I read a lot of prepper and survivalist websites and have email subscriptions to a several related newsletters. They provide ideas and inspiration for many of the blog postings that I write. One of my favorite readiness sites is Jeff Anderson’s Modern Combat and Survival. I like Jeff’s site because he provides practical, real-world tips in articles that (unlike mine) are short and sweet. As Bill O’Reilly would say, Jeff “keeps it pithy.”
I recently got an email from Jeff in which he talked about four places you don’t want to be during a disaster. These are places that the unprepared flock to in order to address problems that they could have prepared themselves for far in advance. Here is Jeff’s pithy list with my verbose commentary and addendum:
- Gas station. Amen to that! I’ve lived through a couple of gasoline shortages in my lifetime. I’ve seen the long lines of cars that extend down the block and the news reports of shootings as tempers flare out of control. In a disaster, everyone is going to want to fill their gas tanks. Fuel storage is one of the most challenging aspects of prepping. In a collapse scenario, acquiring fuel of all types will be one of the biggest problems most people will face.How many of us have the means of safely storing a significant amount of fuel, keeping it stable for long-term storage, and keeping it secure from those who would want to take it from us? I know that I don’t. I don’t have a place to put a tank like that on my property that wouldn’t be a huge fire hazard. Nor do I have a way of protecting it 24 hours a day from desperate, determined thieves. So what can we do? For those of you who live in a location where you could store and secure a reasonable amount of gasoline, I urge you to think about doing so. For the vast majority of the rest of us, I would encourage you to never let the gas tank in any of your vehicles to go below half full. I would also recommend that you have at least one vehicle that gets good gas mileage. And you should also consider acquiring a bicycle for every member of your family. They’re fun and good exercise right now. Down the road, they could become your primary means of transportation.
- Grocery store. This one should be obvious to all. While I’ve been a witness to gas shortage lines, I’ve had the good fortune to never be in a place where there was a run on the grocery stores. But I’ve seen pictures of stores whose shelves have been picked clean by people stocking up on anything and everything they could get their hands on in advance of a coming storm. Food storage is so basic that I don’t feel a need to beat that drum again in this article.
- Hardware store. I’ve also seen pictures of people standing in endless lines to buy plywood and supplies for boarding up their windows as a storm threatens them. These are people who waited until the last minute to make any preparations to ride out their storm. They could have taken note of the natural disasters that their area is prone to and prepared for them in advance. They could have observed the season that they were in (tornados in the spring, hurricanes in the summer and fall, ice storms or blizzards in the winter) and equipped themselves in advance to deal with it. What do you lack for surviving in the location where you live?
- Hospital. I work in the Emergency Room of a small, rural hospital. My hospital is a 50-bed facility next door to a cornfield. Even a place like that can get really busy on any given night. A nurse does an assessment of every patient as they come in before they are put in an examining room to be seen by the doctor. On busy nights when we fill up all the examining rooms we have to bounce patients back out to the waiting room until an examining room opens up. Patients are admitted to an examining room in the order of the severity of their ailment. On busy nights, patients with relatively minor conditions can wait for hours to see the doctor. Some patients decide that they can deal with it on their own, rather than wait all night to be treated. And this is what it’s like in a rural hospital, in a non-emergency situation. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to work at a much larger hospital in a big city. And then I take a moment to thank God that I live and work where I do. Medicine and first aid supplies are often overlooked or assigned too low of a priority by people who are beginning to prep. What medicines (both over-the-counter and prescription) do you take now? You need to lay in a supply of them and rotate your stock. Do you know how to perform first aid? You probably need to take a class or two, and stock up on first aid supplies. Trust me. You DO NOT want to find yourself at a hospital during or after a disaster of any sort.
That rounds out Jeff Anderson’s list of the places that you don’t want to be during or after a disaster. As I pondered his list, I came up with a couple of other locations that I thought should be added:
- Sporting goods store. No, I’m not talking about stocking up on soccer balls and catcher’s mitts. How about camping equipment, sleeping bags, outdoor cooking equipment, lanterns, fishing gear, knives, firearms, and ammunition? Sporting goods stores are chock full of things that people will need to live in the aftermath of a disaster. You should plan a trip to a sporting goods superstore and spend some time there. As you browse the entire store, including areas that you have never had any interest in before, consider it from a prepping point of view and make a list of items that you will need or want in an emergency. Incorporate this list into your priority ranking of things you need to buy.
