So you have decided to start putting aside some food for longer term storage... and you are prepared to buy items in bulk. It is definitely a great idea for food storage, and actually is a great rule for everyday frugal grocery shopping.
But now the challenge to figure out:
1) Where are you going to get all this bulk food?
2) How are you going to store all this bulk food?
One thing to remember is this: focus on buying items you normally eat. Never purchase things you won’t eat in regular life. It will end up being a huge waste of money to purchase emergency food you won’t use in your ever day life. What if an emergency never happens? (Which would be wonderful!) Then you'll have all this food eventually going bad, which you will have difficulty working back into your daily food plan before it becomes unusable. Not a great insurance plan in my opinion.
Another thing I will note is this: Our family is not what you would call "preppers", meaning, we are not storing 20 years of dry goods. For us, we are shooting for roughly 3 months of food storage as we believe that in a crisis situation, that would give us ample time to adjust to the situation. A crisis could be anything from a pandemic which we recently endured, or even a job loss that was unexpected, leaving you without income for a period of time. We are preparing for shorter term challenges that we could face. For longer term, we are working on developing our grown and preserving skills so we could grow or raise much of our food if absolutely necessary.
We also believe that if we had a crisis that made it necessary to live on 20 years of food that we have stored, then there are far bigger issues that likely will be happening to cause such a thing. We are trusting first in our Lord, while also making a plan as is wise to do for providing for our family. For us we have decided that mark is 3 months of food. For others, you might want to go with less or more to suit your needs.
With that out of the way, now I will give you some steps that I am working on for our home currently. I'll provide a beginner's step and an "advanced" step. Don't let the word "advanced" scare you off, I just couldn't think of another word to describe it! The "beginners" step is the basic, easiest way to start that specific step or store that specific food. The "advanced" will be taking things a step farther if you have the time and ability to do so. Don't be concerned if you can't take that action right away - the key is taking small steps that are manageable while you gain experience in food saving.
First, let me provide a list of the places to obtain bulk food items, I'm sure there are others but these have been our favorites.
WHERE TO PURCHASE IN BULK
Azure Standard or other local co-op.
Even though I live in a smallish town, we have an excellent food co-op. There are many vendors for such things and our current vendor is Azure. We learned about the co-op by word of mouth, friends sharing. So ask around and see if you can locate one near you. Azure is a family owned business and we like supporting them when we can.
Costco offers a good selection of more organic items and is worth checking out. We do use them quite a bit for our food storage purchases.
Local farmers and farmer's markets
Okay, you may not find a ton of dry goods here, but I have to do a shout out for farmer's markets. I can't stress enough how important it is to develop a relationship with a local farmer. If at all possible, seek one more more out! You would be surprised how this can help you in your food storage plans and even in your regular purchasing for daily eating. Here are some reasons why:
Even if you have a garden or raise much of your own food, you likely can't do it all by yourself and will need some supplemental help. Other farmers may have what you lack and you'll be more certain you are getting a fresher food with more nutrition.
When local farmers have an abundance of an item, you can many times get an excellent deal on buying a bulk amount. For example, one year we had a local farmer with an abundance of fresh tomatoes which we could get for only $1/lb. By doing so, we were able to can/preserve all those tomatoes for our food storage. The price was great and the nutrition and flavor so much better!
When you develop a relationship with a farmer, they will be there for you when you have need. You can let them know that you are willing to buy bulk or "imperfect" items and to let you know when they had overstock. Even during a crisis, a farmer still has a crop to sell and if your name is on their list, you'll be the first to get the call.
So tuck this into your memory for when it comes time to purchase items you will preserve yourself. It will be invaluable!
Yes you can get plenty of bulk items here! BUT, I am really trying to limit my use of Amazon these days so I put this at the bottom of my list typically until I have exhausted all other means. Additionally, if there was ever an emergency that impacted travel, getting your storage replenished could be most difficult with Amazon. Remember, everyone else will be ordering from here as well!
FOOD STORAGE - BASICS
Now that you have an idea where you'll get your bulk items, it is time to consider how to store them. This list will focus only on dry goods to start and preserved goods we'll save for another post.
Below is a list of some common long-term storage items to consider. Remember, your family may differ in what you like to eat and in what you are able to preserve yourself verses purchase at a store. The list below will cover a couple of options, as I mentioned earlier. A "beginner" option and an "advanced" option in some cases.
