How Hot is too Hot for Food Storage?

image by Sasha W

Starting in mid-May, my email box begins filling up with questions about storing food in hot weather. There’s always a new heat wave in the news, and that gets people worried because food is particularly susceptible to the effects of high temperatures.

I wanted to share with you the answer I give to this question and some of the tips we use in our own home.

What IS too hot for food storage?

Food retains its nutrients, flavor, color, and texture when it is stored at 75 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. It’s amazing how quickly food breaks down in hot temperatures. It won’t poison you, but for sure, it won’t be pleasant to eat.

Folks who are able to store food in basements in cool parts of the country have reported that even something like brown rice, which typically doesn’t have a long shelf life, have remained fresh tasting for ten years or more.

Protecting food from heat

First, as you may know, I used to live in Phoenix, and I know all about summer heat! We have to be careful of indoor temps beginning around early to mid-May all the way through October! (Kids don’t exactly wear jackets over their Halloween costumes around here!)
It’s a smart thing to be worried about the effects of heat on the food you’re storing, but also guard against light, oxygen, pests, and humidity. In our home we have a spare bedroom that has become our food storage pantry. We haven’t come up with a perfect solution for dealing with the heat, but here’s what we’ve done.
First, my husband covered the window with an opaque film to help keep out the heat. A big percentage of heat that enters your home is transmitted indoors via windows, plus light damages food over time. The film also helps conceal the contents of the room from any casual passer-by.
Keep your windows covered with blinds and/or curtains, year-round, and if you can do something to insulate them, that would be even better. Home improvement stores sell large sheets of Styrofoam, which can be cut to measure any window, and then pressed against the glass and taped to the window frame. Styrofoam is used to insulate stucco homes, and while not attractive at all, it can be effective in keeping heat out of individual rooms.
During the summer, I generally keep the air conditioning set to 80 degrees during the day. Our home is very well insulated, and this temp works for us. Your situation may be different and you might need to lower the A/C in order to maintain an ambient temperature of less than 80 degrees. Test the temperature of your main food storage area occasionally. Install a ceiling fan to circulate the cooler air entering the room or consider buying a small A/C unit to keep in the room and use only on the hottest days. We haven’t done that but I would if our house wasn’t so well insulated.
One important factor is to keep the temperature as consistent as possible. This might be difficult in some cases, but temperatures that frequently fluctuate from 80+ degrees and then down to 70 and then back up to 80 or more and then back down — your food will soon begin to be affected.
Under no circumstances should you store food outside in the heat. Not in attics, outbuildings or garages (unless they are insulated AND cooled to temperatures in the 70-75 degree range), or crawl spaces.
Consider storing food under beds and in storage spaces around the rest of the house. My #1 tip for prepping is to de-clutter, and this is one of the reasons why that is so important – empty your home of unneeded, unwanted items to make room for what you do want, such as stored food! We recently packed up about 1/3 of the stuff in our house and put it in a storage unit. So far, the only thing I’ve missed is having more than 1 wooden spoon in the kitchen! We really DON’T need all the crap we collect.
Here’s a link to a storage device by Thrive Life that keeps food organized and stored under beds*,   You could design and make something yourself along these lines.
Finally, if you’re just not able to keep your house cool enough in the hot summer months, you may need to rotate through your food more quickly. Over time, heat will cause food to lose its nutrients, flavor, texture, and change its appearance, but keeping track of expiration dates and rotating food by using the oldest food first, is a smart idea anyway, regardless of the season.
I hope this helps. I get a lot of questions every spring about how to store food in the heat, and since we are making an investment in food storage, it makes sense to be smart about it.
What are YOU doing to protect your food storage from high temps?

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. Lynda says

    Most of our food storage is in the basement where’s there’s ample space. We keep the dehumidifier going at all times to maintain a constant temp and humidity factor. Even here in MA it’s incredibly hot and humid.

  2. says

    We have a closet in the center of the close to the thermostat. It stays relatively cool there year round. Interesting side note: after a small flood in our hallway a few weeks ago I was forced to put a fan on the carpet to help dry the area out. I noticed soon that this fan, a cheap box fan, actually circulated the cool air in the hallway to the rest of the house. The house is now cooler and the hallway is only sightly warmer with no extra use of the AC. BTW, we are in Bakersfield, CA, so our summer temps are routinely over 100F.

  3. Robert says

    We live in Joshua Tree CA, summer temps here can hit 105 or higher. We manage to keep the temp. around 80 on those days. By storing food down low it does stay cooler and the temp is more constant.

  4. JL says

    A lot of our stuff is in the basement in a metal cabinet. I always keep the dehumidifier running and it stays cool down there.

  5. Sayldog says

    I also store in a basement room with insulated and blacked out windows (bubble wrap on the glass surface and cardboard over the entire interior frame). As the summer goes by, the basement temps in my un-airconditioned house will raise to an unacceptable level. I address this by, after consulting the weather forecast, opening the basement windows over night in order to let cooler air circulate through (as overnight temps and humidity allows), being sure to shut them back up first thing in the morning before the days heat starts building. I have also installed thick shades for those windows on the first floor that would allow direct sunlight to heat up the floor that is over my storage room, as that heat will radiate down into the storage space. And don’t forget to caulk and seal all those gaps and cracks that will let the hot air in such as cable, electric, & gas line penetrations, I hate to say that most of my storage has been ordered and delivered during the hottest months of the year, and often has had to sit out in the sun before I got home to care for it.