- Bank. The late, great, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar was fond of saying, “Money isn’t the most important thing in the world, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen.” Zig was right about this, as he was about most things. There are many other things that we need more than money, but money still has a prominent place near the top of the list. You need to have some cash that you can access quickly in an emergency, without going to a bank to get it. It should be enough to tide you over for a while, and much of it should be in small bills. You don’t want to have to give someone a $100 bill for something that you could have bought for $5. You might want to buy a couple of small, fireproof safes or boxes that you could hide in your house or elsewhere. As with all aspects of prepping, you need to take a balanced approach with the stockpiling of cash. You need to have a supply of cash, but it needs to be proportional to your other preps. You shouldn’t set so much cash aside that you deprive yourself of buying other things that you need; but you also shouldn’t go on a shopping spree and leave yourself with no cash reserves. As your stockpile of material goods increases, you can increase your cash supply as well. Balance and proportion, people! Balance and proportion!
The bottom line on all of this boils down to forethought, planning, and action. A real emergency situation will find the establishments list above to be mobbed by desperate people. They will become violent. You don’t want to be where they are. You must address your needs in advance to the best of your ability. What will you need first? What will you need most desperately? What do you use the most of? Think about what you’re going to need before you need it, and buy it now. Make a list, prioritize it, and start shopping. And don’t just think in terms of material goods, but also skills. What will you need to do? What will you need to know? What skills to you lack? Learn them and start practicing them now.
One of the preparations we’ve made that makes me feel more comfortable is having a well-stocked pantry. I know that if we lost our income or the world went crazy, Phil and I could easily eat from our pantry for several months. We also have long-term storage food, but our pantry assures me that when an emergency occurs, I have a window of time during which life won’t be normal, but it won’t be totally chaotic either.
I call it grocery-store prepping – buying and storing multiples of the things that we like and use so that we have a well-stocked pantry that we can eat from for an extended period of time. The products I’ll identify below have relatively long shelf-lives – often several years. Obviously, that’s not “long-term” storage food, which we also recommend that you have, (you can read about different kinds of foods for long-term storage here), but investing in long-term storage food often requires a significant cash outlay. By comparison, adding to my stockpile of chunky soup can cost as little as $1.50 a can.
I’m happy to have a rotating supply of food that I’m familiar with and that is easy to prepare. AND, I can buy them a little at a time or go hog-wild when they’re on sale.
So what kinds of items are great for grocery-store prepping? The short answer is anything with a shelf life of a couple of years or more. But how about more details than that?
I break my grocery-store prepping list into five categories. Here’s a sample list:
- Soups (both for cooking and for eating) – In a pinch, you can eat them without heating them. (The non-condensed ones, at least.) They’re also great for stretching or adding flavor to other foods. Soup over rice or pasta makes a flavorful, filling meal that is economical and uses relatively little fuel to make.
- Vegetables – We don’t eat many canned vegetables in our house, but I’ll be glad to have some when fresh is no longer available
- Fruits – Ditto.
- Beans – High in fiber and protein, good for you, and cheap. Can also be eaten without cooking. Stock up on a variety of different types.
- Meats – Don’t just limit yourself to tuna. Try salmon, chicken, and if you’re brave you can go for the “little fishes” – sardines or herring. Phil loves them. But then, Phil genuinely loves Spam, too. I try to avoid them.
- Peanut Butter – High in protein and calories with a shelf-life of two years. It’s good to have peanut butter around in an emergency.
- Spaghetti Sauce – Goes on sale frequently. Stock up. You know you’ll use it.
- Mac-n-Cheese – It’s comfort food in most households, and comfort food is important.
- Rice and noodle side dishes.
- Couscous – If you’ve never had it, give it a try. It’s a form of pasta that cooks very quickly.
- Brownie or other dessert mixes – You’ll want some dessert foods if the lights go out. Buy mixes that require only water added.
- Toilet paper
- Facial tissues
- Paper towels
- Paper plates
Personal Care and First Aid Items
- Feminine products
- First aid creams and medicines
- Allergy medicine, if you use it
You can do a lot of prepping by adding a few items to your grocery list every week. Watch for sales and save. Our neighborhood Big Lots had a 20% off sale recently. We spent $60 and bought bags and bags of food that will go on our shelves. When products we like are on sale, we often buy them by the case.
The food in our pantry is food we eat, so at any given point in time you won’t find all the categories full. But when a shelf begins to get empty, we watch for sales or simply begin buying two of an item when we need it. You’ll find that your shelves fill up pretty quickly.
Are you stocking up on dried beans in anticipation of hard times to come? Me, too. Dried beans are nearly perfect prepper food. They store well, they’re versatile in recipes, they’re high in protein and fiber while being low in fat, and they’re crazy tasty. Nearly perfect.
Nearly. But not quite.
The downside of dried beans is that it takes a long time to cook them. Long cooking times generally means lots of energy consumption. Preppers are all about energy conservation, so the challenge becomes finding ways to cook foods that require long cooking times without burning huge amounts of energy. There are a number of good solutions to this problem, but if you took the time to read the title of this posting you’ve probably been waiting for me to stop beating around the bush and get to the topic of pressure cookers.
Your patience has been rewarded.
