The internet is full of websites that give information on survival topics, including food storage. There are dozens and dozens of books that will teach you “the right way” to store food and YouTube videos galore. Most contain valid, trustworthy information, but mixed in with that are a number of food storage myths that many people accept without question.
Here are 10 that I take issue with, and I explain why.
Myth #1: You should stock up on lots of wheat.
FACT: The emphasis on wheat and the many hundreds of pounds recommended by many food storage experts may not be a good fit for everyone.
When I was researching foods typically eaten during the Great Depression, I noticed that many of them included sandwiches of every variety. So it makes sense to stock up on wheat, which, when ground, becomes flour, the main ingredient to every bread recipe.
Unless you or someone in your family has issues with eating wheat, it’s definitely a frugal and versatile building block for your food storage pantry. Since the time of the Great Depression, millions of people now have various health issues when they consume wheat. From causing gluten intolerance to celiac disease our hybridized wheat is a whole ‘nother animal that our great-grandparents never consumed.
There’s a learning curve with wheat that a lot of people aren’t prepared for. A survival expert tells them to stock up on at least 300 pounds of wheat per person, per year, they do, and then wonder what they’re going to do with all that wheat! That’s exactly what happened to me when I first began prepping in 2008!!
It’s not that hard to learn how to grind wheat to make flour and then use the flour to make bread, crackers, tortillas, etc. and it certainly isn’t difficult to cook a cup or two of wheat in water, oatmeal-style, and end up with wonderfully versatile wheat berries. It’s just that a lot of new preppers don’t think about how they will use that wheat before buying it and, depending on their family’s eating habits and preferences they may end up buying far more than they will ever eat.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t store wheat, and, in fact, I have several hundred pounds of it myself. The emphasis on wheat and the many hundreds of pounds recommended by many food storage experts may not be a good fit for everyone. If you have wheat stored already and are wondering how the heck to use it, check out this article for a ton of great tips and info.
Myth #2: Beans last forever.
FACT: Over time, beans can become so dried out and hard that it’s virtually impossible to cook them to a soft consistency.
While it’s true that beans have a long shelf life, they have been known to become virtually inedible over time. Old-timers have reported using every cooking method imaginable in order to soften the beans. A pressure cooker is one option but, again, some have told me that it doesn’t even work!
Another option is to grind the beans and add the powdered beans to various recipes. They will still contain some nutrients and fiber.
Over the years, I’ve stocked up on cans of beans — beans of all kinds. I’m a big fan of beans. They retain their nutrients in the canning process and are already cooked, so there’s no need to soak, boil, pressure cook, etc. You can always home can dried beans, and if you have beans that have been around for more than 10 years or so, canning them is a super simple process and ensures they won’t become inedible.
If you do end up with very hard beans that seem to be permanently inedible, try the method in this article to rejuvenate them.
Myth #3: If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat it!
FACT: Don’t assume that someone will eat a certain item they currently hate, just because they’re hungry. Plan ahead for food fatigue by stocking up on foods and ingredients to add variety to your meals and snacks.
Have you ever fallen in love with a recipe that was easy to make, inexpensive, and your family loved it? You probably thought you’d finally found The Dream Recipe. And then you made it a second time, then a third, then a fourth. About the 8th or 9th time, however, you may have discovered that you had developed a mild form of food fatigue. Suddenly, it didn’t taste all that great and your family wasn’t giving it rave reviews anymore.
When it comes to food storage, don’t assume that someone will eat a certain item they currently hate, just because they’re hungry. If you stock up on dozens of #10 cans of Turkey Tetrazzini, sooner or later the family will revolt, no matter how hungry they are. The secret to having a well- balanced food storage pantry is to have versatile ingredients that can be combined in dozens if not hundreds of different ways in simple recipes. Food fatigue will never become an issue.
Myth #4. All I need is lots and lots of canned food.
FACT: Canned food generally has a long shelf-life and is a food storage staple. However, the food can lose its nutrients, flavor, and color over time. It’s better to have a variety of food types in storage, including freeze-dried.
There’s nothing wrong with canned food. In fact, that’s how I got started with food storage. However, canned food has its limitations. A can of ravioli is a can of ravioli. You can’t exactly transform it into a completely different dish. As well, canned food may have additives that you don’t care to eat and, in the case of my own kids, tastes change over time. I had to eventually give away the last few cans of ravioli and Spaghetti-O’s because my kids suddenly didn’t like them anymore.
Be sure to rotate whatever canned food you have, since age takes a toll on all foods, but, as I’ve discovered, on certain canned items in particular. My experience with old canned tuna hasn’t been all that positive, and certain high-acid foods, such as canned tomato products, are known to have issues with can corrosion. Double check the seams of canned food and look for any sign of bulging, leaks, or rust.
Lightly rusted cans, meaning you can rub the rust off with a cloth or your fingertip, are safe to continue storing. However, when a can is badly rusted, there’s a very good chance that the rust has corroded the can, allowing bacteria to enter. Those cans should be thrown away.
Worried about the “expiration” date on canned food? Well, those dates are set by the food production company and don’t have any bearing on how the food will taste, its nutrients, or safety after that date. If the food was canned correctly and you’ve been storing it in a dry and cool location, theoretically, the food will be safe to consume for years after that stamped date.
