and therefore the longer the shelf life.

At the same time, jerky that is dried until it is rock hard is less enjoyable to eat.

Extremely dry jerky can be used as a cooking ingredient. You will have to decide for yourself how long to dry it, but always follow the instructions for safety.

Most people do not cook the meat beforehand, but the USDA says that you definitely should. They recommend that any meat, fish, or poultry be cooked thoroughly before putting it in the dehydrator. For more advice on this, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is 1-800-535-4555.

How long does dehydrated food last?

Some sources claim that dehydrated food will keep indefinitely. This is doubtful.

Although jerky is a great disaster preparation food, dehydration does not remove all the water from the food, just most of it.

Dehydrating done at home removes about 85% of the moisture from food, while commercial dehydrating removes about 95%.

Since the food does retain a small amount of moisture, the bacteria and molds are not completely thwarted and will eventually spoil the food.

It is reasonable to expect properly dehydrated and stored fruits to keep for about three years, and dehydrated vegetables about five years if properly stored.

To extend its shelf-life, dehydrated food should be sealed in a zip lock bag after it cools, and then stored in a plastic or metal container in a cool dark place like the rest of your emergency supplies.

Advantages of dehydrating food at home

Food dehydration at home does have its advantages in an emergency preparedness plan.

  • It is easy to do
  • It can be a fun hobby
  • And it takes very little time once the food is all sliced up.
  • Dried food is very light and compact, since most food has a very high water composition in its normal state. That means dried food is easy to store and takes up very little room.
  • Fiber and calories are retained in dehydrated foods, and vitamin and mineral loss is negligible. Blanching the food before dehydration helps minimize the loss of vitamin A, but vitamin C loss will vary.
  • Dried foods require no refrigeration for emergency preparedness storage and are easy to cook with in a crisis.

It has been said that a disadvantage to dried foods is that water must sometimes be added to them, and in an emergency water might be in short supply.

Eating food in its dried form can also make you thirsty, which will require extra water during a crisis. That is why you should not rely exclusively on dehydrated foods in emergency preparedness plan. Instead make them part of a well-rounded supply of canned goods and dried food such as rice and beans

But remember this: if you don’t even have enough water to reconstitute dehydrated foods in a crisis, your emergency preparedness plan is doomed already.

Your water storage/procurement/treatment plan should provide enough water so that this is not an issue. If it is, then you need to rethink your entire disaster plan.

Buying dehydrated food at the store

commercial food dehydrator
Commercial food dehydrator

While food dehydration is popular at home, it is also done on a commercial basis. If you don’t want to take the time or trouble to dehydrate food for your emergency preparedness plan, you can buy it already prepared and packaged.

Commercial food dehydration is usually accomplished by slowly extracting most of the water from the food with low heat in a large kiln without actually cooking the food.

Once the food is dried, it is stored in an airtight container with an oxygen absorber.

An oxygen absorber is basically a small packet of a finely ground iron powder called iron oxide that chemically reacts with the oxygen in the container or package.

The iron oxide pellets use up the oxygen as the iron rusts, or oxidizes. No other gases are produced. When all the iron particles are used up, the chemical reaction and the oxygen absorbing stops. Oxygen absorbers can be purchased separately to use with home food storage too.

Sometimes the packages of food are flushed with inert gas to remove most of the oxygen. Bags of potato chips are a good example. Inert gases are used because they extend shelf life by depriving oxygen to bacteria and other agents which promote food spoilage.

Some examples of commercially dehydrated food include instant oatmeal, Hamburger Helper, gravy mixes, macaroni and cheese, etc. If the directions say “just add water”, it is probably dehydrated. Dehydrated food billed as “storage food” also tends to be more expensive.

Dehydrated soup

dehydrated soupDehydrated soup is great for an emergency preparedness plan. Dehydrated soup comes in a wide array of choices and can add much needed variety to an otherwise redundant disaster diet.

It is also a very useful ingredient in cooking many dishes. It can be nutritious and is good for the body’s hydration.

Dehydrated soups should figure prominently in your disaster food storage plan because they store well and they have such a wide range of uses.

Like any food preservation method, commercial dehydration has some disadvantages for emergency food storage.

The blanching process and the dehydrating heat causes the loss of some of the nutrients and the food may suffer a noticeable loss of taste and texture.

Studies performed by the United States Army and by NASA confirm that vitamins such as C and A are particularly susceptible to loss in the dehydrating process, as well as thiamine and niacin.

Since dehydrating food removes only moisture, fats and sugars remain in the food. These will break down over time and can cause the food to become rancid.

Additionally, dehydrated food that is stored too long is tough when it is reconstituted.

As with home-dehydrated foods, it is reasonable to expect properly dehydrated and stored fruits to keep for about three years, and dehydrated vegetables about five years.