Pressure cookers are old school, but you may have noticed that a lot of prepping skills are old school. When it comes to prepping, we all need to “unplug” and step away from the gadgets (says the guy who’s writing this blog on his laptop while watching satellite TV on his HD big-screen). But I digress.
Pressure cookers cook slow foods really quickly. Pinto beans cook in 12 minutes. Compare that to anywhere from one to three hours of cooking in a conventional pot. Lentils are ready to eat in just 7 minutes.
Sandy asked what I was writing about and said, “What do you know about pressure cookers?” The true answer is “not much,” but I’m about to get a lot smarter because I’m about to read this awesome infographic that I downloaded from www.HipPressureCooking.com. They have graciously given permission for this excellent graphic to be used on our humble site. Be prepared to be entertained while you’re being educated.
It’s always a good idea to try before you buy. That’s especially true when it comes to long-term storage (LTS) food. Whether you buy the less expensive dehydrated food or the premium freeze-dried, LTS food isn’t cheap, and those who buy it tend to buy it in bulk.
You buy it to eat when you don’t have anything else to eat, but that doesn’t mean that it’s OK for it to taste bad.
Some people have the mindset that if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat anything. Remember the line from the movie Crocodile Dundee: “Tastes like crap, but you can live on it.” That isn’t necessarily true. There is such a thing as “food fatigue.” Some people get so tired of eating something over and over again that they stop eating altogether. In a survival situation, that’s not a good thing. Your body is already stressed. You don’t need to add starvation to your list of problems.
Sample Packs are Your Friend
Fortunately, with many brands of LTS food you can buy sample packs or pouches to try a small quantity before you invest a big chunk of change. We recently took advantage of two such offers. One was from Wise Foods, one of the giants in the LTS food industry. Wise Foods is the most heavily advertised of any LTS brand that I’m aware of. Their commercials run over and over again on Doomsday Preppers. Their website has an offer for a free 4-serving sample of one of their entrées. They pick which one you get. Over the past couple of years, I’ve requested and received two samples from them.
The other sample we tested was from eFoods Direct, a much smaller company that you probably have never heard of before. Neither had we until we started shopping for LTS food. eFoods Direct’s website offers a “free” six-meal sampler. I put free in quotes because they charge you $9.95 for shipping, but in their defense you get quite a lot for your ten bucks. They send you three 4-serving samples of entrées or dried soups, a food planning guide to help you determine how much food you need for the number of people and amount of time that you’re planning for, and a 30-minute audio CD (which is essentially a sales pitch).
We decided to compare these two brands head-to-head one evening. We didn’t have the same entrée from both companies, but we hoped that by trying both brands at the same time we would get a feel for the quality of each.
Let the Sampling Begin
The product we sampled from Wise Foods was their Creamy Pasta and Vegetable Rotini. Sounds good to me. I like pasta and I especially enjoy having some veggies with my pasta. We matched it up against eFoods Direct’s Tortilla Soup mix. So how did they compare?
Wise Foods, for all their advertising budget and celebrity endorsements, did not fare very well. Not at all. On the plus side, it was easy to prepare. Boil four cups of water, add the mix, stir it up, remove it from the heat, let it stand covered for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Easy peasy. The resulting dish had eye appeal, but that was all. Our first impression was that it really didn’t smell good at all. It just didn’t have a food product aroma to it. As for taste, it was salty (800 milligrams of sodium per one-cup serving), but otherwise bland and starchy. We gave their Creamy Pasta two stars out of a possible five. And that might have been generous.
On to eFoods Direct’s Tortilla Soup. As I said, this was one of three 4-serving samples they provided. The other two are Creamy Potato Soup and Cheesy Chicken Rice. The rice dish would have been a more direct comparison against Wise’s Creamy Pasta, but we wanted a little variety. I’m a tortilla soup fan, so it’s not like we were comparing something we liked against something we didn’t.
The Tortilla Soup instructions required bringing 4-1/2 cups of water to a boil, whisking in the mix, reducing the heat, and simmering it for 15-20 minutes. This preparation would take significantly more fuel in an emergency situation over the Wise Foods product, where you boiled the water but reconstituted the food with no heat at all. The energy advantage goes to Wise.
But this was a taste test, so how did eFoods come out in that category. Let’s just start by saying that this is not a pretty soup. It was a reddish-gray color, about like a bowl of mashed kidney beans would look. So Wise beats eFoods in eye appeal, at least between these two very dissimilar dishes. As for aroma, the Tortilla Soup smelled just like you would expect tortilla soup to smell. You could tell what it was with your eyes closed. It was ringing my olfactory dinner bell. But the pleasant aroma didn’t fully prepare us for the flavor of the food. As good as it smelled, it tasted even better. This was restaurant-quality tortilla soup. It was very well seasoned, but not overly salty (451mg of sodium per one-cup serving) or what you would call spicy.
