“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

― Frank Herbert

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Long Term Food Storage


As most of you know, my family buys food items in quantity when the price is right. We go to North Carolina to a discount grocery store for most of our food.  The prices are a fraction of what you would pay for exactly the same item in a regular grocery store. The selection is limited, so we go fairly often. We buy case lots of the things we want when they have them.



We also periodically buy dehydrated food products, packed in nitrogen flushed mylar bags and then stored in pails.  These are basic food stuffs, like onions, potatoes, white and red wheat, flour, corn meal, rolled oats, sugar, salt, corn, and similar foods.

All of our long term storage food is tucked away in climate controlled spaces.  Year round, we keep these spaces cool and dry.  This helps preserve the food, although it would still be relatively safe if we lost power because the main storage rooms are below ground level and so they stay at a fairly constant temperature and humidity level.

This week I've been cooking with food that has been stored for a while.  Here are some of the things I've used.


Apple cider.   This went into storage on 9 November, 2012.  The "expiration date" has long since passed, but the cider was still sweet and good, and had not gone off to be come "apple jack." That means it hasn't fermented.

For the most part, I store powdered drinks. They keep forever. I have several cases of the little plastic cans of fruit drink power Del Monte used to put out.  They are largely sugar, and not particularly good for you, but they do have flavor and people get tired of drinking plain water.

I tried storing pomegranate juice in plastic bottles, because that's one of my favorite drinks.  Unfortunately,  despite the high acid content pomegranate juice didn't store long term. I don't know why.






I like onions, and use them to cook with quite a bit.   The dehydrated onions I used this week were stored in early 1999, and they are just as good today as the day they went into the can.  I have both number 10 cans and pails of dehydrated onions, both systems seem to work fine.



I had pork and beans for supper last night.  The can was from a case stored in May of 2002.  As far as I could tell, there was no difference whatsoever in taste or texture between this can and one that had not yet expired.

Pork and beans are dirt cheap. We can buy them for about 25 cents a can at the discount grocery.  You can use pork and beans as the basis for any number of dishes. I like to add bacon or sausage to mine, and have it with white rice or mashed potatoes. The possible combinations are nearly endless and really just depend on what people like and their own imagination.

Clearly, pork and beans are a good storage item, and one you can put away in large quantities without bankrupting yourself.





Canned beans stay edible for decades.  I bought six cases of canned beans in 2001, which would be 14 years ago.  Of those, only one showed any signs of age. That was a case of Great Northern Navy Beans. It was perfectly edible, but the sauce in the can had thickened and the beans had a texture I didn't like. What we didn't eat, I fed to the dogs.  Incidentally, your animals can eat things you might not want to take a chance on. I had a case of DAK hams, and after about seven years one of them had some slight air pressure differential when I opened it. That was probably just due to frontal pressure, but with my imagination I was concerned it might have gone bad.  I cut it up and fed it to the dogs in their food, they enjoyed it, and so it wasn't wasted.  The other hams in the case all proved to be fine. I had food poisoning once, after I ate a pork roast my wife told me was bad. That experience has left me with an inclination to caution on the issue of possibly tainted food.




This week I've been having Spam for breakfast. It went into storage in September of 2005.  No changes in taste or texture, and no spoilage. There are a lot more canned meats on the market than there used to be, and even our Walmart is carrying a large selection of canned beef, corned beef, fajita beef, meatballs, et al.   I still put our long term meat storage money into country hams, spam and DAK hams for the most part. You can do a lot with these, it just takes some spices and some imagination. Spam used to be cheap, but it isn't anymore. A can costs about $2.50 at Walmart. Still, most people have a hard time staying strong on vegetables alone, so you have to fill that gap somehow.


This is some hard data on specific types of food and how long I know I have stored them without ill effect. It's easy to find theoretical information on the web about how long something can be stored, but most people deal in generalities. These items I've written about, I've used this week and the storage data is right off the can or bottle.

47 comments:

  1. I could certainly live off of the P&B's if I had too, and thinking that it wouldn't be that bad of a deal.

    Matt

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    1. Variety is the spice of life, but you can get buy on the basics. If pork and beans were all a person had, it would still beat eating boiled boot leather or some of the other delicacies people have improvised during times of starvation. Such as eating other people.......

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  2. Thank you Mr. Flashman for the details. During this summer, my wife while on summer vacation (school teacher) threw away tons of my canned foods away while cleaning out the pantry, claiming that anything over 3 years old was suspect. Only one older can showed any signs of spoilage - I was angry enough to spit on one hock and wipe it on the other as the expression goes.

    I take the advice of 'throw it out based solely on age' like the advice of replacing your mattress every 8 years. They are just attempting to gain more business.

    Thanks again.

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    1. Considering a divorce there, are we?

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    2. Even the articles in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal which deal with expiration dates are very up front about saying that expiration dates are largely spurious. The government mandates that they have to be placed on the packaging so the producer does so. There is little if any attempt to take a realistic look at how long the food actually stays good because the producer has no financial incentive to do so. As you point out, they actually have incentives to "err" in favor of ridiculously short experation dates since discarded food must be replaced. One of the best articles I have seen on this subject pointed out that cans of oysters and preserved fruits recovered from a river steamer which sank in 1864 were perfectly good and delicious when eaten over 130 years later.

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  3. I thought I was a cult of one who actually likes Spam. Cubed, browned and mixed with scrambled eggs and cheese or fried for a sandwich - yum. There is no accounting for taste - I also like those little cans of potted meat!
    Home canning is not for everyone. I happen to like canning, but for some it is just a nasty chore. Same with gardening - you either enjoy it or hate it.
    I think if I had access to stores like the one where you shop, I would probably be more apt to stock up on cases of food rather than canning. Just makes sense. And as far as I can tell, the Use By date is just a date when the company would like to see you buy more of their product.