Myth #5: I can store my food anywhere that I have extra space.
FACT: Store food in the coolest, driest, and darkest parts of your home for longest shelf-life. Heat is the #1 enemy of food storage and will cause it to deteriorate more quickly than anything else.
Yikes! Not if you want to extend its shelf life beyond just a few months! Know the enemies of food storage and do your best to store food in the best conditions possible.
TIP: Learn more about the enemies of food storage: heat, humidity, light, oxygen, pests, and time.
I emphasize home organization and decluttering on this blog, mainly because it frees up space that is currently occupied by things you don’t need or use. Start decluttering and then storing your food in places that are cool, dark, and dry. Once you begin building your food storage pantry the smart way, you’ll be glad to have that extra space.
Myth #6: My food will last X-number of years because that’s what the food storage company said.
FACT: The shelf life length provided by food storage companies is determined by that food being stored in optimal conditions, including a stable, cool temperature.
I have purchased a lot of food from very reputable companies over the years, Thrive Life, being my all-time favorite. Most of these companies do a great job of processing food for storage and then packaging it in containers that will help prolong its shelf life.
However, once the food gets to your house, only you are in control of how that food is stored. Yes, under proper conditions, food can easily have a shelf life of 20 years or more, but when it’s stored in heat, fluctuating temperatures, and isn’t protected from light, oxygen, and pests, and never rotated, it will deteriorate quickly.
NOTE: When food is old, it doesn’t become poisonous or evaporate in its container. Rather, it loses nutrients, flavor, texture, and color. In a word, it becomes unappetizing. This is why it’s important to focus your food storage on foods with a naturally long shelf-life.
You can extend the shelf-life of many foods by repackaging them yourself. I explain this in my Freeze-Dried Food Primer, which you can get here.
Myth #7: Just-add-hot-water meals are all I need.
FACT: These meals are great for some emergencies, but over time, they can become boring and often don’t allow for much improvement via spices and other additions.
There are many companies that only make and sell just-add-hot-water meals. In general, I’m not a big fan of these. They contain numerous additives that I don’t care for, in some cases the flavors and textures and truly awful, but the main reason why I don’t personally store a lot of these meals is that they get boring.
Try eating pre-made chicken teriyaki every day for 2 weeks, and you’ll see what I mean. Some people don’t require a lot of variety in their food, but most of us tire quickly when we eat the same things over and over.
These meals have a couple of advantages, though. They are lightweight and come in handy during evacuation time and power outages. If you can boil a couple of cups of water over a rocket stove, propane grill, or some other cooking device, then you’ll have a meal in a few minutes.
TIP: Store a few days worth of just-add-water meals with your emergency kits and be ready to grab them for a quick emergency evacuation. Be sure to also pack a spoon or fork for each person and a metal pot for meals that require cooking over a heat source.
However, for a well-balanced food storage pantry, stock up on individual ingredients and fewer just-add-hot-water meals.
Myth #8: I can stock up on a year’s worth and won’t need to worry about food anymore.
FACT: Before a dire emergency you need to know exactly what food you have in storage, how to prepare it, and how to vary it so you can avoid food fatigue.
That is probably the fantasy of many a prepper. Buy the food, stash it away, and don’t give it a thought until the S hits the fan. There’s a big problem with that plan, however. When everything does hit the fan and it’s just you and all that food:
- Will you know how to prepare it?
- Will you have the proper supplies and tools to prepare the food?
- Did you store enough extra water to rehydrate all those cans of freeze-dried and dehydrated foods?
- Do you have recipes you’re familiar with, that your family enjoys, and that use whatever you’ve purchased?
- What if there’s an ingredient a family member is allergic to?
- Does everyone even like what you’ve purchased?
- Have any of the containers been damaged? How do you know if you haven’t inspected them and checked them occasionally for bulges and/or pest damage?
If you’ve purchased a pre-packaged food storage supply, the contents of that package were determined by just a small handful of people who do not know your family, your health issues, or other pertinent details. These packages aren’t a bad thing to have on hand. Just don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Do it the smart way — focus on foods that are versatile, familiar, frugal, and have a long shelf-life. You can’t go wrong with a food storage pantry that is built around the personalized needs of your family.
Myth #9: Freeze-dried foods are too expensive.
FACT: Freeze-dried ingredients, such as freeze-dried fruit, vegetables, and meat, won’t spoil like their fresh versions saving money there, but also, you’ll only use small amounts of these foods as you prepare recipes of every type imaginable.
Yes, there is a bit of sticker shock initially when you begin to shop online at sites like Thrive Life. If you’ve been used to paying a few dollars for a block of cheddar cheese and then see a price of $35 for a can of freeze-dried cheddar, it can be alarming.
However, take a look at how many servings are in each container and consider how much it would cost to either grow or purchase that same food item and preserve it in one way or another, on your own.
You can get all my best tips for buying and using freeze-dried food in my Freeze-Dried Food Primer.
Myth #10: This expert’s food storage plan will fit my family.
FACT: You’ll want to make sure any food storage package or plan is adapted to the tastes, preferences, and health concerns of your family.
The very best food storage plan is the one that you have customized yourself. By all means, use the advice given by a number of experts. Take a look at online food calculators, but when it’s time to make purchases, buy what suits your family best. What one person thinks is ideal for food storage may leave your kids retching.
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