We’ve talked about the need for a 3-month supply of food, the kind of food that is in your pantry and that your family eats every day. You’ll be glad you have this food as a cushion against the ups and downs that the world can throw at you.
But to make your preparedness plans truly complete, you should also have a supply of food storage basics: grains, legumes, salt, dry milk and honey. These are foods that will store for years, some of it decades and can provide sound nutrition when times get tough.
Why store whole grains and legumes
A good reason to store whole grains and legumes is that, nutritionally speaking they are far superior to just about any other food. I’ve talked about how great dry beans are for your health and your budget. And the difference in the nutritional content of whole wheat versus white flour is night and day.
The second reason is that these foods are a lot cheaper than the processed foods in the store. A loaf of homemade whole wheat bread costs a fraction of what bread in the store costs. And if you serve a meal made
with dry beans (instead of meat) two times a week, you can reduce your monthly food budget by $70-$140. That’s over $1000 a year in savings!
Third, they store a lot longer than processed foods from the store. Once grains are ground into flour or meal, they begin to deteriorate. To get the longest storage-life out of your dry food, it needs to be kept whole and stored properly. If you take a little extra care at the time of purchase to store them right, dry beans and whole grains can store as long as 30 years.
[Note: throughout this article I will refer to “grains” but the same guidelines for storage apply to dry beans and other legumes as well.]
First: Buy Clean Grain
Start with clean grain. After harvest, grain comes to the elevator with lots of hitchhikers — insects that will lay eggs in the grain and, when hatched, start to burrow into the grain and eat through your food.
It will also have a lot of dust, sand, small pebbles and other detritus picked up during the harvesting process. Now a little dirt never hurt anyone, right?
But this debris can make for some gritty flour. It may also damage your wheat grinder when you grind your grain into flour.
So be sure to get grain that has been double cleaned. This will remove about as much of the insects and dirt as is humanly possible.
Your grain will likely come to you bagged in a double layer bag of heavy paper. The longer it sits in those bags, the more opportunity that pests have to get inside—insects as well as rodents. So be ready to transfer your grain into pest-proof containers as soon as you get it home.
Second: Choose your storage container
You can seal your grain into #10 cans. Some emergency food suppliers may sell you grain already packaged in cans. Cans are easy to stack and protect your grains from pests and humidity. But these cans only hold a few pounds of grain, so if you are using it regularly to make bread, you’ll be opening up a lot of cans. Also, the cans will rust in humid climates.
My favorite container for storing grain is a 5- or 6-gallon plastic bucket. A 5-gallon bucket will hold about 40 lbs of wheat or similar-sized grain. A 6-gallon bucket will hold about 50 lbs of wheat. They hold a little less than that if you’re storing beans.
Make sure that the buckets are food grade and have an air-tight lid, one with a rubber gasket to ensure a good seal.
When you get your buckets, wash them thoroughly and rinse with a solution of ½ cup bleach to 1 gallon of water to sanitize. Then rinse again to remove any bleach residue. If you allow the buckets to air dry, be sure to cover them with a towel or sheet to keep dirt and insects from getting into the bucket before its dry.
Third: Pack it away
On packing day you will need:
- Dry ice. This will kill any remaining insects and will displace oxygen which would otherwise shorten the storage life of your food.
- Gloves. Always, always wear gloves when handling dry ice to prevent injury.
- Paper plates. These will keep the dry ice from touching the grain.
- A clean bed sheet. Spread this out on the floor under the buckets to catch any spillage.
- Kitchen scales. You will use this to measure the dry ice.
- A mallet and a lid lifter. You need a mallet to seal the lid and a lifter to open the lid in case the dry ice hasn’t fully dissipated.
For each bucket of food, you will need two ounces of dry ice. If your dry ice comes in 1-ounce cubes, you’re in luck! Handling the dry ice will be super easy.
If it comes in a big slab (as most dry ice does) then you’ll need a hammer to break the ice up. Use the kitchen scales to measure the pieces into 1-ounce portions. Be sure to wear gloves whenever handling dry ice! Dry ice is -70°, so handling it without protection will cause injury.
Put one ounce of dry ice in the bottom of a clean bucket and put an inverted paper plate over the dry ice. Dry ice is so cold that it will singe any grains it comes in contact with. That’s not a terrible thing, but you might not like the texture of the singed food, especially beans. The paper plate will prevent any dry ice damage.
