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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