One of the things that I liked best about this Tortilla Soup is that the flavor was well saturated. What I mean by that is that the next day I served some of the leftover soup over a bowl of rice and a relatively small amount of soup flavored the rice exquisitely. This is hugely important in an emergency food situation. Having something that flavors and stretches an inexpensive base like rice, pasta, or potatoes is an enormous plus. This takes the number of servings per pouch of the more expensive soup mix up and the cost per serving way down.
Both Sandy and I loved eFoods Direct’s Tortilla Soup mix. We both gave it five stars. A week or two later we took a stab at their Creamy Potato Soup. It was also very good, about on par with a good store-bought dried potato soup mix from a company like Bear Creek. It didn’t ring our bell quite the way the Tortilla Soup did, though, but it still scored a solid four stars out of five. Not too shabby. We would never turn our noses up the Potato Soup.
Wise Food Sample
eFoods Direct Sample
Creamy Pasta &
Tortilla Soup Mix
|Overall Rating||2 Stars||5 Stars|
|Ease of Preparation||4 Stars – Easy-peasy||4 Stars – Easy-peasy|
|Fuel Required for Preparation||4 Stars – Boil 4 Cups water||3 Stars – Boil 4.5 cups water, simmer 15-20 minutes|
|Eye Appeal||4 Stars – Yum! Let’s eat!||3 Stars – Reddish-gray|
|Aroma||0 Stars – Hold your nose!||5 Stars – Makes your mouth water!|
|Taste||0 Stars – Too salty, bland & starchy||5 Stars – May I have some more, please?|
|Bonus||5 Stars –Great over rice or to add flavor to other dishes|
In a Bit of a Quandary…
Like I mentioned near the start of this review, we received another sample from Wise Foods a couple of years ago. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I would guess a Pasta Alfredo. It was just plain awful. Those who know me know that I’m not a picky eater – actually, I tend to be an adventurous eater. I’ve eaten from sidewalk food carts in Tiajuana, Mexico and lived to tell the story. That first sample we got from Wise was so bad that neither of us could eat it. Worse still, I gave it to our dog and even she wouldn’t eat it. There was nothing about it that told your body that it was a food product.
I have an acquaintance who writes an excellent prepper blog. I won’t name the person or identify their website in this context because of what I’m about to say here. This blogger recently did a head-to-head comparison of LTS food from eight companies, all at the same time, using as close to identical entrées as possible. I would have loved to know who all eight companies were and how they ranked, but I didn’t want to press my luck with this person whom I know only slightly, so I just inquired about the winner and the loser. The winner was another small company that I haven’t tried yet — Food Insurance. The clear loser was (…wait for it…) Wise Foods.
These results have placed your humble correspondents in a bit of a quandary. We run ads on this website with two goals in mind. First, we want to make it easy for our readers to find products that will help them get themselves and their families well equipped to face whatever emergency situation might come their way. I do a lot of reading and shopping so you don’t have to. We haven’t purchased from every vendor whose ads we run on this site, but we screen them all as carefully as we can for quality and value. We never want to give any of our readers a bum steer. That’s a great way to make someone a former reader.
Our second goal with the ads is to make money. Both the missus and I spend many hours every week working on this website to make it a worthwhile resource for beginning preppers. We don’t get paid for it. The purpose for this website is to sound an alarm about the delicate condition of the world we live in. We are in danger from the threats of warfare, terrorism, the economy, and ecology. We are under a relentless cyber attack by our enemies and we could get sucker punched by a solar flare or a stray asteroid. How many times have you heard the phrase “the storm of the century” in the past few years? We really want you to be as well prepared as possible if any of these potential calamities becomes a reality in your neighborhood. But we can’t afford to do it for free, so we run ads on our website that pay us a small commission on each purchase that you make when you click through to the vendor’s site from ours.
The Verdict Is In
We’ve been running ads for Wise Foods on our site. They are a leading company in their field. They are one of the two best known players (along with Mountain House Foods) in their industry. A lot of people are buying Wise Foods for their LTS needs. So should we continue to run their ads because some people seem to like their product, even when we and the other blogger I mentioned can’t recommend them?
I can’t do it. Even if I don’t personally endorse Wise’s products, running their ads still promotes them. I have nothing against the folks at Wise. They have been nothing but nice and helpful to me. But when it comes to a sizeable investment in LTS food, you can (and should!) do better than that. You can buy Wise through almost any other prepper site, but as of today you won’t be able to buy it through ours. I endorse eFoods Direct based upon my limited (but crazy tasty!) experience with them. FYI, I’ve also been very happy with the foods I’ve bought from Emergency Essentials and The Ready Store. Both of those are good, one-stop superstores for all things preparedness. But as of today, Wise Foods is gone from this site.
In the words of one of my favorite foodies, I bid you good eating.
