How to Best Store Your Food Storage

Written by Brandon Garrett

One of the largest questions with food storage is “Where should I put this?”

Where you store your food storage has a large impact on how long it will last and how good the food will taste once you use it. What type of container you use to store the food and the conditions of the area you store it have a large impact on the food.

Below we’ve listed out a few things you need to consider with your food containers and the conditions in which you store them. Let’s get started!

Containers
There are three types of packaging you’ll find for typical food storage supplies: Mylar pouches, metal cans or plastic containers. Each will provide a slight difference with your shelf life and storage requirements.

Cans. Commonly known as #10 cans (so named for its volume), these container often use oxygen absorbers to increases shelf life. In fact, this method of storage has proven to yield the longest shelf life (10-30 years) for dry foods. However, the seams of the can should be careful examined and maintained, as faulty seams are the primary threat to food quality long term.1

Pouches. High-quality Mylar pouches can keep a meal for 15-25 years thanks to their superior oxygen barriers protecting the food. When the bags are thicker, contain oxygen absorbers and are stored correctly, it all comes together to create an effective, lightweight storage system. See our article “Food Storage Pouches vs Cans” for more on the comparison between these two containers.

Large Buckets. Buckets are effective at holding large amounts of food while keeping smells contained and sunlight blocked. As stated earlier, the most effective bucket storage also uses Mylar bagging on the interior of the bucket. This combination has proven to be one of the most effective at preserving food long term.

Jars. This storage container isn’t used commercially much anymore, but continues to be the container of choice for many food storage DIYers. So long as the seal is airtight and the jars have been properly cleaned, glass jars are an effective form of storage. However, the food is more exposed to light, so it is important to keep glass jars used for food storage in the dark as much as possible.

Oxygen Absorbers
Reducing oxygen is crucial because it helps ensure flavor, fights rancidity, nutritional breakdown, and keeps food free of infestation.

Historically, two practices have been used to remove oxygen – nitrogen flushing and oxygen absorbers. Nitrogen flushing was a process that attempted to push out oxygen by flushing the food containers full of nitrogen and expelling the oxygen. By its nature, effective nitrogen flushing was a difficult process that was hard to get right. Nitrogen flushing also had a somewhat negative impact on the flavor of the food.2

The other, more proven3, method is placing oxygen absorbers inside food storage containers, which removes oxygen from the environment they are placed in through a chemical reaction. It’s recommended that your food storage has an oxygen absorber inside the can or mylar bag.

Storage Conditions
When considering where to store your food storage, find a place that is dry, dark and cool. In order to properly store your food, focus on two main areas: Moisture and temperature. There are other important criteria to consider too, such as light levels, air circulation and avoiding infestations, but dealing with moisture and temperature should be your top priorities.

Moisture. This is enemy number one when it comes to safe food storage. Moisture causes all sorts of problems to your food, namely deteriorating food value and promoting an environment for harmful micro-organisms to grown in. In fact, the absence of water is the main reason dehydrated and freeze-dried foods last so long. Wherever you keep you food, make sure it won’t come in contact with water, typically by avoid storage directly on the ground. Don’t forget that a lot of food can even spoil from the moisture in the air.

Temperature. Remember the two Cs – consistency and coolness. Avoid storing your food in a location that changes temperature drastically depending on the season (so, typically no garages or attics). Additionally, keep your food away from heat sources like freezers, furnaces or refrigerators, as all of these utilities generate varying degrees of heat in their rooms depending on the season. The ideal temperature for most food storage is below 70 F.4

Light. Direct sunlight destroys nutritional value and rapidly degenerates food quality, appearance and taste.5 Additionally, direct sunlight often raises temperatures, which spoils food. Light is only a threat if you are storing your food in containers other than plastic containers, pouches or barrels.

Infestations. Insect or vermin infestations occur when at least one of the above criteria are compromised. If your food is wet, smelly, warm or exposed to the air, it is only a matter of time before a colony of insects starts growing in your food or vermin sniff it out. Keeping your food in ideal storage conditions not only preserves it longer while maintaining nutritional value, it also ensures only you and your family will have a chance to eat it and not any unwanted critters.

