How Hot is Too Hot for Food Storage?

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How Hot is Too Hot for Food Storage via The Survival Mom

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. In fact, out of all the factors that affect a food’s nutritional value, appearance, flavor, and texture, heat is the absolute worst with the damage it can do.

I wanted to share with you the answer I give to this question and some of the tips we use in our own home, since we have only ever lived in very hot parts of the country — Phoenix and Texas.

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. I’ve suffered through mushy tuna, discolored ketchup, and very, very strange looking bottled salad dressings — and had to throw them all away, which is a sad waste of money.

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 super long shelf life when compared with white rice, have remained fresh tasting for ten years or more.

The problem is that even variances in temperature can and will eventually affect food. Few of us can store food in an area that is consistently and constantly at 75 degrees — and, the cooler, the better. I’m always envious of people in cold parts of the country who talk about having a basement that is always at food-storage-perfect temperatures. One item you probably don’t have in your food storage area is a thermometer, and I would suggest adding one right away. A good thermometer like this one can be very inexpensive, but if you hang it near the entry of the pantry, you’ll be able to quickly check the temperature. That particular thermometer also keeps track of humidity, in case that’s an issue.

Protecting food from heat

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 Phoenix home we had a spare bedroom that became our food storage pantry. Since keeping just that one room quite cold at 75 wasn’t realistic, we found other ways to protect the food.
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 itself damages food over time, so this film helped protect the food in more ways than one. Also, the film helped conceal the contents from any casual passer-by.
Besides window film, always 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 Phoenix summers, I generally kept the air conditioning set to 80 degrees during the day. Our home was very well insulated, and this temp worked for us in the dry Phoenix heat. 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. If our home had been less insulated, that is something we would have added.
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. In those instances, the quality of your food will deteriorate within just a few weeks, not months or years.
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.
Thrive Life makes an under-the-bed unit that stores cans of food and is a great way to “find” new storage areas that didn’t exist before. These Cansolidators keep food organized and stored under beds or in other handy locations that aren’t quite big enough for shelves.
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. Rotate food by using the oldest food first. This is a smart idea anyway, regardless of the season.

A word about humidity

After leaving Phoenix, we ended up in a part of Texas that is both hot (although not as hot as Phoenix) and humid. It was an interesting transition to say the least.
Here, we set up the same metal shelving units we used in Phoenix in a small storage room with an AC unit installed in the wall. The metal shelves worked out great but here, they’ve met their match, unfortunately. We have the AC set to also remove humidity, but it’s not quite up to the task on days when the humidity level is 80% and higher. In 2 cases, we ended up with rust on the shelves and rusty cans. About 2 dozen or so Thrive Life cans became too rusty to be viable and I had to repackage the food. I also noticed the other day that some of my canning jars had rusted. This in spite of the dehumidifier setting on the AC and the occasional use of Damp Rid.
I love the Damp Rid product and, in fact, when I was interviewed for BuzzFeed by one of their writers, she was fascinated by what she described as, “kooky and mystical” crystals! i don’t know about kooky and mystical, but I do know they do a great job of absorbing humidity anywhere I’ve put them.
So, to solve our humidity problem, we are moving to wooden shelves and a free-standing dehumidifier that will be up to an apparently Herculean task
One final word — this humid climate has also increased the amount of bugs we have to deal with, something that wasn’t an issue in Phoenix. I’ve used diatamaceous earth around the baseboards of the pantry room and refresh it every so often, since high humidity affects its usefulness as a pesticide.
Putting money into food storage only makes sense if you can actually use it when you need it the most. Protecting it from heat and humidity may cost a few dollars but in the long run, it will save even more.
What are YOU doing to protect your food storage from high temps?
 How Hot is Too Hot for Food Storage via The Survival Mom

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

41 thoughts on “How Hot is Too Hot for Food Storage?”

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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

    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.

    1. 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. 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. 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. 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

    1. 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. 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. 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.

  14. I see you lived in Phoenix. This is a great post but I have a similar but different issue. I live here in Phoenix as well and I always keep a get home bag in my vehicle. I keep a little bit of food in the bag in case I’m stuck on the freeway for hours or actually have to hike back home or to safefy.
    With the heat of the summer, our cars get up to 150* during the day. Is there any food that is stable enough to store in a car in Phoenix? If there is, what’s the recommended rotation time?

    Cheers!
    Matt

    1. I have a get home bag with food and water too and I bring it inside whenever I’m not driving. Not fun, but for now it works.

  15. We have our house on the market right now so all our food storage is in a rented storage unit. (We have quite a bit saved.) I’m worried that it will all be ruined if the house doesn’t sell in the next month (before it’s too hot).

    1. I recommend moving that food to an air conditioned location as quickly as possible. When we moved to Texas, we were able to store our food in the extra bedroom in the home of a relative. Another possibility is a very small, air conditioned storage unit.

    1. LindaA, I can never find an answer to that question. No basements in the low country and no way to keep house cool enough and still afford the electric bill. When electricity goes out, hot and humid.

      1. Lorna, in some situations, there just isn’t a way to keep food very cool. In those cases, food rotation is your best bet. Your food storage pantry should be constantly rotated, by adding new food and then using up the older food. That will help insure the food is as nutritious as possible. Unless contaminated, old food won’t kill you. It just won’t taste as good and will have lost some of its nutrients.