One of the easiest ways to begin to develop a prepper pantry is by buying in multiples. Buying a can of soup this week? Buy two and put one in your prepper pantry. If soup is on sale, buy three or four and store away the extras. Doing this a little bit each week builds up and you’ll have more in your pantry each week. Even before Phil and I got serious about prepping, we probably had a month or more’s worth of food in our pantry. I’ll blog more extensively about this another time, but the practice applies not only to food items. It applies to everything your family uses regularly that has a shelf-life of six months or more. That includes medicines, vitamins, and other health supplements.
These items don’t have nearly the long shelf-life that many food products have, but they can still be purchased in advance, giving you a supply you can use should a catastrophic event occur. While using the supply, you have a little breathing room to determine how to obtain more. The stress of the event isn’t compounded by wondering how you will obtain needed medicines or by suddenly not having vitamins and other supplements you regularly take.
Most medications have an expiration date ranging from twelve to sixty months from when it is manufactured. Studies have shown that drugs are safe well beyond their advertised shelf-life. Check out this article about studies done by the US military or this one if you like to read more scientific literature. Further, while expired medicines may lose their effectiveness, “there is no evidence that it is unsafe to take the medication in most cases.” (1)
That means we can safely stockpile maintenance medicines for a while longer than we’re accustomed to. (Maintenance medicines are those you take regularly.) How does that happen? Simply refill your medications a few weeks before you run out of your current prescription. Over time, you’ll develop extra bottles of the prescriptions. As each new prescription comes in, be sure to put a date or a number on it so that you know what order to use them in. Having done this over the past year, we have a three to six month supply of our maintenance medications.
For non-prescription vitamins and supplements, follow the buying in multiples approach. When you purchase your next supply, buy double. What prompted me to write this blog now is that Puritan’s Pride is having their best sale now. They are having a buy-one-get-two-free sale through August 27, 2013. That’s a great way to stockpile vitamins. We purchase most of our vitamins and supplements from them. This is the time of year we stockpile about a year’s worth of vitamins and supplements.
Please note that this is our personal practice and advice. We’re not doctors and you should check with your doctor or pharmacy for medical advice. We give advice about preparing for the unexpected and believe that having medicines that will carry you through several months of that unexpected event is wise.
Footnote: (1) http://www.drugs.com/article/drug-expiration-dates.html
When planning your long-term food storage, don’t forget to include basic ingredients such as sugar, spices, and salt. These can all become very valuable for bartering with people who overlooked stocking up on the basics, and they can make your own life much more normal during periods of long-term scarcity. How much do you need to stock? More than you think you do. Today we’re going to focus on salt.
Salt is one of the things that made civilization possible. Sure, it makes food taste good, but its real value is in it’s ability to preserve food. When you can preserve surplus food, your chances for survival through a tough winter, summer drought, or other disaster or emergency go way up.
Today we take salt for granted, but for thousands of years it was hard to come by. Traders established “salt roads” or well-worn trading paths through countries that didn’t have access to salt. Wars were fought over salt. In some places they were paid with salt. That’s where we get the expression, “He’s not worth his salt,” and others like it. The story of salt’s impact on the human culture and commerce is fascinating and we recommend Mark Kurlansky’s book, Salt: A World History. (This guy has written a lot of interesting looking books, including more than one book on salt, books on cod, and baseball. He’s also co-written a book with Food Network and Travel Channel stars Andrew Bourdain and Mark Zimmern.)
In the right proportions, sea salt has small amounts of essential nutrients that the body needs: iodine, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, and zinc. We all know by now that too much salt has adverse health consequences, so keep that in mind as you plan your emergency food strategy. Your body may need some extra salt during times of emergency stress and manual labor, but don’t let that become an excuse for overdoing it. Some freeze-dried entrees are overly heavy with salt. We’ve found that using the entree as a topping for pasta, rice, or potatoes not only cuts your salt intake, it also stretches your food supply.
Today, we manufacture so much salt, and so many different kinds of salt, that it’s easy to take it for granted. But imagine there is no more salt. Well, there is salt, but it’s in the ocean. How do you get it out? For a look at the modern process, check out this on-site tour from: www.theKitchn.com.
Can you harvest your own salt? Sure. And the good news is, it’s easy. The hardest part is that you need to find a source of clean seawater. That’s a lot easier for people living near the coast than for most of us. Beware: Seawater is not the same everywhere. Ensure you’re using clean water that contains no runoff or chemicals. This eliminates public beaches and seawater from harbors or near industrial operations. Collect your water as far away from civilization as possible. You’ll get about 2 cups of salt per four gallons of water, so even though it’s a time-consuming process, the return is worth it.
- Clean seawater
- A strainer, cheesecloth, or cotton fabric with no soap residue
- A large kettle or pot
- A fire source
- Strain the seawater through the cloth and the sieve to remove any large particles (like sand). Bring the strained water to a boil in a large pot or kettle. After the water boils for a minute, reduce the fire or heat until the water just simmers. You’ll be simmering water for a long time, so be patient. When you see salt crystals start to form in the bottom of the pot and there is just a little water left, remove the pot from the heat source. In order to not burn the salt it’s a good idea to finish evaporating the water in an oven or kiln or by letting it dry in the sun.