Prepping 101: Home canning fruits and vegetables- Tips for preppers

preppers guide to home food canning

Commercially canned foods are packed in metal cans that are actually made of steel, with a tin coating on the outside as well as the inside. Intense heat is then applied to sterilize the food, killing most of the bacteria and enzymes that cause food spoilage. The heat also thoroughly cooks the food inside the can.

Contrary to popular belief, very few preservatives are used in canned foods. Sodium is added for flavor, not to extend the food’s shelf life.can of ranch style beans

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends store-bought canned foods for emergency preparedness because they store well and they do not require cooking, water, or special preparation.

Canned chili, for example, is packed with protein and carbohydrates and requires a minimum amount of time and fuel to prepare. It is a great emergency food, as are canned soups.

In a pinch, canned foods can even be heated with a candle or eaten cold.

The University of Illinois did an extensive study of 84 fresh, frozen, and canned foods. The study showed that the canned goods were equal to and occasionally better in nutrient levels that the other foods.

This is possible because canned foods go straight from the field to the canning processor, whereas fresh foods spend days traveling across the country and sitting for even more days in the produce section at the supermarket.

This extra time and exposure allows the vitamins and nutrients to degrade.

Canned food is also one of the least expensive parts of an emergency preparedness plan. Keep an inventory of the canned goods that you use in your house over a thirty-day period so that you will know what to add to your disaster food storage plan.

How long does canned food last?

Some sources say canned food should last seven years, while others say that the nutritional value begins to deteriorate after only six months.

For the purposes of our discussion, shelf life will refer to the amount of time a product will maintain most of its nutritional value, texture, and taste.

You can expect canned vegetables to have a shelf life of more than two years.

If purchased fresh and stored in a consistently cool room below 70 degrees, it is possible that canned vegetables will last up to five years, while canned fruits may last from two to four years.

Canned tomatoes, though, do not store well because their acidity causes premature corrosion of the cans in which they are stored. Canned baby food generally has a shelf life of roughly two years if stored properly.

All of these foods may still be edible past these time frames, but the nutritional value will probably decrease.

What can go wrong?

Over time, it is reasonable to expect the cans to rust. Given enough time, this may allow tiny holes to form in the metal which can let contaminants in.

Canned foods are also adversely affected by temperatures over 100 degrees F. The higher the storage temperature, the shorter the shelf life. The best temperature for storing canned foods in an emergency supply is between 50 °F and 70 °F.

Cans should also be kept dry to prevent rusting, which shortens their shelf life as well.

The National Ag Safety Database says that:

Flood waters may carry silt, raw sewage, oil or chemical wastes.


Filth and disease-causing bacteria in flood water will contaminate food, making it unsafe to eat…


Commercially-canned foods are usually safe after being in flood waters if the metal can appears undamaged. But discard cans if they are rusty, creased, dented, crushed, bulging or have ends that spring in and out. The contents may be contaminated.




All cans must be washed and sanitized before they are opened.

To sanitize the cans, remove the labels and wash them with a chlorine- or bleach-based solution.


If a can is bulging, spews liquid when you open it, or doesn’t smell quite right, do not eat the contents.

Botulism is a deadly food poisoning caused by the nerve toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can sometimes be found in expired or improperly canned foods

It isn’t the botulism bacterium that kills you, it’s the toxin that it produces as it grows. The Center for Disease Control says that symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness.

These symptoms are due to the muscle paralysis caused by the botulism toxin, and usually begin 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food. However, symptoms can occur as late as 10 days later.

How to can food at home

Home canning of fruit, vegetables, and even meat gives a unique sense of self-sufficiency, and many people even find canning to be their favorite hobby.

Other people feel that store-bought canned goods are so inexpensive that it just isn’t worth their time and effort to do home canning.

People who do their own canning, however, have a definite advantage simply because they know a potentially very valuable skill.

Home canning is actually done in mason jars. The idea is to kill the bacteria in the food with intense heat and deprivation of oxygen.

Pressures and times for canning different foods can vary greatly. Canning meat, for example, requires high pressures and different processing times than fruit or vegetables.

Most meat, vegetables, and other low-acid foods are canned in pressure cookers. The mason jars are sealed with vacuum canning lids and screw-tops and heated to 240 degrees F to kill botulism spores and other bacteria.

As altitude changes, so does the pressure and time required for the desired temperature. Refer to a good canning guide book for exact directions on the specific item you are canning. The book will also indicate expected shelf lives for various home canned foods.

Is home canning safe?

best canned foods Home canning is completely safe as long as you follow the directions.

The best places to get instructions on safe home canning are the county extension office and the US Department of Agriculture.

You should also purchase the Ball Blue Book wherever you buy your canning supplies.

