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freeze-dried food

Augason Farms One-Month Food KitDuring National Survival Month, we encouraged readers to identify a task they hoped to accomplish. We were slammed with work that month and getting ready for vacation, so I picked an easy task that had been on my list – create a menu to be used during the first month of a serious emergency and gather the needed recipes.

As I began the menu project, Phil reminded me that we had purchased a one-month food supply kit from Augason Farms. This kit contained 48 small cans of dehydrated and freeze dried ingredients and came with a recipe booklet with more than 50 recipes. Wow! Menu task accomplished! Well, not quite. But close.

From that easily accomplished goal we decided that after returning from vacation we’d set aside a week during which we would make some of the recipes and get a more realistic idea of what it would be like to live off of our long-term storage food supply.

Our original plan was to eat nothing but food from our long-term food storage, with a focus on the Augason Farms kit. After putting off our one week of survival food experiment several times, we realized that our original plan needed some tweaking. We realized that maintaining our normal schedule of work and ministry activities meant that it wasn’t practical for us to only eat survival food for that week. In an emergency, these commitments would be radically altered. We weren’t willing to make those adjustments for our experiment. Still, we were able to accomplish our goals by eating most meals from our long-term food storage while allowing the restaurant or fast food option when our schedule demanded.

Yes, we know that we’re not practicing true survival. We’re not forcing ourselves into simulated hardship. Instead, we’re practicing with and sampling our survival food. I’m OK with that for this experiment. So what were our goals?

Our goals for the week are to:

  • Taste the food. Do you remember the line from the movie Crocodile Dundee – “It tastes like crap, but you can live on it.” Were we going to be miserable eating what we’d bought? The Augason Farms kit has a wide variety of their staple products and recipes that could be made from them, so we’d be able to sample much of it. (And we’d have an idea of which foods we might want to purchase in larger quantities…and which we wouldn’t.)
  • Practice preparing the food. It’s never a good idea to wait until five minutes before you really need something to start learning how to use it. We want to practice preparing the food before we absolutely need to use it. Our one-month food kit is not a case of prepared entrees. It’s an ingredient-based kit that allows you to mix and match items to make a lot of recipes. There’s a big difference between reading the contents on the box and figuring out what you could make with it.
  • Evaluate what’s missing from our food storage plan. When we start living on survival food, what will we be craving that we don’t have? It might be fresh fruits and vegetables, or meat, or desserts, or salty snacks. But until we start using what we have stored, we won’t know what is lacking. We need to fill in the gaps now.
  • Evaluate how much water we’d be using when cooking primarily dehydrated and freeze-dried food. (As it turns out, the kit clearly specifies that it takes 23 gallons of water to prepare all of the included food. That’s 23 gallons of water for one person for one month for just food preparation. What does that do to your estimate of how much water you want for every person to include drinking and washing?)
  • Evaluate portion sizes. Would their claimed “makes 2 servings” really make 2 real world servings?
  • Share our findings with you.

With all that as a backdrop, we finally picked a week to start – last week as a matter of fact. Here are our first lessons and impressions from our week of survival food testing:

  • We have more food in our fridge at any given point than we realize. We were scheduled to begin sampling the survival food last week and immediately realized that we had enough food in our fridge that we needed to use before it spoiled to last us nearly a week. So the first five days were spent eating from our fridge with a little supplement from our pantry shelves. I was actually surprised at this because I don’t think of us having that much ready food on hand. I know we have a healthy-sized pantry, but didn’t realize that we had so much that needed to be eaten. I was really encouraged by this. I know that if an emergency takes out our fridge and freezer (which it likely would), that week would turn into “eat as much as you can in the next few days”. I’ll have more to share with others than I thought I would. (And no, we didn’t go out and do big shopping shortly before our survival food experiment was to begin. Quite the opposite. We had abstained from grocery shopping for about a week before that.)
  • With our on-hand “need to eat” food, our one week of survival food experiment has turned into two weeks of survival food. We’re five days into it and we tasted our first survival food today. (Yes, we’ve tasted many other products in the past, but today was the first in this experiment.)
  • There is a lot of variety in the Augason Farms one-month pack. You can do a lot with it. In addition to their recipe booklet, there are also recipes printed on each can’s label. Being who I am, I put them all into a spreadsheet and created a weeks’ worth of menus.
  • Along with the variety, there’s also a lot of repetition in the Augason Farms recipes. Chicken noodle soup, chicken noodle casserole, and chicken noodle vegetable casserole sound a lot alike to me! Still, having just tasted my first variation of potato soup (creamy potato soup with corn and chicken), I’m embracing the variations. (More on that in our next blog.)
  • I’m really looking forward to this!

Without trying to sound like a commercial, it seems like I should give more info about the Augason Farms one-month pack. This pack is advertised as providing almost 2,100 calories per day for one person for one month. Nutritional information is provided on each can. The only absolutely necessary ingredient that isn’t provided is water. Some of the recipes in the included recipe book include ingredients that you may not have available (sour cream or hard cheese, for example), but most do not.

The kit includes 21 different items in a total of 48 cans:

  • Beef, Chicken, and Bacon TVP (textured vegetable protein)
  • Cheesy broccoli soup mix
  • Creamy potato soup mix
  • Chicken noodle soup mix
  • Southwest chili mix
  • Broccoli (freeze dried)
  • Corn (freeze dried)
  • Potato dices (dehydrated)
  • Potato gems (for mashed potatoes)
  • Onions (chopped dehydrated)
  • White rice
  • Whole eggs (powdered)
  • Creamy wheat cereal
  • Buttermilk pancake mix
  • Strawberries (freeze dried slices)
  • Banana slices
  • Milk (powdered)
  • Chocolate milk (powdered)
  • Orange delight drink mix

Have you ever seen the cooking competition show called Chopped on the Food Network? Chefs are given a basket with four ingredients. Some of them are normal ingredients, some are very abnormal. The challenge is to make a tasty meal using all four ingredients, plus whatever else they have available. This kit is like playing Chopped. What kind of culinary wonders can you create with these ingredients and what’s in your pantry?

These aren’t the jumbo #10 cans that you normally see for long-term storage food. Those big boys hold almost a gallon each. The food in this kit all comes in the smaller #2.5 cans which only hold about a quart. The smaller size makes it practical and affordable to sample a lot of products. Besides, the big #10 cans aren’t always your best choice for every type of food storage, as blogger The Survival Mom points out in this excellent article.

The regular price of the kit is $256.99 (with free shipping as of this writing), but it is occasionally on sale. We paid at least $60 less for each of the packs we’ve purchased. (We purchased three kits at different times, so the price of each pack varied.) If you’re just getting started with prepping, or you’ve looked at the huge one-year food kits that many food storage vendors offer and found them to be way out of your budget or your prep plans, this one-month kit might be just the ticket for you. It’s way more affordable, takes up way less space, lets you sample a lot of products, and could be good as a starter pack for you or as a gift for someone else whom you wish was better prepared.

At the regular price, assuming 3 meals/day for 30 days, the price per meal is less than $2.63. That seems pretty darn reasonable. At the prices we paid for our one-month packs, our cost went down to $2.18. And when the meals are stretched with rice or pasta, the price goes even lower. Of course one of our purposes in this experiment is to find the things we like most and purchase those items in larger cans at a better price. But considering the convenience of the smaller cans with menus provided, I’m a happy camper.

Assuming the food is good. Assuming it truly is 30 days’ worth of food. That story comes next…

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
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
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.

Freeze-Dried Food
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.

Canned Food
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.

Dehydrated Food
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 Food
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?

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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