What to Take Away From All This?
So, how should you store your food storage? First look for a product that is sealed well, contains an oxygen absorber and offers a protective barrier from light and odors. After you’ve purchased your food, make sure to store it in a cool, dry and dark location that will have consistent temperatures.


[1] Halling, Van Noy, Ogden & Pike. 2007. “Quality of white rice retail packaged in No. 10 cans for long-term storage.” Poster presentation at Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting. Accessed online Sept 23, 2013 at http://goo.gl/kE60Tb

[2] Mexis & Kontominas. 2010. “Effect of oxygen absorber, nitrogen flushing, packaging material oxygen transmission rate and storage conditions on quality retention of raw whole unpeeled almond kernels (Prunus dulcis).” Food Science and Technology. Volume 43, Issue 1. Pp 1-11.

[3] Purcell, Barber and Johnson. 1993. “Use of Oxygen Absorbers in Dry Pack Canning.” Accessed Online Sept 23, 2013 at http://goo.gl/lrWCN2

[4] Norseth, Amy L. 1986. “Storage of Low-Moisture Foods: Effect of Storage Temperature, Time and Oxygen Levels on Consumer Acceptability and Nutrient Content.” Accessed online Sept 23, 2013 at http://goo.gl/LCz604

[5] Shelley, Reid A. 1978. “Solar Drying of Foods: Effects on Drying and Treatment Method on Vitamin Retention.” Accessed online Sept 23, 2013 at http://goo.gl/S1x6D1

Updated September 23, 2013

11 Comments

  1. Toni T. wrote:

    “How would I store it?” usually refers to LIMITED STORAGE SPACE and this is said to be the #1 reason that most people won’t even consider collect and storing a 6-18 month food supply (even though it’s probably more important than the junk they store and never use). But it REALLY is sometimes a legitimate problem; I’ll be reducing my footprint by moving to a community where most of the homes are about 950 Sq. Ft. and have no basement or attic – Some of MY food storage solutions will be:
    >A} Stacking the food containers everywhere I’d want end/coffee tables, then cutting a piece of thin plywood for over the top and sewing covers out of pretty or unique cloth.
    >B} Under the sofa and loveseat (I may even modify the fronts to make them easily removable and replacable).
    >C} Under the beds with bed skirts to hide it and I may put it on cheap flat plastic sleds to easily pull it out. I’ll actually be replacing my box springs to accomodate more, but the plans would take too much explaining for here.
    >D} My few food items with less than a 10 year storage life will all go along the 12″ space above my kitchen cabinets and I’ll be sewing curtains to hide that (I’m mostly purchasing 20-30 year foods).
    >E} I’ll be creating a “log” or “key” list that tells me what is stored where and when I need to start using it.
    >>> I’d love to hear about any/all creative “finding space for all this food” solutions that others have come up with.

    September 24th, 2013 at 11:21 pm
  2. Diana wrote:

    I live in 450 square feet and have a year of food storage. Although my horizontal space is severely restricted, I do have 9-1/2 foot high ceilings and have made use of all the vertical space. One wall of my bedroom has a dresser and desk and bookcase lining it in series, and there is 18-inch deep shelving providing storage starting at 6 feet from the floor above them hidden by half-height folding oriental rice paper screens. That’s 10 x 3-1/2 x 1-1/2 feet, or 52 cubic feet, of storage space right there, and since my home office is there, it’s in the room in the house that is most climate controlled. The bedroom is reached by an 11-foot long hallway that runs behind the dining room with a door at the far end from the bedroom closing it off from the living room, and I realized that a 28-inch-wide hall was really wide enough for what is just a passageway; I didn’t need it to be 36 inches wide. So I took 8″ out of it for a long stretch of floor-to-ceiling shelving holding #10 cans with two beautiful old quilts hung in front, which both prettied up my storage and gave me a place to display my heirloom quilts at the same time. That is a 10 foot length by 8 foot height (the hall ceiling is dropped) that holds 45 cases of #10 cans (270 cans) that are all easily accessible, with labels stuck on their ends showing contents and date put into storage. the other side of the hallway is an interior wallboard wall that backs on the dining room, and I set 6 recessed cabinets 14 inches wide by 6 feet high with hinged doors into it between the studs. Those hold my #2-1/2 long-storage cans and ordinary canned and packaged goods. Voila, almost all my food storage in the only space that I pay to air condition in the summer, and none of it either in my way or apparent to casual visitors.

