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Make Your Food Storage Last with Proper Packaging

The shelf-life of long-term storage food products (including flavor and nutrition) depends upon the storage conditions and the type of containers in which they are packed. Generally speaking, the darker the storage area and the cooler and more constant the temperature, the better the shelf life of the food. The enemies of stored food are heat, light, moisture, oxygen, and insects.

Protecting against heat is a function of the storage place. Do not store your food in an attic, outdoor shed, or garage that has seasonal temperature extremes (both heat and cold). It will not last as long in those conditions and your investment will be wasted. If you do not have a basement, you may want to distribute your food around your house in the backs of closets, behind sofas, under beds, behind books on deep shelves, or wherever it will fit and be subject to a reasonable, stable temperature.

Protecting against the other enemies of long shelf life is more a function of the packaging. Light causes vitamin loss and undesirable changes in color, fats, oils, and proteins, so storing foods in light-proof or dark-colored containers aids in their preservation. For protection against destruction by oxygen, make sure oxygen has been removed from your long-term storage foods, either by the use of oxygen absorber packets or by nitrogen flushing (or both). Oxygen also causes changes in color, causes oils to go rancid, and allows insects, bacteria or fungi to grow. Oxygen absorbers are small sealed packets of powdered iron. They can absorb oxygen, but the powder cannot leak out onto the food. The iron absorbs any available oxygen and oxidizes, or rusts, so that the contents of a used packet would be little chunks of rust. They are used in bottles of medication and in stored foods such as nuts, grains, and dehydrated or freeze-dried products. If you are packaging your own dried foods, use the oxygen absorbers within 10 to 15 minutes of opening their package for maximum effectiveness, and seal product promptly. Seal unused absorber packets in a small Mason jar. An oxygen indicator may be included with the original package of oxygen absorbers to indicate their viability: For example, a normally pink tablet may turn blue to indicate the failure of the oxygen absorbers.

Keep in mind that while plastic appears to be air-tight, it is porous, and eventually oxygen and unwanted odors can seep through. Sturdy pails are excellent storage containers, but they are not 100 % airtight, so the product stored within will need to be in a sealed metallized bag, otherwise oxygen will leak back in. Certain freeze-dried foods kept in oxygen-free #10 cans and stored in a cool, dry environment can retain their nutritive value for 25 years or more.

Once the #10 cans are opened, the unused product needs to be put in a heavy-duty, zip-top bag and placed back in the can to protect against light. This process can protect food, depending on the product, up to a few months. Opened food should be used as soon as possible.

The same protection that keeps oxygen out of stored foods will also keep moisture out, preventing mold and fungus. If you live in an area where insects are a problem, keep your storage area scrupulously clean so that they are not attracted by crumbs or bits of spilled food. Even so, they may invade, so be prepared with deterrents. Sprinkling powdery "diatomaceous earth," which is deadly to insects but harmless to humans, on your storage shelves may seem messy, but will keep pests out of your food - as long as it is dry. Damp diatomaceous earth ceases to affect insects. Spray for ants around the border of your home and along the outer window sills, as windows are often the point of entry for these hungry little pests. Warmth and humidity encourage insect infestation, so if these are a controllable factor for you, keep your storage area as cool and dry as possible.

Remember to keep the temperature of your food storage area as cool and as steady as you can. This is the most important thing you can do after it has been packaged properly. 

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This article is sponsored by Emergency Essentials.
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