Pressure cookers come in lots of different kinds and sizes, but they all come with directions. If you don’t follow those directions properly, Clostridium botulinum bacteria can grow in the jars, producing a deadly toxin which you cannot see, taste, or smell.

You won’t know it until it is too late.

This bacterium loves the high pH (low acid) and low oxygen atmosphere present in sealed canning jars of food such as vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry.

The Clostridium botulinum spores themselves are not so bad, because they are actually all around us. You unknowingly ingest them everyday and they are harmless.

The problem is that when they are allowed to grow into vegetative cells, they produce a deadly nerve toxin that causes botulism, and that will kill you.

That is why you have to follow the directions precisely; to make sure that the canning process kills the spores before they can grow to the stage where they produce the toxin. You can’t shave any time off any of the steps or take any other shortcuts. If you do, it could prove fatal.

Canning in jars can have some other disadvantages. Being glass, the jars are susceptible to breakage. They need to be stored in boxes to keep the light from sapping the nutrients from the food inside. Unboxed jars are hard to stack. Jars can be expensive and the weight is considerable. The process is long, tedious, and requires strict attention to detail.

Canning fruits at home

canning fruits at home

More acidic food items are canned with a boiling water canner (which is the best way to can food without a canner). This method is sometimes used for canning fruits and making jellies because they tend to require less processing time and lower temperatures to kill deadly bacteria in the food.

This is also the preferred method for canning tomatoes and pickling vegetables.

A boiling water canner is basically a big water cooker with a lid that does not use pressure, only hot water. It also has a removable rack inside to improve water circulation and to keep the jars from bumping together and breaking.

Canned goods in a jar should have a vacuum-tight seal after the canning process. If this seal is lost at any time during storage, or if the lid is bulging, the food should be thrown out. Be sure and write the canning date on the lid with a Sharpie marker.

A comprehensive emergency food storage plan for the thorough prepper

Good food is a critical part of morale, especially with people who are under a great deal of stress. Nobody understands this better than the United States Navy. United States submarine crews are under relentless stress while on duty, and they are the best fed soldiers in the world because morale is so vital.

To sensibly start a food storage plan, take notice of what your family likes to eat now. Make a list and keep track of everything you use in a two-month period.

The next time you go grocery shopping, simply buy a little extra of those items. You should not buy things for your storage plan that you wish your family would eat, because of its nutritional value for example.

[Tweet “Nutritional food is important, but only buy things that you family will actually eat. #Shtf”]

Be realistic in your buying habits. Food storage is a wise investment, but only if you eat what you store.

When storing groceries, buy only things that you know your family likes and will eat. The rule is ‘store foods that you eat and eat the foods that you store.’

During a crisis is not the time to crack open a five gallon bucket of hard grain and start feeding your family pearled barley mush if they are not used to it.

All your preparation will be worthless if your family would rather starve to death than eat the austere survival food that you have stored.

If you want to start stockpiling particular foods that are not in your diet at this time, start serving them occasionally now and get everybody used to them.

Find creative ways to cook items such as rice and beans, for example.

In stressful times people want foods they are familiar with and that they like. Rather than eat food that they don’t like or are not used to, people under stress will prefer to not eat at all, which ushers in new problems such as severe depression and sickness.

  1. Beverage items such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate packs, and Kool-Aid are a must for morale, and should last for several years if stored properly.
  2. Bouillon cubes are great seasonings for dishes such as soups and rice. They come in a variety of flavors such as chicken and beef and should keep for about three years.
  3. Granola bars and fruit bars will provide variety and should have a shelf life of about one year. The food will still be edible past this time frame, but the nutritional value may suffer.
  4. chocolate is important part of food storage and is of the most commonly overlooked parts of a well-stocked pantry is the comfort food section. Comfort food is something such as hard candy or chocolate whose main purpose is to be a morale-booster. This may not seem important to you now, but in very stressful times the psychological effect of these foods is hard to overestimate, especially with children. Chocolate has a shelf life of about two years.
  5. Canned fruits are a must, not only for morale but for quick energy.
  6. Another good suggestion is pop-tarts. They are very well sealed, can be heated easily, are tasty cold, and are handy on the go. They have a shelf life of well over a year if stored in a cool environment.
  7. Be sure to also include a wide variety of spices, especially salt and pepper. Granulated sugar has a shelf life of several years if you can prevent infestation. Jellies and jams only have a shelf life of one year because the sugar content breaks down over time. The food may still be edible past this time frame, but the nutritional value may suffer.

How to cook your stored food during a crisis is covered here.

Avoiding appetite fatigue

Most people don’t have enough variety in their stored foods. Some even feel that people will eat anything if they get hungry enough, and that variety is unnecessary.