1. Wheat berries. You can buy wheat berries in 25 or 50 pound bags. These are going to store much longer and hold more nutrition than flour. If you have access to or the ability to purchase a wheat grinder to make your own flour I suggest doing it. It does make a "heavier" loaf which may take your family getting used to. Making your own bread is easy to do and if you want to learn a basic recipe, check out this one: https://www.libertymissionfarms.com/post/bread-making-101-lesson-2
If you are not ready to grind your own wheat then purchasing flour that is to be stored in the freezer is an option. But for long term storage, the whole berry is the best choice.
I will admit that this is my personal weak point. I tend to not grind as much as my own wheat as I should during times when we are very busy. But ideally, I would like to purchase a 25 lb. bag 3-4 times per year. When I open my last bag, I would purchase another. This way, I’m never almost out and have a buffer. Because if I wait until I’m out, then if I don’t get my order in or to the store before an emergency happens, I’m left with a hole in my food storage. This also ensures I’m practicing proper rotation with our food.
The best deal for whole wheat berries I have found is through our local food co-op. Hard winter wheat is the type I have purchased.
It's easy to skip this item because of the thought that you have to have a grinder to use it. But, it is so much healthier to grind your own wheat than to use flour already ground (as it loses nutrition rapidly after being ground up). The goal is healthy living so why not start as soon as you can? Plus, this will only add to your preparedness skills - something you won't have to learn later in a crisis!
Wheat berries have a remarkable shelf life. Grain has been found by archaeologists in tombs that are still considered healthy and viable!
For storage solutions for wheat berries, there are two requirements to keep in mind:
Bug and Rodent Free
I plan to keep my bulk wheat berries in 3 gallon food-grade buckets from Uline with a gamma seal lid. A gamma seal lid attaches to the bucket like a normal tight-fitting lid (with the help of a rubber mallet), but the top screws on and off. This makes it quicker for me to get to my wheat berries and I can get a tighter seal with the lid.
If you are wanting to store your berries for a longer period of time, such as 10 or 20 years or more, then here are the items you will need:
Vacuum sealer or heat sealer
5-Gallon food storage bags
Just tossing your long-term food storage in any corner of your home is not recommended. Finding an area of your home or property with the optimal conditions and temperatures is key to extending the average shelf life of the food you will be storing. You want an area that never goes above 70°F (21.1°C). Better still is if you have a cellar or similar area that stays in the 62°F - 68°F range. As a general rule, heat is never good for your emergency food supplies. So putting food storage containers in areas of your home that you heat during winter should be avoided altogether. Even a garage area can be workable if it doesn't freeze hard. Start with what you have and go from there. Even if your space isn't perfect, it can still be workable, just perhaps you'll have to rotate more often.
If you don't have the perfect space, that's okay. Think in terms of keeping the air temp as stable as possible. The up and down of the temperature will shorten your food storage life.
The key to properly storing any emergency food supplies is a double barrier system. The grains should be not just inside the bucket or food container, they should be inside a bag first, preferably mylar. This way if pests make their way into the bucket, there is still a barrier protecting the food. Using a handheld heat sealer is the best option when dealing with bulk grains, it is fast and effective. Even using the large vacuum sealer bags, it can be a bit awkward to use a stationary vacuum sealer for 10 gallon bags you are trying to seal.
If you are using the mylar bags to seal out oxygen, in a pinch a hair straightener or even an iron can be used in place of a heat sealer, so long as it has a high-temperature function.
For proper long term storage of your dry goods, follow this order and never miss a step. This is the best way to ensure that your grains will last.
Portion grain into bags.
Add an oxygen absorber to each bag. (These can be found online in a variety of strengths and are inexpensive.)
Push out all excess air.
Use heat/vacuum sealer to seal bag.
Add the bag to food grade bucket and seal.
Optionally you can add an additional oxygen absorber after sealing the bag and placing in the bucket. Oxygen absorbers are relatively inexpensive so go ahead and toss an extra in just for an additional precaution. Limiting the air that is around your food helps to extend the shelf life, and keep it from breaking down so it will stay nutritious.
2. Sugar is another item I store in bulk. I usually keep 5-6 pounds of brown sugar on hand and 25 pounds of organic evaporated cane juice.
I also keep more stevia or other non-sugar sweeteners in my storage.
Sugar is one of those items that can be stored indefinitely if packaged correctly. Storing sugar is as easy as keeping it away from moisture, and in an airtight container. It can be stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry, or in the fridge or the deep freeze.