- Clean seawater
- A strainer, cheesecloth, or cotton fabric with no soap residue
- Large glass trays (like Pyrex baking dishes)
- Strain the seawater through the cloth and the sieve. Pour the strained water into glass trays. (Don’t use metal or you’ll end up with bad-tasting salt and a corroded tray.) Leave the trays in the sun or by the fire and allow the water to evaporate.
Whichever method you choose, when the water is gone you’ll be left with large salt crystals. Break them up and store your salt in clean glass or ceramic containers.
Do you live too far inland to make harvesting your own sea salt feasible? You still need to stock up. Here’s a link for a good long-term storage option. It’s for regular iodized salt, not sea salt.
For information about preserving food with salt, check out this site: http://www.ehow.com/how_2123649_preserve-food-saltcuring.html.
If you’re brand new to food storage, you might want to read the following two articles to help you understand how to implement the two simple rules.
- Food Storage 101: What Types of Food Can I Store for an Emergency?
- Food Storage 101: What Types of Food Should I Store for an Emergency?
Now, on to the “2 Simple Rules”
I like to keep things simple. When it comes to food storage, there are two simple rules:
- Store what you eat — Just because it’s an emergency doesn’t mean that you have to eat things that you don’t like. You may have heard somewhere that pickled squid stores well, but that doesn’t mean that you have to eat it (or try to get your kids to eat it). Too many people buy things that they really don’t like because they’re on sale or whatever, with the mindset that during an emergency they’ll be grateful to have anything at all. That may be true, but only up to a point. If all you’ve got to eat is slop, it will wear away at you at a time when you don’t need anything else to be a hardship. You might start skipping meals rather than eat slop again at a time when you need fuel to keep your body running well. During stressful times, we often gravitate toward foods that we like especially well. We call these “comfort foods.” You shouldn’t deprive yourself of comfort food during an emergency. Play your cards right and mealtime might be the best part of your post-apocalyptic day. So plan on storing the kinds of food that you actually enjoy. And be sure to stockpile a wide variety of foods. Fatigue sets in quickly when you have to eat the same thing day after day.
- Eat what you store — Even if you store a variety of foods that you like, it’s a virtual certainty that your food consumption will be different during a long-term emergency from what it is right now. Goodbye McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. Hello rice and beans. Since changes will have to be made, don’t wait until the situation is forced upon you to begin to make those changes. Do it now. Learn how to use the foods that you’ve stored, including your really long-term storage foods. This means that you will have to break down and open some of those 25-year shelf-life cans of dehydrated or freeze-dried foods and learn how to make meals with them. You might need to learn to make more one-dish casserole-type meals to conserve fuel. Practice now. Learn how to do it so you don’t have to throw out or eat your mistakes while you’re in crisis mode.The other aspect of eating what you store has to do with rotation. You don’t want your food to go bad sitting on your shelves. Practice “first in – first out” inventory management. Be aware of the expiration dates of your food items and use your food before it goes bad.
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In my previous blog we looked at the types of food that are available for medium to long-term food storage. These included canned, dehydrated, and freeze-dried foods. As you can well imagine, each on has its pros and cons. That’s where this blog comes in. Read on…
Canned food provides the widest variety of types of food products. You can buy everything from soup to nuts in a can. I once heard that you can even buy beer in a can. There are a lot of heat-and-eat or ready-to-eat entrees in cans (this can be a critical factor in an emergency situation), or you can buy individual recipe components in cans and whip up your own concoction. Canned goods are familiar and readily available. One huge plus for canned food is that you almost never have to add water to prepare them. If anything, you’ll be draining water out of them, rather than adding it in.
The downside with canned goods is their relatively short shelf-life, as compared to dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. Use it or lose it, baby. Although canned goods can be still be usable for years past their printed “best by” dates if stored in a cool location, those “best by” dates are often just one to three years out. People who base their food storage plan on canned goods need to practice rotation religiously.
Other downsides to canned foods are their size and weight. You don’t find many backpackers who lug canned goods with them on mountain trails. In the same way they make for a poor option for bug-out bags. Canned goods are fine for being stored on a shelf in your basement or stashed under your bed, but if you need to pack up and go, canned goods are a major burden to bear.
Dehydrated food is the best value among long-term storage (LTS) foods. As of this writing, Emergency Essentials, one of the leading vendors of emergency food and supplies, offers a 2,000-calorie-per day one-year food package for $1,300. By comparison, their 2,000-calorie freeze-dried kit sells for $4,500. (Let’s see — do I want three and a half years of dehydrated food, or one year’s worth of freeze-dried?) If you’re on a budget you’ll want dehydrated foods should rank pretty high in your long-term food storage plan.