That myopic view will doom a food storage plan to failure. It is a sure invitation to appetite fatigue, which is the preference to not eat at all rather than eat the same thing over and over again.

This malady is similar to the problem suffered by people under stress who will not eat food that they are unaccustomed to.

Children are especially susceptible to this problem, and will often rather starve than eat repetitive foods. This can all be avoided by simply storing a variety of basic foods and some comfort foods. A simple variety of flavorings and spices can make a crucial difference and should figure prominently in your planning.


Dietary protein is essential because it contains amino acids which are used in the function of every cell in your body.

Canned tuna and salmon are perhaps the ultimate sources of protein in a home food storage program because of their protein concentration, long shelf life, widespread familiarity, good taste, and affordability.

Beef stew, canned hams, and Spam are also rich in protein. Spam has a nearly indefinite shelf life if properly stored. Canned meats and fish can have a shelf life of more than five years if stored at cool constant temperatures. The food may still be edible past this time frame, but the nutritional value will suffer.

Another excellent source of fat and protein is peanut butter. Creamy peanut butter will keep about three years if unopened and stored properly, while crunchy style has a shelf life of less than two years.

Once opened, peanut butter should be consumed in about four months. Peanut butter is a good comfort food to store because kids love it and it is very nutritious if you buy the leading brands.

Don’t buy the cheap brands of peanut butter because they sometimes process out the peanut oil and replace it with hydrogenated oils.

Forget powdered peanut butter because it is too grainy and it doesn’t taste good.

Nuts in general are good to store because they are high in fat and protein. Due to their high fat content, they must be protected from oxygen and heat like cooking oil. Unshelled nuts store better and have a longer shelf life than shelled nuts. They can theoretically be stored about five years, if you can provide an oxygen-free storage environment.

Survival garden

Another way to avoid appetite fatigue is to have a small garden.

A garden provides fresh nutritious vegetables and variety to your food storage plan. It also makes your food stash last longer, which can be critical.

There is something special about having your own garden, even if it is only a few vegetable plants in a flower bed.

Tomatoes, for example, that you have personally nurtured and raised will taste better than any you will buy in a store.

Be sure to use non-hybrid seeds, so the plants will produce seeds which you can use next year. Store the seeds in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life, which varies but is generally limited to two or three years if stored properly.

Best plants to grow in your survival garden ware tomatoes, onions, green beans, corn, cabbage, peas, carrots, squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

If possible, it is a good idea to raise your own fresh supply of meat, eggs and milk too.

Rabbits, chickens, and goats are the least amount of trouble, and require less space and food than larger animals. This will need to be a family decision, because in recruiting labor for the daily care of these animals you may meet stiff resistance which could quickly turn into open rebellion.

A more peaceful solution may be to store and rotate more canned meat. The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery, is a good book on self-sufficient living.

No meat? No problem

TVP, or textured vegetable protein, is a meat substitute that has become more popular in recent years. It is made from soybeans after the oil is extracted, and resembles ground meat in taste and texture when cooked.

It is easier to store long-term than ground beef. TVP is cheaper to buy than hamburger and is easier to prepare. It comes in flavors such as beef, chicken, barbeque, taco, sausage, pepperoni, etc.

You just simmer it in water for ten minutes, or simply add it to a recipe instead of meat. Bacon bits used in fresh salads are made of TVP. It has fiber and protein and can be eaten by vegetarians, thanks to its soybean origin.

Textured vegetable proteins make a great food storage item, but try it on your family in a few recipes before you buy up a basement full of it. While it does have protein, the quality is still not as good as that found in animal flesh. The taste is not very good and it is full of additives, which may affect the digestive tract. Under the right conditions it can have a shelf life of five years.

Cooking oil

During the shortages of World War II, two of the most valuable and most sought after items were chocolate and cooking oil.

Oil is worth the trouble to store, because cooking oil provides more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, and in a crisis you may need all the calories you can get due to increased activity.

Cooking oil also makes food much easier to cook and easier to eat. The problem with storing cooking oil is that is goes rancid fairly quickly, being susceptible to light, heat, and air ruination. The most storage life you can expect to get out of cooking oil is about two and a half years, and that is only if you store it in a very cool place, preferably below 60 degrees.

The exception to this is hydrogenated shortening in metal cans, which may have a shelf life of fifteen years. Once opened, it will last about six months. Once it begins to darken it should no longer be used.

Olive oil also stores well. Cooking oil, like many other items, does much better when stored in a refrigerator.


If you already grind your own wheat, you are far ahead of the curve and you have a big advantage. Wheat is the backbone for most food storage plans because it is very nutritious and affordable, it provides freshness and variety, and it has a staggering number of uses.