Using food-grade buckets or containers is a convenient way to seal in flavor and seal out bugs. Or use the buckets with the gamma seal as mentioned above.
Sugar does not support microbial growth, and therefore has an unlimited shelf life. You do not need to use an O2 absorber when storing sugar. For all types of sugar, an airtight container or packaging is all that is needed.
Mason jars or other jars that seal will keep your sugar nicely, and keep bugs and moisture out of it.
If you want to store white sugar, don’t do just it in its original packaging bag. This does not offer longer term protection.
Sugar is perhaps the easiest of all the commodities to store. You do not need oxygen absorbers and in fact, if you use them, you'll likely turn your sugar into a brick!
However, if you want to safely keep all pests and most other things out of the sugar for a longer term, Mylar bags can be used to package your sugar into smaller portions.
If you store sugar correctly you’ll have it at hand indefinitely. You only need to protect it from moisture, so use airtight containers and you’re good to go.
3. Dried beans. I keep around 20 lbs. of pinto beans. One thing to keep in mind is if you ever need to eat strictly from your food storage, as in emergency type conditions, then you’re going to go through it faster than you think. It is a good idea to keep plenty of dried beans on hand for this reason, beyond what you would normally eat. Remember, dried beans are good for about 2 years before they begin to get too hard when cooked. And once they're too old, it doesn't matter how you cook them, they'll still be hard and tough. So again, purchase only the type you are willing to eat so you can rotate them throughout each year.
Beans are easy enough to store on the shelf in mason jars in your dark storage area. Be sure to rotate them and use some every year or two and replenish your storage.
If you are wanting a long term storage for beans, here is a great video to watch for dry-canning. This is also good for rice! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiSxDNzMwSs
4. Rice. I purchase rice in bulk. It’s much cheaper and can be cooked in such a variety of ways. You can add it to soups, stuff it in a tortilla, eat it all by its lonesome, and also make puddings out of it. There are lots of options for rice. Remember, brown rice will go rancid quicker than white. Both our food co-op and Costco have a 25 pound option of Jasmine rice that I use for our bulk as that is our favorite type we use most often.
For the shorter term storage, a well sealed container such as the food-grade buckets with a gamma seal lid will do well.
BUT FIRST: Take note that when you bring home rice, you are likely bringing home insect eggs that are in the packaging. Left unattended for a month or so, these eggs will hatch and those little weevils will ruin much of your grain. While these little bugs don't cause harm to humans, they will eventually eat up your investment. So those must be considered before you store rice.
One way to do this is to freeze your rice for a few days before you put it into jars and longer term storage. The freezing will stop these eggs from hatching. Another way is to use the oxygen absorbers and mylar bags, the lack of oxygen will stop these eggs from surviving.
Remember to use rice as needed and rotate your food storage so you are only keeping the rice in storage for 2-3 months.
Advanced: If you want to avoid the bugs AND prepare your rice for longer term storage you can use the dry canning method here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiSxDNzMwSs
5. Spices. Trust me, spices go along long way to making plain old beans and rice palatable and down right delicious. Buying spices in those little glass bottle add up quick and if you’re cooking a lot from scratch, you’re going to go through them quick.
I purchase my most-used spices and seasonings (herbs and teas, too) from Mountain Rose Herbs. They’re a wonderful company out of Oregon. You can choose what amount to buy your spices and they give discounts for bulk orders.
I recommend going in with some friends if your order isn’t large enough for the bulk discount if possible. Chili powder is one I use a lot of, because I make all my own seasonings for tacos, chili, stews, and other dishes. Their prices have far beat out the stores, plus, they’re usually organic, Non-GMO, and when harvested wild, harvested responsibly so as not to deplete an entire area.
Technically whole spices don't spoil, but they do begin to lose their flavor after around four years. Ground up spices fade in less than half that time. So it's important to remember, like most other things, rotate your spices in storage and use them up!
The same wisdom applies to storing spices as to most things: Store your spices in a cool dark place and in a sealed container. Oxidation is the greatest enemy of spices. I haven’t been able to find any authoritative research on the relative advantages of keeping spices in the freezer. One school of thought says that any advantages will be offset by the exposure to moisture that will happen when they are removed from the freezer and opened.
