Whether you are putting together long-term food storage or simply want to have garden-fresh fruits and vegetables all winter long, the key to successfully preserving food is proper packaging. After all, all the freeze-drying in the world won’t do you much good if your food is improperly stored in containers and packaging that don’t preserve the integrity of the food.
Packaging is so important because it is the only barrier between your food and the elements that can make it spoil. To prevent spoiling you want to eliminate three main things: Light, oxygen, and water. When you freeze dry or dehydrate food, you create a hostile environment for microorganisms. Without sufficient water and oxygen, microorganisms can’t grow. And, by removing light and heat you also slow down the growth of microorganisms that will ruin all the hard work you have put in to long-term food storage.
There’s a reason our forefathers built cold storage in basements—they’re great at keeping out light and the temperature stays naturally cool. You can easily stash your food in the kitchen pantry if you have it packaged it in a jar. But, keep in mind that regular use and exposure to light and heat will significantly shorten the shelf life of your food. So, when possible, outfit a room with shelves and keep your food nestled safely in the type of environment it needs (like a cool basement or a dark closet) and it will last for decades.
Types of Packing
Jars – You don’t have to make jam or pickles to take advantage of the art of canning. Traditional canning jars are perfect for storing freeze-dried foods. All you need to do is make sure they are sanitized and add an oxygen absorber to lock your food up nice and tight for the long haul. (Some choose to use a vacuum sealer to seal their jars, but it’s vital that all the oxygen is removed when using this method.)
An advantage of jars is that they can be reused and you can easily see what you preserved. If you plan to use your food in the near future, using a reusable resource like jars is smart and saves money. Keep in mind that jars will allow light in, so it’s crucial that any food stored in jars is kept in a dark place.
Cans – Cans are a great food storage choice. Not only are they airtight, but they also prevent incidental exposure to light. The methods are very similar to the process used to package food in jars. One downside to cans is that they can’t be reused or resealed. With that in mind, be judicious when deciding which foods to place in cans. A gallon of freeze-dried food is a lot. Once cans are opened, the food needs to be used. So, you may want to portion your food in smaller packages inside the cans to make for manageable meal sizes.
Mylar Bags – This may be the simplest way to package your preserved foods. All you need to get started are the bags and an impulse sealer. Mylar bags do a good job of blocking out light and air, but you do want to make sure to remove as much as air as possible before sealing the bags. Oxygen absorbers are the best! Depending on the foods you are preserving, bags can take up less space than jars or cans, too. Another plus is that Mylar bags can be resealed once opened and they can be washed out and reused, similar to a canning jar. Mylar bags are also easily portable during and emergency.
Plastic Buckets – Big, plastic buckets are often used to store food. They do a fine job of keeping out most air and light and the plastic is not vulnerable to pests and rodents. Another upside is that they are stackable. You do need to have sufficient room for them, but they can be a great way to keep foods (like grains or several mylar bags) that would take up a large number of smaller containers.
Specialized Food Storage Containers – There are containers designed specifically for long-term food storage. These systems definitely provide the protection needed, but the downside is expense. They are often pricey, and sometimes require purchase of other products or the company’s own food items. Space can be another concern, as these types of containers are usually quite large.
Extras That Help
Vacuum Packing Machine – Because oxygen is one of the enemies of food preservation and it’s absolutely everywhere, this can become your secret weapon. The vacuum packing machine helps you remove excess air from cans, jars, bags, or buckets before sealing them. It’s a good way to seal your food. The major downside is that they don’t get out all the oxygen and the packaging typically used is clear plastic. Both water and oxygen can pass through this plastic. So, for medium range storage (two to three years) they are great.
Oxygen Absorbers – These little babies are a must-have. No matter what your chosen packaging method, adding a couple of these devices to your food will make a huge difference in the longevity of your preserves.
If you’re taking the time and care to preserve food, you want to make sure it lasts. Use these helpful tips to get the most out of your long-term food storage efforts.