  6. says

    In South Florida where heat and especially humidity is always a concern. Big electric bills year round. Have the food stored under the stairs in a nice dark storage closet but we keep the door open to make sure it stays cool and dry. Oscillating fans help a great deal!

  7. Pam says

    Question – we’re renting extremely small one bedroom with no storage. Uninsulated secure shed is only space to store our extra canned goods and freeze dry foods; no electricity to run a fan so temps are 50-90 degrees. Will food be ok until we move in November?

    • Charley says

      Do you have other things you could store in the shed instead and bring the food into the apartment? maybe there are clothes in the closet you can do without until then? A lot of food could fit into the space that one bag of clothes or shoes would take up. More blankets or towels taking up space on the shelves? Store those types of extras in the shed and bring your food in where you can control the temps better.

    • says

      Try and pack the food low to the ground with all you other stuff packed around it as an insulator. Might be OK for a few months.

  8. Ron Liebermann says

    There used to be a high calorie food called “Wate-On”. Apparently, it’s been discontinued. But you can still buy “Survival Food Tablets” that contain almost everything you need to live for several months. This is probably the most space efficient way to prepare for a food shortage, although the tablets appear to be expensive.

    • Charley says

      Plumpy’nut has a two year shelf life and requires no water, preparation, or refrigeration. Its ease of use has made mass treatment of malnutrition in famine situations more efficient than in the past. Plumpy-nut has been recognized by the United Nations, which stated in 2007, “new evidence suggests… that large numbers of children with severe acute malnutrition can be treated in their communities without being admitted to a health facility. Plumpy’nut conforms to the UN definition of a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food
      The ingredients in Plumpy’nut include “peanut butter, powdered sugar, vegetable fat and skimmed milk powder, enriched with vitamins and minerals”
      You can make this at home. Tweak the basic recipe if needed. My daughter has made this on mission trips. We’ve tried it at home. It is a high calorie, high protein food that can be made fast and all the ingredients hold up to long term storage.

  9. says

    Thank you for this post. I just got started canning and I live in very hot valley in CA. I’ve been worried about how that will affect my canned goods.

  10. Laurie says

    This has been my biggest concern since we started really storing food last year. When we remodeled after Katrina – yeah, it’s hot AND humid here, we put the new small, but useful, walk in pantry in the kitchen. Note to self- NEVER put the pantry on the sunny southeast side of the house again! Finally bought an indoor/outdoor thermometer and placed the “outdoor” part in different places, rooms heights, in rooms I thought were the coolest. Have spent weeks analyzing the results- pantry- without door open, and no air circulation, stays around 80. But upstairs office closet, our clothes closet and upstairs bathroom all stay nearer 72-75 with central air on second floor set at 75 or so. Answer- guess it’s time to build more shelves in those places! I worry a bit about the humidity of the bathroom, but if we put everything in there in sealed mylar and inside containers, use the fan every time we shower, hopefully that will make the difference. At any rate- lessons learned!

  11. JOAN says

    I know many have said not to store in a garage. what I have done is insulated all the walls and rafters then I built a room also insulated to store dry goods and long term dry food storage, in that room with a fan and vent into attic area to let heat rise out..we have had some really warm days hear in Maine,this summer.but many of our nights have been in the 50′, It stays around 70-75 in the small room .after Sept though it is pretty cool in the garage for around 7 months. I have kept potatoes and apples in the small room till about December. I have a 4 room house and no cellar, and already use one room as a panty for things that would freeze. I just hope things will keep at least half the shelf life stated.any ideas would be greatly apprieciated. Great site

    • says

      Joan, there are quite a few places around the country where even summer temps don’t get all that high. If an attic or outbuilding is insulated and can protect the food on the hottest days, that’s great.

  12. SB says

    I bought a small chest freezer and store my large cans in there (low setting) and the smaller cans go in the refrigerator because I cannot set the indoor temp cooler than 85 and still pay the electric bill. It’s been a year and the cans I take out of the freezer to use are perfectly fine. They go in the refigerator once opened. I plan to buy a basic refrigerator to use for more storage. The unit that is here in the duplex is small. I plan to set the new fridge temp at 70, so my bill should not go up that much. The unit will have to go in the bedroom. I live alone, so I can get away with doing that. There are refrigerator locks that are available that do not require drilling, and they cost less than $30. Handy to have for nosy landlords!

  13. colokaz says

    I have read about storing root veg in sand in crate boxes and moistening the sand with a spray of water. I would imagine the same thing could be done with jars. I read the other day about some canned food being discovered after a shipwreck in the bottom of the sea. The cans were one hundred years old, but apparently the corn especially, tasted like it had just been canned. I guess the light and heat were gone.

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