I had a conversation with a friend, a few years ago, about storing a little extra food around the house in case of emergencies. We both agreed that emergencies happen that prevent us from getting food from the store. Earthquakes and hurricanes are big, grandiose examples of emergencies that shut down access to stores, but smaller emergencies like blizzards, or an identity thief emptying your bank account also happen all the time. As I said, she and I completely agreed that stuff happens.
I have a good variety of food on-hand, including everything from 45 pound pails of hard white wheat and popcorn, to canned soups and chilis. She knew I had a good variety, and said, “I’ll be fine, too, if there is an emergency. I have five pounds of roasted peanuts. I’ll just snack on those until I can get to the store.”
I asked, how old are your peanuts, and she told me several months. I warned her that peanuts are high in oils and fats, and that even if you can get a longer shelf life out of them, you should not plan on successfully storing them for more than six months.
She was very surprised that peanuts cannot last for nearly forever sitting on a shelf in the cupboard. I think most people are unaware of shelf lives of the foods they count on for emergencies. Most foods we buy at a regular store cannot last more than a few weeks or months. It may seem like a great idea to buy some bags of trail mix, stick them in a closet and pull them out in a decade or so when that emergency hits, but those bags of trail mix will not be edible when you need them.
Most foods have a very limited shelf life. For example, peanuts left in a sealed air-tight container in a fridge can last a year or more. If they are left in the freezer, unopened, they can last two years or more. It’s not likely that you can get peanuts to last much more than three years, because the oils cause the peanuts to go rancid. Even if they don’t kill you, eating rancid food can make you sick enough that you’d have been far better off not eating. Also, rancid foods contain chemicals that may cause cancer over time.
How many people do you know that store their unopened peanuts in the fridge or freezer? Most people would say you’re nuts for storing peanuts like that. (Yeah. I couldn’t resist a “nuts” joke.)
If you want to put a little food aside for an emergency, it is extremely important to learn how to do it correctly. There are tons of tricks for preserving meats, vegetables, grains and other foods. There are also plenty of ways to ensure you have ready access to edible fresh foods, even during some emergency that prevents access to a grocery store.
It’s obvious that fresh foods, like salads can’t normally last more that a couple of days without a refrigerator. As it turns out, lettuce and other greens are extremely easy to grow. You can grow your own salad makings in pots on a balcony, or by a window.
Storing some canned goods or pasta under a bed, or in a closet provide good foods that will last several years. The newer cans that have the pop-tops, don’t store as long as the older type of cans that required a can opener, but they still will keep for longer than foods like nuts, trail mix, and crackers.
If you want some food that will last decades, look into wheats, rice, corn, sugar, pinto beans, pastas, and dehydrated foods. Watch out for foods with high oil content or containing moisture. These almost never store for decades. Many of the foods that store for decades require special work or tools to make into a meal. For example, very few people have the tools on hand to turn hard white wheat into a meal. However, if you learn what you are doing, you can turn hard white wheat into wonderful breads.
In very bad emergencies, some people resort to stealing other peoples food. In many cases, the government or an army comes and takes any food they can find for themselves. Having food in plain sight, that no one recognizes as food is a great way to deal with this kind of emergency.
Edible landscapes provide a great way to store food, that most thieves never even think to steal. If you’re lucky enough to own a home, look into plants that form an edible landscape. You may have your heart set on a certain type of tree or bush, for a corner of your yard, but with a very little research, you may find a perfect substitute that provides edible fruit, seeds, roots, or leaves that no one would think to steal.
Obviously, a short post like this can’t go into much detail on all types of food storage, but hopefully this post gives you some ideas where you can start. Having extra food on hand, could make a miserable or life-and-death emergency into a mere inconvenience.