Long shelf-life is a huge advantage – many LTS dehydrated foods are rated at 20-25 years. The food you last today can safely stored for longer than you’ll live in your current house, most likely.
Small storage footprint is also an advantage for dehydrated foods. Because the water’s been removed (and removed in such a way that reduces the size of the original product), they take up lots less shelf-space. You can fit a lot of food in a #10 can. That makes for the most compact storage option among the three types of food.
Another factor with dehydrated food has both pluses and minuses. You won’t find many, if any, dehydrated food entrées. (Well, there are a number of dried soup mixes, but I don’t always count that as an entrée.) Instead you’ll find separate ingredients. The bad news is that this means that you have to cook. No “just add water” and have a meal. The good news is that you can cook anything you want, any way you want. You can add things to a ready-made entrée to customize it to your liking, but you can’t take anything away from it that you don’t like. I’ve always marveled at Taco Bell. They’ve got something like 30 items on the menu, but they’ve only got about five ingredients in the kitchen. It’s all just different combinations and preparations. Same thing with dehydrated food. You can make anything you want, but you’re the one who has to make it. I’ve always felt that the flexibility provided by dehydrated food gives it the greatest potential for assembling the healthiest meals.
The most significant downside for dehydrated (and freeze-dried foods) is that they’ve been dehydrated — you have to have a supply of clean water to reconstitute them. When trouble comes, water may become a precious commodity. You need a minimum of a gallon per day, per person. That seems like a drop in the bucket now when the water is flowing freely. You leave the tap running while you brush your teeth. You throw a piece of tissue paper in the toilet and feel like you have to flush it. You take long showers. All of that goes by the wayside when water no longer flows from your faucets at will. So whether you’re bugging-out or bugging-in, the availability of clean water for re-hydrating these foods becomes an issue. Score one for canned food.
Here’s another related downside to dehydrated food. Cooking them is energy intensive. Do you ever cook with dried beans? (If you don’t, you should start now.) They take forever to cook. You soak them overnight, but they still want to simmer in your crockpot all day or cook on the stove for a couple of hours. That’s what I mean by energy intensive. Besides having enough clean water, you also need to have a sufficient energy source to cook dehydrated food. Dehydrated food is the worst of the three types of food in this respect.
I’ve already pulled this one into the discussion in the comparisons above, but more can (and will) be said about freeze-dried food. I pointed out that freeze-dried food is 350% more expensive than dehydrated. So why would anyone want to shell out that kind of money for it?
Because it’s good. Almost all the best features that you want for long-term storage food can be found in freeze-dried. The freeze-drying process retains the appearance, texture, color, flavor, and aroma of the original food it comes from. By comparison, some dehydrated food gets shriveled, loses its fresh color, and can be a bit tough or chewy if you don’t cook it thoroughly. When you add water to freeze-dried food to reconstitute it, you can’t tell it from fresh.
It’s also lightweight and portable.
And there’s plenty of variety. Freeze-dried can take you places that dehydrated can only dream of. Dehydrated cheese? You have to settle for powder, like the packets that come with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. You can make a cheesy sauce from it, but that’s it. With freeze-dried, you can have real shredded cheese. Or cottage cheese. Or blueberry cheesecake. Or freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches. Starting to catch the vision?
Freeze-dried fruits and veggies are very good, but one area where freeze-dried really shines is with just-add-water entrées. The leading brand of freeze-dried entrées is Mountain House. Their products are available from a lot of emergency supply vendors. They offer such family favorites as beef stew, beef stroganoff with noodles, pasta primavera, teriyaki chicken and rice, lasagna, and so forth. And it tastes good. Like real food. BTW, Mountain House has a sale twice a year. Watch this space and we’ll let you know when it’s happening.
Freeze-dried meats are good, too. You can buy cans of diced chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or ham. (Yeah, I know ham is pork, but it’s different.) You can get crumbled sausage or ground beef. You can’t do that with dehydrated. The closest that dehydrated can come with meat and poultry is TVP (textured vegetable protein) made from soy beans and gussied up to vaguely resemble bits of meat. I’ve had some TVP that wasn’t bad, but I’ve had some that was. The freeze-dried stuff isn’t TVP. It’s the real deal.
Like with dehydrated food, freeze-dried needs water to reconstitute it and energy to cook it, but it requires a lot less energy than most dehydrated food. For fruit, you just soak it in water. No heat required. For many entrées, you bring the needed amount of water to a boil, stir in the dry mix, cover it, and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes, and presto! Hot and tasty food.
The two biggest downsides to freeze-dried are cost and size. We addressed cost above. Freeze-drying doesn’t shrink the food, so it takes about the same amount of space as fresh, even though all the water has been removed. For example #10 (gallon-sized) can of sliced strawberries weighs only 7 ounces (less than half a pound), but it takes up a gallon of space. When reconstituted it provides more than 9 cups of sliced strawberries, but it takes up a lot of shelf space during storage.