  16. Jene Oden Grantham

    It seems to me that storing food for long term is a walk in the park. But what happens to all our food that we’ve prepared to last for several years when the grid goes out and we no longer have a/c? Will the first summer we go through ruin all our carefully prepped food?

    1. Yep. In that worst case scenario, there are no easy answers if you don’t have a backup cooling system or something like a basement or cellar. I’ve seen some people buy a small, portable A/C unit that could run off a generator, if necessary. Now, in many cases, the food will still be edible. As it’s exposed to heat, it will lose its color, texture, flavor, and most importantly, its original nutrients. Something like freeze-dried peaches, for example, will still be edible. They might not taste as good or be as nutritious, but they won’t suddenly become poisonous.

  17. Dry canning is a good solution for nuts, brown rice, seeds, crackers, cereals, anything that may go rancid. It is an old method. Place a cookie sheet in the oven. Set on it canning jars filled with the food and lids on. The jars should not be touching each other. Turn on oven at 200 for one hour. then turn off and allow to cool before removing jars. Sometimes a jar won’t seal. Just redo it with the next batch or use first.

  18. For cans and canning Lids to prevent rust dip them in Candle wax to protect them from rusting. The wax will provided a good protective coating. For nuts, Rice Crackers etc I vacuum pack in Mason Jars.

  19. Unfortunately, a key item that you have omitted is survival rations, such as those provided by Survival Industries (Mainstay) and others. In the case of Mainstay, the upper temperature tolerance is 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and provides a five year shelf life. And that’s not a typo.

    Any prepper that overlooks survival rations is foolish.

    1. I’ve written about these types of rations before but any prepper who stocks up on loads of these in lieu of more nutritious foods and with more variety is foolish. And, 5 years is not very long in the food storage world. I’d be interested to know if “tolerance” is the same as all the nutrients being preserved, the flavor remaining the same, etc. “Tolerance” isn’t a very specific word.

      1. Hi, I’m an older woman who lives in a small condo in S. Ca where it often gets up to 85-105 from April to Oct. Often I or older members of my family need to have survival food in our cars. What can I leave in my car for a year that will still be edible and nutritious? I’m at a loss as to what I can use for a few weeks of survival food. Do you have any suggestions?

        1. Hot cars are going to cause rapid deterioration of most every food. If the food contains oils, it will go rancid more quickly in the heat. How about putting together several “mini units” of food, keeping them in the car for, perhaps, a week or two and then rotating to another unit? Maybe a large shoebox size container with lower-fat nuts (dry roast or natural almonds), packages of crackers, high calorie emergency bars (http://amzn.to/2tQgg9P — these are fairly heat resistant), Extreme Sports Beans (http://amzn.to/2umxIo4), freeze-dried fruit, maybe some jerky. I’ve found that jerky becomes brittle and hard to chew if it’s left in the car for too long. Typical “survival food” meals in the mylar bags are prone to the effects of heat, the same as all other foods. It’s not an easy dilemma to solve. However, I recommend you give some thought as to whether or not you need to have this food in the car AT ALL TIMES. If not, have a bucket or two of foods similar to the ones I’ve mentioned, along with some of the survival meals, and then taking those with you only when it’s necessary. At trip’s end, bring them back in the house. Be sure to pack a small propane or butane powered stove, a metal container for heating up water, and then plenty of water.

  20. I’d love to know how successful dehumidifiers are in AC units. Here in England, we don’t tend to have AC units in homes and at my own website we only ever review dehumidifiers because these are what come through to us as being the best ones. Is there a case of the dehumidifying functionality just a lesser feature to drive up the cost of a AC unit?

  21. Before I knew better, I kept canned food outside in a storage shed in Alabama. Opened a can of corn in late summer, and it smelled & tasted like smoke! We threw out everything just to be safe. Lesson learned too late. Good advice here. Thanks!

  22. Beverly Boytim

    I am wondering what CAN be stored at higher temps? Things like canning jars, q tips, toilet paper, etc..
    What about rubbing alcohol and peroxide? Lamp Oil?
    Do you have a list of essentials we could store in a crawl space?
    Thanks so much!

    1. White rice. Just put them in mylar bags with oxygen absorbent inside plastic box to protect against insects and rodents. Temp won’t affect rice. No canned foods as temp fluctuation can cause leakages.

  23. I need to store food in a shipping container in Africa. Temperatures rise to about 60°C (140°F). Any ideas as to what I can store? I was thinking about sugar, or maybe pasta? What do I use as containers? Will plastic damage the food? Any advice will be welcomed.

    1. I would never recommend storing any food at those temperatures. Sugar might be the one exception, but I don’t know how the heat would affect the flavor over time. Is it possible to store other household items in this container, get them moved out of your home, and then use that freed up space to store food? To store the sugar, you can use glass containers with airtight lids (canning jars), mylar bags sealed with a flatiron, or food-safe plastic buckets with airtight lids.

  24. Are my canned goods ok if kept in an 85-87 degree garage for just 3 days? I worry about botulism! It was getting 92ish outside and our garage was warming up, but I don’t think it had huge temp swings. We are in Texas. What would you say about packaged pepperonis? I was trying to give groceries time to de-germ from anything we might’ve brought home from the store before it occurred to me how flipping warm it was getting outside. It was literally just 3 days though.

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