Fill the bucket up with grain, leaving 1” head space at the top. Put another paper plate on top, this time right side up. Push it down a bit so that it’s nestled firmly in the grain and then put another ounce of dry ice on the top.
Press the lid on top but don’t seal it. Leave it open just a crack. As the dry ice melts, the carbon dioxide will displace the oxygen in the bucket. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours, depending on how big the pieces of ice are. Feel the bottom of the bucket to see how cold it is. If it feels about the same temperature as the sides of the bucket, the ice has probably finished melting.
Once the ice has fully melted, use the mallet to pound the lid on to get a good seal. Watch the bucket for the next half hour or so. If you see signs of bulging, that means the dry ice is still melting and the bucket is filling up with carbon dioxide. If that happens, use the lid lifter to crack the lid open just a bit and wait another 10 minutes or so before resealing.
Alternatives to Dry Ice
If you can’t find dry ice or don’t want to use it, you do have some alternatives. Instead of dry ice, you can put oxygen absorbers into the bucket with your grain. You need 2000 cc of oxygen absorbers to absorb all the oxygen in a 5-gal bucket. For the 6-gal size you’ll need 2500cc.
Oxygen absorbers come in little packets from 100cc to 500cc. You can get them from emergency supply stores, Amazon or Ebay. They will cost 50¢ to $4 each, depending on how many you get and the size. That can add up to as much as $8 for each bucket. By contrast, dry ice will cost you $2-$4 and you’ll have enough for 15-20 buckets.
Follow manufacturers instructions for proper handling. Put half of the absorbers in the bottom of
the bucket, fill the bucket half way, put the remaining packets in and fill to the top with grain. Immediately cover the bucket with a lid and pound it on to get a good seal.
Another alternative is to put your grain into Mylar bags and vacuum seal the bags. One gallon Mylar bags will cost about $1 each. The 5-gallon size will cost about $1.50-$2 each, depending on if you buy in bulk. Mice can chew through Mylar bags, so you’ll want to store them inside a pest-proof container: a plastic tote or garbage can or 5-gallon buckets.
If you don’t vacuum seal the Mylar bags, you should put oxygen absorbers inside each bag. You’ll want 2000 cc for the 5-gallon size or 400 cc for the one gallon.
But if you use vacuum sealing or oxygen absorbers, keep in mind that just removing the oxygen may not be enough to kill all the critters. So if you do not use dry ice (which will kill critters) you should freeze your food for at least 72 hours. If you don’t have a big freezer, you might want to buy your bulk grains during the dead of winter. Leave them outside in freezing temperature for three or more days before putting the grain in its final storage containers.
Fourth: Label and Store
Once everything is nicely sealed up, label the bucket with the contents and date. You might also want to write down the source of the grain. If you’re going to stack buckets, you’ll want the labels on the side of the bucket.
And now you need a good place to store the grain. Ideally, all dry food should be stored at 50°-70°. For every 10 degrees above 70°, the storage life of the grain is reduced by half. A basement or temperature controlled garage is ideal.
Fifth: Learn how to use your grains
If the first time you use whole grains and legumes is during a time of crisis or need, you may be in for a shock. If you do not regularly eat foods high in fiber, you may experience some stomach upset when suddenly all you’re eating is whole grains and legumes. Making bread with whole wheat flour is not the same as bread from white flour or even a
50-50 mix. If you’ve never cooked with dry beans before, there may be a learning curve. Get all that learning and adjusting taste buds of the way now — before there’s a real need to eat this food.
You’re in luck! I have lots of tasty recipes using food from your long-term storage basics. Try experimenting with recipes now and find out what you and your family like.
When I open up a bucket of grain or beans, I like to replace the lid with a Gamma Seal. The Gamma Seal has a ring with a rubber gasket that makes a nice air- and water-tight seal at the top edge of the bucket and then a lid that easily screws on and off. The lid also has a gasket that makes for an airtight seal. The quick on and off of the lid makes it easy to use up the contents of that bucket before it goes bad. Don’t get them from Amazon (even though I have an affiliate link there.) They’re way too expensive on Amazon. This is the cheapest source I’ve found for Gamma Seals.
There! Now You’re Ready
Don’t you have a good feeling knowing that you have a nice supply of food that will last a long time and can be used in times of emergency?