So what type should you buy and store?
I’m not an “either/or” kind of guy. I’m much more of a “both/and” kind of guy. Why limit yourself to just one type when all three have certain advantages? I have canned goods on hand for short-term emergencies like a power outage after an ice storm. They would also make for good comfort food during a longer emergency. Freeze-dried can offer a lot of comfort food capability, but it’s also great for situations where you need mobility. Its light weight makes it a grab-and-go winner.
On my budget, dehydrated foods make up the mainstay of my long-term storage food plan. For the best value, go with the big six-gallon pails of staples such as wheat, rice, dried beans, and oatmeal. (After you’ve opened a pail, you’ll need a plan for using it all within a reasonable amount of time to keep it from going bad, or have a way to reseal it for later.) Round out your collection with #10 cans of dried veggies and fruits, powdered milk, soup and sauce mixes. And store more than you think you’ll need for yourself and your family. When it’s crunch time, you’ll want to be able to reach out and help others who weren’t as well prepared as you are.
There is a lot of confusion among prepper newbies about what types of food to store for emergency use. Canned? Freeze-dried? Dehydrated? Yeah, I can understand being confused. Been there – done that.
To help sort this out, we need to look at the different types of food preservation available. You can’t develop a food storage plan that works best for you until you understand these basics.
Everyone knows what canned food is. We’ve eaten it all our lives. I’m mainly talking about the stuff that you get at the grocery store:
- Canned vegetables, such as garbanzo beans, creamed corn, pickled beets, and sauerkraut. (Have I hit everyone’s favorites?) Also think tomatoes in all their forms (whole, diced, crushed, sauce, paste, juice). Some vegetables seem to can better than freeze. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a package of mushrooms or beets in the freezer at the grocery store. Beware of the sodium content in canned veggies.
- Then there are canned fruits, which include peaches, pears, fruit cocktail, and apple sauce.
- Don’t forget canned meats, like tuna, sardines, Vienna sausages (do they really count as a “meat” product?), and the ubiquitous Spam. OK, some of those are fish, not meat, but you get the idea. For that matter, you can buy canned poultry, too, in a variety of sizes. If you shop at the right places you can get canned bacon, too, precooked and ready to rock, but I find it to be a bit spendy for my budget.
- Ready-to-eat canned entrees include things like beef stew, chili, soup, La Choy Chinese dinners, and everything that Chef Boyardee has ever made.
That’s just hitting the high points of canned food. There are many others. I once bought a can of Pork Brains in Milk Gravy, just because I could. Let’s just say that you don’t want to be in a white elephant gift exchange with me. But I digress.
The shelf life of store-bought canned foods varies a lot. In most cases it can be from one to three years. Meat and fish seem to have a longer “best by” date than fruits and vegetables. Almost everyone has found that canned foods are still good for long past the stated “best by” dated found on the cans, provided that the cans are not dented and are stored at a cool temperature.
There is another broad category of canned food that we will cover extensively in an on-going series of blogs. This is home-canned food. Home-canned food that is properly prepared and stored can have a longer shelf life than store-bought canned goods, up to about 10 years. Watch this space for future blogs on do-it-yourself canning.
We buy more of these than we’d think. If the instructions say “just add water,” it’s a dehydrated food. Common store-bought dehydrated foods includes rice, dried pasta, dried beans, dried soup mixes, meal kits like Hamburger Helper, and spices.
But when preppers talk about dehydrated foods, more likely than not they mean the stuff from specialty vendors that comes in the big #10 cans (roughly one gallon) and is designed to have a shelf life of 20 years or more. These long-term storage (LTS) dehydrated foods include fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals, pasta, powdered milk and other drink mixes, sauce mixes, and baking supplies.
As with canned foods, you can also dehydrate your own foods at home. More on this in a future blog.
Freeze-dried is the new kid on the block. The process was invented during WWII to preserve medical serums that were being shipped to the troops. American astronauts were eating freeze-dried foods as early as Project Mercury in the early 1960s. Freeze-dried instant coffee was the first product that was available commercially.
They’ve gotten really good at freeze-drying foods now. All the water is removed from the food while it is deeply frozen. The resulting product looks like the original, retaining the same general size, color, flavor, and smell, but is much lighter. When properly packaged and stored, freeze-dried foods can have a very long shelf-life. We’re talking 25 years here.
Just about anything can be freeze-dried. For some foods (whole wheat, rice, pasta), dehydration works just as well and is much less expensive, so they don’t bother to offer everything in freeze-dried form. But you can buy long-term storage cans of freeze-dried vegetables, fruits, meats, and more. Anyone up for some yummy freeze-dried ice cream?
My next blog will discuss the pros and cons of each of these different methods of food preservation and where they fit into your food storage plan.
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