    September 26th, 2013 at 12:20 pm
  3. Bo wrote:

    Diana,

    You have done a lot with very little space. I am impressed. This is a great article. A lot of people don’t know about the Mylar bagging and pouches. A vitally important tool in the arsenal.

    I would also recommend that you purchase items which you like eating and sound appetizing to you now and gradually rotate that food into your regular eating so that you avoid spoilage.

    One of the biggest impediments to sound preparation there is involves people feeling cheated by the loss of money because they didn’t store or make use of their investment.

    Bo

    October 2nd, 2013 at 2:08 pm
  4. Amom wrote:

    We built a food storage area, housing shed around the pressure tank. We insulated it. We keep it warm with heat lamps in the winter and the cold well water keeps it cool in the summer. Dried fruits, tomatoes, zuchinni, veggies, macaroni, sugars, salt are sealed in 7mm or more mylar bags with the oxygen absorbers. Those mylar bags are then placed in Tupperware containers. Potatoes, onions, shallots, in burlap bags hanging from the wall. Fish, fruits, jams, jellies, pickles, TVP meats in jars on the shelves. All my canning equipment. I have for over 20 years stored under the beds, under the tables, behind and under furniture, in garages, shops ect. I saw an idea one time of burying metal garbage cans in the ground with sand in the bottom, put the lid on and cover with dirt. In really cold winter areas the lid of the can would have to be covered below the freezing level. Seems it would work well for potatoes and squash.

    October 3rd, 2013 at 12:16 am
  5. jerry wrote:

    does anyone know if it would be ok to store #10 cans (mountain house) in an unheated room in a cabin temperature would vary as to the weather although the temperature would not have dramatic shifts might be 0 degrees in winter to 75 in summer

    October 27th, 2013 at 1:17 pm
  6. TAK wrote:

    How about inside a cooler in the uninsulated attic? Gets pretty hot up there, maybe the cooler will help. Talking about cans of dehydrated foods.

    December 17th, 2013 at 4:43 pm
  7. Mason Moore wrote:

    Hi there, just was aware of your blog through Google, and found that it’s truly informative. I am gonna be careful for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you proceed this in future. Many folks will probably be benefited out of your writing. Cheers!|

    February 3rd, 2014 at 5:13 pm
  8. Linda wrote:

    What do I still need to store? I have one whole closet dedicated to survival, it contains about 250 #10 cans, sun oven, first aid supplies, two grab-n-go survival buckets and a 55 gal. filled water barrel w/preserve. Around the house I also have another 100 2 liter bottles of water. I know I’m missing things, please advise. Thank You.

    February 24th, 2014 at 10:29 am
  9. RAY wrote:

    Temp. control is the most important issue when storing properly packaged foods. No one explains how to build a temp. controlled room, why? I constructed a room in my garage using 2×4’s, 5/8 plywood, and 2 inch T & G Styrofoam panels. I use a portable air conditioner located in the garage that supplies cool air into and exhaust from the storage area. I use a gauge thermometer located outside the storage area to monitor temp to avoid opening egress doors. During extreme heat + 90 deg. heat my storage temp rises to 77. Still looking to improve temp control?

    February 24th, 2014 at 10:52 am
  10. Paul wrote:

    I’m like Ray. Our family has started investing in food storage, but would like to get more. The problem is, we live in Central Texas where temperatures can get pretty high (we have an attic, but that zooms above 100 degrees easily). Currently I’m keeping the few buckets we have in a bathtub in our upstairs bathroom (not used as there is also a walk-in shower). I thought about buying a small a/c to put in the bathroom window and venting the air into the bathtub area.
    But the ideal situation would be to build a separate storage room as Ray spoke of. Still thinking about doing that with an alternate source of emergency energy as well.

    October 26th, 2014 at 1:21 pm
  11. Shawn wrote:

    Paul, you need to go underground, the temp will be lower and more stable. Consider a septic tank or fiber glass fuel tank in a shady location. Build it so you would have reasonable access.

    December 5th, 2014 at 12:04 pm

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