  1. The gluten found in wheat is a valuable protein.
  2. Wheat’s most common cooking form, flour, is used to make bread, pie crusts, crackers, pasta, pancakes, and a whole host of other items.
  3. Baking with wheat can be a very rewarding pastime, and there is no arguing that whole wheat bread is far more nutritious than the white bleached flour foods in our diet. White flour is stripped of its bran, germ, and nutrients, unlike unprocessed wheat flour. In fact, we would be healthier if we could dispense with vitamin-leached white flour products and use whole wheat instead in our normal daily routine.

But this is not about the normal daily routine. This is about emergency situations that are fraught with stress and tension. Very few people in a crisis will realistically learn to use a grain mill to crack wheat for cereal.

Even fewer will learn to grind their own flour, and learn to bake their own bread and pies if they are not doing so already.

Can you set up a grain mill right now with the proper settings to produce suitable flour textures for cooking, or for cereal? Can you prevent a grinder from gumming up and becoming useless?

In the middle of a crisis is no time to learn. If you are going to store buckets of whole wheat, you had better learn to use that grinder today, not tomorrow.

You will find that working a hand-cranked grain mill is a lot of work, and you may have to re-grind the same flour more than once. This can also get tiring, hot, and frustrating, since it may take over twenty minutes of hard work to hand-grind a pound of flour. Electric mills will be useless if the power is out.

Additionally, in a crisis situation cooking fuel may be a very prized commodity, and cooking these wheat products will require a lot of it.

You may also be sitting in a shelter or home that is sweltering hot, and a cooking fire would make it that much worse.


Though they are slightly less nutritious than fresh wheat products, regular canned goods are already cooked. They can be eaten slightly warmed or cold, right out of the can.

A large amount of stored canned goods in your pantry can also give you time to gradually change over to wheat-based food in a more protracted event. This could be important, because unprocessed grains are likely to be one of the more common foods available in an actual famine. Slowly adding wheat products to your diet gives your digestive system time to acclimate to their harsh colonic effects.

Whole-grain products such as barley, buckwheat and rye are fine healthy products but you have to start using them now, not after the SHTF.

It is better to learn from your cooking mistakes now, when food is abundant and cheap. In a crisis, the learning curve is apt to be much steeper and much more critical.

Get a grinder today and try baking several dishes before spending your hard-earned money on a dozen buckets of wheat.

You also need to know if your family will eat the food, can tolerate the gluten, and if they will notice any calamitous digestive consequences.

Suddenly switching to a high-fiber diet can cause acute abdominal pain and severe diarrhea. Start slowly, until everyone’s systems get used to it.

Before incorporating stored wheat into your plan, you must firmly establish that your family can and will eat it. If that is the case, then buy a bunch of it, but store it in the whole-berry form and rotate it through your food system like everything else.

Some people love to bake using whole wheat and we salute them. They will reap the many benefits that wheat has to offer.

Don’t forget to stock a bunch of toilet paper. With a brand new whole-grain diet, you are going to need it.

Dairy products

There is also little mention of dairy products in this emergency food storage plan. Dairy products provide calcium, protein, and vitamins in our daily diet, but in the end you will probably throw out the cans of evaporated milk, the boxes of nonfat powdered milk, and the powdered eggs because they will most likely spoil long before they are used.

  • If you are going to include dried dairy products in your storage plan, you should be willing to rotate them and use them on a daily basis now, not just in a crisis.
  • If you insist on storing powdered milk because your kids are used to having milk daily, you had better start them on it now. The taste of powdered milk takes some getting used to.

The numbers on estimated shelf lives for dairy products vary considerably from source to source. Canned milk products have a shelf life of maybe one year if stored in a consistently cool room, but the cans must be turned frequently.

Some say that non-fat powdered milk will only last one year before losing all its nutritional value. Others say it will last for ten years if properly stored.

Under normal circumstances, it has been our experience that non-fat powdered milk will last about three years if stored under optimal conditions, and the taste even when it is fresh off the shelf is chalky at best.

That taste does not improve with time.

Fresh eggs are perhaps the best source of protein. Dehydrated eggs are also a good source of protein, but the chances of your actually using this product are slim as well. The shelf life of dehydrated eggs is about three years, and then they get thrown out with the powdered milk. Spend your money on something else, something that you will actually use instead of throwing it out.

Dietary supplements

A body that is under stress will have greater nutritional requirements, so vitamins are mandatory in a smart food storage plan.

The nutritional supplements should be stored in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life and rotated to keep them current.

Shelf life will vary according to ingredients, brand, and type. Hard tablets have the longest shelf life because they are least affected by moisture. Moisture and heat are a vitamin’s greatest threats to longevity. Most vitamins have expiration dates, so rotate them and use them daily now.