Glass containers protect the contents but make sure they also have strong, air-tight lids. To guard against cross contamination of odors and flavors, avoid putting bags of different spices in the same sealed container. Some people even take the trouble to vacuum seal spices in mason jars, which makes good sense when maintaining a large reservoir, then refilling smaller containers for the pantry. Anyone who’s cooked knows the magical properties of those small glass spice jars, seemingly capable of bouncing off tile floors without breaking. The weak point is too often the plastic lid. In any event, better to routinely handle a small quantity rather than risk the larger container.
One caution regarding buying spices in bulk: One study I read found that 4 our of 10 packages of bulk spices were contaminated by heavy metals, toxins or bacteria. These included some nasty bacteria such as Enterobacter, Klebsiella, and Pseudomonas. The Food and Drug Administration found that 12 percent of all imported spices were contaminated in some way. Black pepper, thyme, oregano and turmeric were most associated with salmonella contamination, sawdust was frequently added to turmeric, paprika and ginger, and lead chromate was occasionally added to turmeric as well. Generally, they found that cinnamon is fine. So purchasing from a reputable source or buying in smaller quantities might be in order. I wish I had more definite answers on this topic but I am still researching to learn.
6. Salt. I keep all kinds of salt on hand. My sea salt I found at a discount store, but I keep at least 5 lbs. on hand for every day use, cooking, baking, fermenting, you name it going on in the kitchen. For everyday eating and baking I prefer Celtic Sea salt. It is not cheap but local co-ops tend to have good prices if you buy it in bulk. This is a healthier salt that is pure, no additives.
Pure salt or sodium chloride will basically last forever under normal circumstances, but to avoid sounding too expeditious, let’s just say that salt will last for a very long time. If you want to prepare and store your salt for five years, it should at least last longer than that.
When all kinds of other things, like anti-caking agents, are added to pure salt, there will be a shelf-life assigned to it. Some other things added to salt may shorten its shelf life, but it may still be stored for a long time. The biggest problem when storing salt is when it becomes saturated with moisture or starts caking.
Salt is naturally hygroscopic and will easily absorb moisture from its surroundings. It will also attract the water around it.
Avoid these things: Damp environment, plastic containers, metal containers (corrosive), or cardboard containers (not protective enough)
The best way to store salt is in a container that is not permeable to water. Salt must be stored in a cool and dark storage place. The storage place should also be dry, and the container you use for storing salt for a long time should be able to be sealed.
The keyword for storing salt long-term is DRY. The area must be dry. It cannot be said enough. Moisture is the biggest enemy of salt.
The container inside a container: If you want to store salt in the original packaging it was bought in, it is a good idea to put that packaging inside another container. Then, it will be safe to use a plastic container with a lid that can seal everything inside. Even if the original container is made from cardboard, you can put it inside the plastic container and seal the lid, and it will last for a very long time.
Glass container: A glass container is one of the safest containers to store salt in. There is just one problem with the glass container – you will have to use a plastic lid on the glass container. The corrosive nature of the salt will eat away any metal lid you may use.
Not all salts have an indefinite shelf life.
Normal table salt: Normal table salt has anti-caking agents added, but it may still be stored for a very long time.
Iodized salt: This is a little different. As soon as you add other chemicals to salt, it is not sodium chloride anymore, and, strictly speaking, it is no longer common or natural salt. Iodized salt can still be stored for up to five years, even after the chemical composition is changed by adding a small amount of potassium iodide to it.
Pink Himalayan salt: This salt contains around 98% normal salt, and the other 2% consists of some trace minerals, like potassium, copper, calcium, and iron.
Natural sea salt: This salt can also be stored for a very long time. Just like your other natural pure salt, it has an indefinite shelf life.
Kosher salt: This salt is a coarse edible salt that doesn’t contain any common additives like iodine. When this salt is stored properly and is kept away from contaminants, it can last indefinitely. Keep in mind, after prolonged storage, kosher salt may change in color slightly, but it is still safe to consume.
Rock salt: This salt is also known as ice cream salt and is not meant for human consumption. Instead, it is used to freeze and chill ice cream and other frozen drinks. It may contain calcium sulfate, sand, and clay. When stored properly and away from moisture and humidity, rock salt can have an indefinite shelf life.
Oxygen absorbers are not needed or recommended for any long term salt storage.
If you have the extra money or room in your grocery budget, I'd purchase these items in bulk now. But I know not everyone can afford to do all of it at once.
Don't go into debt to build up a food storage, but add in items as you're able even just one at a time each month. We'll be talking more about building up that food storage in future posts!