The old food storage adage "store what you eat" is often thrown by the wayside in favor of stocking up on exotic, styrofoamy tasting freeze dried foods and #10 cans of pricey, no-name bulk goods. Who really eats most of that stuff in their day to day diet?
But, that doesn't have to be the case. You can package up familiar dry non-perishables foods for long term storage with minimal tools and inexpensive mylar bags.
What the heck is mylar? It's one of those wonder materials developed by NASA back in the crazy 60s. It protects the food from harmful light, and when sealed correctly, keeps the food in a dry, oxygen free environment--essentially the same conditions found inside a well sealed #10 can. Mylar has been used for food packaging for many years, and is well known amongst food storage aficionados.
Packaging up your own foods in mylar bags is a dead simple process. And, because you know exactly what's getting packaged up, there's no need to wonder about the initial quality of the food, no doubts about whether the family will like it, and no trouble to rotate it into your daily life.
And, you can save a ton of money doing it yourself. Hit up Costco or grocery store sales, buy your favorite foods cheap, package them up and stack 'em deep.
For this tutorial, I'm packaging up a family favorite sugar-y breakfast cereal, but mylar bags are suitable for most any shelf stable dried good...rice, beans, wheat, flour, sugar, oats, pastas, baking ingredients, dry mixes--you name it.
All right, let's get down to it. Here's what you'll need:
- Dry, shelf stable food to store (in our case, two 16-ounce boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch bought on sale with a coupon - about $2/box)
- Oxygen absorbers
- Mylar bags
- Some means of sealing the mylar bags - I am using the awesome HotJaws hand sealer but many have had good luck with a clothes iron or flat iron set on high heat
- Labels - I'm using 4x2 in. labels from Avery
- And a printer for printing out your label
5 gallon bags are another choice and commonly used for those big food storage buckets, but I think the smaller gallon sizes give you an easier-to-use package and keeps the food to manageable quantities. Too much food and it can go stale before you eat it all.
The 1 gallon sizes are also better for socking away smaller purchases of food - those $5-10 extra you grab at the store. And, they're also a good size for giving away to friends/family/neighbors in a pinch.
Packaging up your food is pretty simple. Start by, well, putting the food into your bag.
You'll want to do some shaking to get it packaged down in there. This is both bags worth of cereal, which was just a little too much. I ended up scooping out about 1/2 cup full out to give enough room to comfortably seal the bag.
You'll want to avoid getting the inside edge dirty with crumbs - that can interfere with getting a good seal.
Next, fold/press the edge of the bag to get it ready to seal.
Then, get your HotJaws or iron hot n' ready and start sealing the bag.
So - why buy a specialty tool like the HotJaws versus a regular ol' clothes iron or flat iron?
While many, many people have successfully used irons to seal up mylar, I've read several sources that recommend against it. Something about difficulty getting the right heat and pressure to do the job correctly.
I'm not exactly sure what amount of truth there is to this, but there is a certainly a level of uncertainty out there.
On the other hand, the HotJaws is purpose-built for sealing mylar and does an awesome job of it.
It's dead simple to use, seals the mylar beautifully, and leaves no doubt about whether or not you've got a good seal on the bag. It's also a pretty tough little unit, something that should work for decades to come.
And look how nice that seal looks...
Like a bag of chips! Very cool.
I bought the HotJaws to test out, knowing I could return it if it didn't impress. At this point, you'd have to pry this thing from my cold, dead hands to get it from me.
At this point, you don't want to seal the bag all the way. Try to squeeze as much air out as you can, then add your oxygen absorber.
Pop that little dude in there. Then finish up the seal.
Sealed inside the mylar bag, the oxygen absorber will gradually absorb all of the oxygen inside of the package. Often, it will give the bag quasi-vacuum sealed look, with the whole package becoming stiffer and sucking down around the food storage. If you toss an extra absorber or two inside, that vacuum seal effect will become even more pronounced--not usually necessary, though.
If, after a day or so, it looks like the O2 absorber isn't working, open up the bag, toss in a new one and re-seal.
It's best to use the oxygen absorber quickly after opening the package they come in. If you're not going to use 'em all up at one time, you'll want to store them in an air tight container--I've found that a 1 pint canning jar is often recommended and what I personally use.
So, that's it - the bag is sealed up.
Give the seal quick visual inspection to ensure it's good. Pretty simple, huh?
Now you'll want to label it - contents, when you packaged it, maybe cooking directions.
You can scribble on the mylar bag with a Sharpie, but printing out some labels doesn't take a whole lot of time and gives your stored food a clean, professional-ish looking finish.
I'm using 4x2 inch shipping labels here--if you wanted to add more info, like cooking instructions, you might want to step up to a bigger size category.
Get your labels, load them in the printer.
Then we'll need to download a template that matches the size you're using. I am using a free Microsoft Word template from these guys, but there are many other sources for free labels and different software.
You can also download product logos with a quick Google search. For generic products, some clip art can add a bit o' flair.
Open up your label template, paste/insert your logo and then type in your text. I've been doing name, weight, and month/year packed.
It should look something like below:
And for Wrap Text, I choose "Tight."
Pay no attention to that other label...an unrelated side project ;)
And then apply the label to your sealed mylar bag. See how good that looks! Classy.
Take a moment to bask in your success and greatness. When the machines arise and we're bartering food amidst the ruins of the modern world, one of these bags would make you a veritable survivalist king or queen. And now, friend, it is you who will wear that apocalyptic crown.
With your food successfully packaged, store it away some place safe and temperature controlled. The mylar doesn't protect your food from high temps, so avoid 'em. Some folks box their bags up, others put them in Rubbermaid-style totes or 5 gallon buckets for an level of added protection and easier stacking.
Materials Cost: Around $5 ($4 and change for the cereal, $0.60 for the mylar bag and O2 absorber and $0.04 for the label). Not bad for brand name cereal.
How long will food stored like this last? Well, I've got two answers.
First, it depends. There are many variables at play in how long your food will last - what you're storing, the temperature its kept at, how well the bag is sealed, etc. Properly sealed and stored, something like white rice should last 25 to 30 years or more. I'm anticipating a bag o' breakfast cereal would last something like 5+ years, though this will likely get rotated well before then.
The second answer? I'm not a food scientist and I don't know how long your food will last. You'll need to do your own research, trial and experimentation. Shelf life charts are but a Google search away, but even these can be educated guesses at best.
Now, another question you might be dying to ask: Why am I putting back sugary breakfast cereal for food storage?
It's a familiar, family favorite comfort food that can be prepared by simply adding milk--fresh, powdered or otherwise. Or eaten dry as a snack. It's something that my family will be happy to eat, whether that's by rotating it out, if we need to eat it during tight times, or if we're cracking it open after some kind of disaster.
Yep, cereal is a mixed bag nutritionally, and its light, fluffy form factor is also a downside. A 1 gallon mylar bag will hold 4-ish pounds of pasta or six-ish pounds of rice, but only 2 pounds of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Not the best bang for your storage space.
No, cereal is not something I'd recommend as a pillar of your food storage plan, but having some set aside might serve as a convenient morale booster in tough times.
There you have it - a little bit of added know-how for your adventures in food storage and preparedness. Hopefully, this can open up some options, save some cash and help you store up your family's favorite foods for when they may need them the most.