Vitamin C deficiency

Vitamin deficiency is not something that is likely to be a problem unless the crisis lasts more than a month or so.

Usually the first to appear is scurvy, which is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Vitamin C is an antioxidant and is therefore thought to play a role in cancer prevention. It is essential for collagen formation, thus promoting wound healing.

Vitamin C builds the immune system and performs a wide variety of functions in the body. Typical symptoms of scurvy are swollen and bleeding gums and loose teeth. This is soon followed by weakness and large bruises that will not heal.

Cabbage, sour kraut, and citrus fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C. The best way to store vitamin C is in its crystalline form, as pure ascorbic acid.

Vitamin A

It is unusual for a person to have a vitamin A deficiency because of the large amount stored in the liver of a normally healthy person.

However, in case it happens infants and children are generally affected first, usually after a period of several months.

The classic symptom of vitamin A deficiency is temporary night blindness, which can lead to permanent blindness if the deficiency is not corrected. The best sources for vitamin A include liver, eggs, milk, butter, carrots, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin D

A vitamin D deficiency interferes with calcium absorption and causes a disease known as rickets. This affects children and causes inadequate mineralization in developing cartilage and newly formed bone, resulting in abnormalities in shape and structure of bones, especially the long bones.

Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include soreness and tenderness, pallor, slight diarrhoea, enlargement of liver and spleen, and badly formed teeth.

The best sources for vitamin D are fish liver oils, eggs, fortified milk, and sunlight. The body uses the ultraviolet rays of the sun to synthesize vitamin D.


Pellagra is a disease caused by a deficiency of niacin. Symptoms include dermatitis, ulcers, nausea, diarrhoea, memory loss, confusion, and delirium.

Sources for niacin include yeast, liver, organ meats, peanuts, and wheat germ.

Vitamin B1

Beriberi is a deficiency of vitamin B1, or thiamine. Symptoms include peripheral neuritis (pain) and heart disease. Thiamine sources include meat, nuts, eggs, beans, and vegetables.

Pernicious anemia is not likely to affect most people, because healthy individuals tend to have approximately a three year supply in their liver. It is also readily available in meat. Although there are others, these are the most likely vitamin deficiencies to be encountered by most people in a disaster.

  1. Have an ample store of multivitamins, vitamin C tablets, and children’s multivitamins on your shelf.
  2. Vitamins should be taken with meals on a daily basis.
  3. Breast-fed infants need vitamins D and A, and may require vitamin C supplements. For children and infants, simply crush half a multivitamin tablet into a fine powder and stir it into their food or drink. This is very important, because infants could begin to show vitamin A, C, and D deficiencies after only one month.
  4. Brief daily exposure to sunlight will assist in vitamin D production, but no more than ten minutes is recommended. Children’s vitamins may also be stored and administered in liquid or chewable form.
  5. Plan to store about seven pounds of table salt per person for a year’s supply. Not only is it important for flavor, but salt is critical for cell function, muscle function, maintenance of water balance, blood coagulation, and regulation of blood volume. If stored in a plastic or glass container, salt will store indefinitely and is unaffected by oxygen, heat, or light.


Sugar and honey are important sources of energy in an emergency. We are not going to engage here in the debate over whether or not these items are healthy. Our goal is to survive a disaster which may require a lot of stamina and energy. Sugar and honey can be very important for this.

White sugar is a concentrate which comes from processed cane or sugar beets. When stored properly it keeps indefinitely, although it may take on a yellow hue. This will not affect the taste or nutritional value.

Honey is sweeter than sugar and is markedly more expensive. Nectar gathered from different flowers accounts for different flavors and colors in honey.

The darker the honey, the stronger the flavor.

Sometimes commercial honey has water added to it and this hurts shelf life by allowing fermentation and mold. Pure honey still has some water in it but can be stored indefinitely in a cold environment. With time it will crystallize and darken, but properly stored honey will resume its original form when warmed up.

Glass jars of honey should be zealously covered from light which will change the color and the taste. Since honey is not sterile, it can cause botulism in infants less than one year old.

The Center For Disease Control web site says that “because honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum and this has been a source of infection for infants, children less than 12 months old should not be fed honey. Honey is safe for persons one year of age or older.”

Symptoms of botulism in infants include lethargy, constipation, a weak cry, and they feed poorly. Infant botulism is not usually fatal. We recommend that you store granulated sugar for infants instead of honey.

Sweet foods such as canned fruits are also a great source of energy, as well as pre-sweetened drink mix packets such as Kool-Aid or Tang.

Tang is a particularly good drink mix to store because it also has a lot of vitamin C. Children and infants have higher metabolisms and require higher energy foods, and in a crisis sugar can fill that niche.

Allergies and intolerances

A crisis would be a bad time to learn that a member of your group is intolerant to gluten or lactose, especially a child or a small infant.

  • The gluten found in unprocessed wheat sometimes causes an allergic reaction in some individuals.
  • Lactose is milk sugar and infants, as well as adults, are sometimes unable to digest it.

Unfortunately, gluten and lactose allergies can suddenly develop without warning, or they can build up over time. These ailments can also grow more severe in a food program that is dominated by these foods because some people aren’t aware they have a gluten or lactose allergy until it becomes a large part of their diet.

These allergies are another reason why you should incorporate these foods into your diet now if you plan to store them. Gluten and lactose intolerances are another reason that powdered dairy products and raw grains are not stressed in this food storage program.

Factors of food storage

Three microorganisms that you must guard against in food storage are bacteria, yeast, and molds.

  • In unopened canned goods, this problem is pretty much solved since the heat kills most of the harmful microbes during processing.
  • Placing food in the freezer will kill insect larvae but will not kill microorganisms. The freezing doesn’t kill microbes, it just stops them from growing.

Four other important factors that can shorten the storage life of food are condensation, oxygen, light, and pH.

Condensation is a problem because it is a vehicle for mold and mildew which can ruin your food. To help thwart condensation, keep your containers off the floor, especially concrete, and out of contact with exterior walls to avoid temperature differences.

With concrete floors, place slats of lumber under the food to prevent condensation inside the containers. If your basement floods occasionally, store the containers on shelves above the water line and store the canned goods on wood slats on the floor. They have a better chance of weathering the dampness, but the labels may peel off.

Oxygen is used by microorganisms such as bacteria that cause food to spoil. Oxygen-related damage to foods in new sealed packages is usually kept to a minimum because moisture-proof containers also tend to be air-tight.

If you are buying in bulk and storing in smaller packaged portions, you have three basic options for keeping the oxygen to a minimum: vacuum sealing, flushing with inert gas and chemical oxygen absorbers.

  1. Vacuum sealing can be performed with a commercial food sealer.
  2. Flushing with gas displaces the oxygen in the package, discouraging the growth of microorganisms which need the oxygen to thrive.
  3. Placing oxygen absorbers in the package does essentially the same thing.

Light might seem harmless, but it saps the nutrition and vitamins out of your food. Any type of container that light can get through is a problem. If you can’t keep your containers and jars in a dark room, then keep them completely covered up or closed up in cardboard boxes.

The single most important factor affecting the shelf life of food is temperature.

The importance of cool temperatures for food storage cannot be overstated.

[Tweet “Food should be stored in the coolest, darkest environment that you can possibly provide for it. #PrepperTalk”]

Storage temperatures should be less than 60 degrees, and around 40 degrees would be ideal. Consistent temperatures are important because temperature swings can cut the shelf life of your food in half.

Generally, you can also figure that every 20 degree increase in temperature will cost you 50% in food shelf life. For this reason garages and attics are terrible places to store food. Basements and cellars are strongly preferred for food storage because not only are they cool, but the temperature remains relatively constant.

A dry crawl space works well for the same reasons.


homemade-rotating-can-rackYou should have a working system of rotation so that the food you purchase gets used before it expires.

One way to make the rotation of food much easier is to build self-feeding shelves in your pantry or closet. Self-feeding racks can be purchased online for reasonable prices.

Each shelf slants slightly toward the front, and has a small lip on it. Newly purchased cans of food are added to the back, gradually working their way forward as the food in front is used. This idea works better if you have easy access to the back of the shelves for stocking.

Perhaps you could design your own shelf that continuously feeds the cans, but fits up against the wall and does not require access to the back of the shelves.

With each trip to the store, simply add a few items to your reserve. If an item that you routinely buy is on sale at a great price, add a bunch of it to your inventory.

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Take a Sharpie marker and write the date of purchase on the top of the can or bag as you stock up. Always move the oldest items to the front of the shelf and use it first. Always put the new stuff toward the back.

Rotating your food is critical because it prevents throwing money away in the form of unused, expired goods

It also allows your family to get used to the types of foods you are storing, if you will incorporate them into your cooking.

Rotation is important not only to prevent food spoilage, but also to minimize the loss of nutritional value as the food ages.

Camping is a great time to introduce new foods that you are considering stockpiling, especially dehydrated foods because they don‘t require the hassle of a cooler and ice.



How to use your freezer to store survival food for up to 5 years

One of the best ways to impede the progress of food-spoiling bacteria is to freeze your survival food. This doesn’t kill the bacteria like heat does, but it slows it down to a near standstill.

A downside to a freezer can be its significant contribution to the monthly electric bill, so it pays to take a few steps to keep your freezer running as efficiently as possible.

  1. First, keep it in the basement or someplace cool so that it doesn’t have to work as hard in the summer. The carport or garage is not a good location choice for this reason.
  2. Second, keep it full of food. The less empty air there is to cool inside your freezer, the lower your electric bill will be. But keep in mind that a freezer that is packed too full won’t be as efficient because the air won’t circulate as easily.
  3. Third, keep several bags of ice and two-liter soda bottles filled with water in your freezer so there will be less empty air to cool. The soda bottles would also help your food stay frozen longer in a power outage, at which time they will provide a valuable source of clean drinking water.

In a power outage, a full freezer will keep food cool for up to two days, but only if it is left unopened.

You can extend the amount of time your frozen food will stay frozen by keeping the freezer door shut as much as possible and only opening it when you absolutely have to.

You can also wrap blankets around the freezer and around the refrigerator as additional insulation, using tape or ropes to hold the blankets in place.

If the power outage occurs in the winter, you can put the food in coolers and set it outside, as long as the outside temperature is below freezing. It is a good idea to have several large camping-type ice chests around the house, since they have a variety of uses.

Your refrigerator will probably not be a big issue after the power has been out for a week or more, because you won’t be able to buy anything to put in it. The refrigerated section of the stores will be empty.

Once the power comes back on, you can refreeze food that is less than 40 degrees, or still has ice crystals in it.

If there are no ice crystals, the food will have to be cooked and eaten.

Do not refreeze food that has thawed.

Fish and seafood tends to spoil very quickly, so they may be unsalvageable when other items can be refrozen.

If it looks like the power is going to be out for several days, you need to start cooking or dehydrating the foods in your refrigerator and freezer, because you will probably lose it to spoilage if you don’t.

If your cooking stove is electric, you will have to use your camp stove, grill, or dehydrator. Never use your grill indoors for safety reasons.

Survival generator

None of this will be as big of a problem if you have a working survival generator and the fuel to operate it.

Simply plug your freezer into the generator and run it for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. That should prevent the frozen food from thawing.

The money you would save in ruined food alone would pay for a good generator. Even if you can’t run the generator long enough to keep the food frozen, it may delay the food’s spoilage, giving you time to figure out a solution before the food goes bad.

The main drawback to a generator is the scarcity of fuel when you need it the most.

An even better idea is a gas-operated refrigerator. It runs unaffected when the power is out, keeps food better, and will probably last longer than an electrical refrigerator.

Long term food storage

Whereas home canning products can have a shelf life of up to five years, frozen food will only last a year or so before freezer burn begins to take its toll.

One thing you can do to help prolong your food’s shelf life in the freezer is to wrap it properly. That is very important. If you know how to use white freezer paper to properly wrap meat, then by all means do so.

The best bet, however, is to make a small investment in a vacuum sealer like those made by Foodsaver.

These units greatly extend the shelf life and freshness of frozen food. The price has come down dramatically in recent years and they are now very affordable. These nifty machines suck all the air out of a tough clear plastic bag, and then seal the food air-tight for freshness.

The bags come in several sizes, or you can buy the plastic on a roll and create a bag as large or as small as you want using the bag cutter on the machine.

The bags are waterproof, so the packaged food can be micro waved, frozen, or boiled. You could write the date on the package with a Sharpie pen, put it in the freezer, and be finished.

Vacuum packing systems can be used for meats, vegetables, soups, nearly anything, and the freshness retained is remarkable.

Important to remember

You must develop some reminder system to use the prepper food in your freezer or it will ruin. We are grieved at the thought of how much money we have thrown out the door in the form of freezer-burned food before we developed a reminder system.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Post a list on the refrigerator door of the contents of your freezer, and the date that each item was frozen.

Do something, anything to keep that frozen food from being out of sight, out of mind until it is time to throw it out.

Upright vs chest

chest freezerAnother thing you could do to help delay freezer burn is to buy a chest-type freezer and not an upright one.

Chest-type electric food freezers are better because when opened, the cold air stays at the bottom with a minimum of temperature fluctuation and air circulation.

Upright freezers let all the cold air out every time you open the door, making the motor work harder and running up your electric bill.

The increased air circulation also brings humidity inside the freezer, which is bad for the contents because it promotes freezer burn. Every time that door is opened, the life of the food inside is decreased.

The problem with chest freezers is that Murphy’s Law invariably rules. Whatever you need always seems to be on the bottom of the freezer. Sometimes it is easier to just cook something else than have to dig out the item you are looking for, then put all that stuff back in the freezer. As time goes by the stuff on the bottom eventually ruins and is thrown out.

A lot of items mentioned in this blog, from flashlight batteries to cooking oil, have much longer storage lives when kept cold. Having a second refrigerator would be a good idea and would save you money over the long haul, simply by extending the shelf life of items and preventing spoilage.