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    1. I like spam, especially now that it comes in so many flavors. There's pepper spam, bacon spam, teriyaki spam, jalapeno spam, turkey spam, and many others. Spam cans are square so a case doesn't take up much room and they are stackable.

      Ideally, a person would know how to can, and also store away commercial food. The use by or best if used by type of labeling is just theater to mollify the federal government.

      In reading your posts I am always impressed with the quantity of food you put away in the process. If I actually get a garden going I will invest in one of those American pressure cookers people like so much. I already have a stash of jars and lids. Also, our county just refurbished our canning plant and now you can put your food in metal cans for free. The cannery is open to the public at no charge and there are retired people there to help you if you need help. You do have to pay a nominal fee for the cans.


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    2. You will never regret getting an American canner. I have had mine now for almost 4 years. I absolutely love it! I use it so much in the summer when I restock my pantry.

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    3. About a year ago, Cindy, I started thinking about going into canning, and virtually everyone said the American canner was the best, and worth the extra money.

      Two things stopped me. One was the fact that I found out canning, if you buy the food you are canning instead of raising it, is actually often more expensive.

      The other was that our county has an ultramodern, totally equipped cannery that is open spring and summer. All you pay for is the cans, and there are people there to do it for you or show you how at no cost.

      But all that really misses the point, and that's sustainability. What I didn't take into account was that it's all well and good to be able to buy food cheaper than I can do my own canning, or to use that facility, but what happens if TEOTWAWKI or some lesser but similar event occurs. Then I'd be up the creek. So I am going to try to do a garden now and then learn canning just to acquire the skills and equipment least I need them some day.

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  4. I've mentioned it to you before, but those canned meats at CostCo are pretty good too. Esp. the roast beef.

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    1. Yes, I liked the samples you sent me very much. They actually tasted better for the most part and cost less. The problem for me is there are no Costco or Sam's club stores within reasonable driving distance. If there were I'd certainly go see what they had on offer from time to time. Just not cost effective to make the journey as it is.

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  5. I buy cans of soup either store brand, or at Costco. I just ate expired soup the other day. Guess what? I'm still alive. Canned foods don't ever go bad really. Do they? I never thought they did.

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    1. A can of food might go bad if exposed to excessive heat or humidity, and I know some people who remove the labels and grease the metal with Vaseline but I have never done that. If a can swells, or gas escapes and makes a hissing sound it might be a good idea not to eat it. But I don't pay any attention to expiration dates myself.

      The only time I have ever been sick from eating something was when we bought a pork roast. My wife cooked it but then she said she thought it was off. I didn't think so, so I went ahead and ate some of it while she and the kids did not. That ended badly for me.

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  6. Thanks for the info I have often wondered how long from the use by date were things are really eatable, as you have I also have a lot of "preps", hate to use that word as it makes one sound like one of those crazy doomsday people but with the world as it is today anyone who doesn't put food away is just asking for trouble. I do a lot of canning from our garden last year I did about 200 qts. and expect to do the same this year. We live very generically, you know wood stove, wooden rack for the wash, can your own garden, I sew, knit, & weave so I guess we are just about as close to the 1930-40"s as we can get still think I can do more just need to find the hours in the day to do it. Right now we are looking into solar power even though we have a generator and lots, & lots of oil lamps solar power would make me a lot happier.

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    1. Take a look at Dani's blog,http://ecofootprintsa.blogspot.com/ . She and her husband live completely off grid in South Africa. I tried that in 1999 and it was an abysmal failure. I spent a fortune on purpose built deep cycle batteries, a Trane inverter, Seiman solar cells, and a 3 's Yanmar diesel generator with two 500 gallon tanks for fuel. Then after the contractor we hired to come all the way from South Carolina installed it all, it turned out that with higher mountains around us than our own, it just wasn't practical. I still use the generator, and the other components have improved greatly in the intervening sixteen years. Dani would be the duty expert in that field since she actually lives off grid.

      It sounds to me as if you are already well placed in terms of sustainability if the balloon goes up.

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  7. G'day Harry,

    I am constantly amazed at the variety of bulk goods available in the US, not to mention the price of your food, to buy a tin of Heinz Baked Beans down here costs around $2.05, if you go for the no name brand, about 77 cents.

    I have never found a store that sells the sort of bulk goods yo mention, about the closest would be a catering supply store that sells to restaurants etc., they usually don't want to sell to individuals. By the way I always like to see all the SMLE's roped to your supply bins, how about sending a spare down here!

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    1. We have lots of scatch and dint type stores in Appalachia. There are a lot of poor people here, and a lot of frugal Scotch Irish so there is a great demand.

      Food here is still relatively cheap but inflation has been so bad recently that companies are making smaller packages and charging the same thing that they did for the bigger versions.

      I've got some nice, never issued Australian Lithgow Enfields. I also have some British made MKIII rifles in very good condition that I shoot. Some nice Greek.303 British came into the country recently, reloadable, the best kind!

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  8. I'm just doing the opposite - purging, purging. Once I'm done, I will stock up on some items. I will get food guidelines from the transplant staff, there's so much my hubby will not be able to eat now. And the food has to be so fresh. I have a lot to learn.

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    1. I have no doubt you will manage it all with the same calm, collected competence you have demonstrated throughout this ordeal. If there is anything I can help with, let me know. If nothing else I am a good researcher and could help with anything that comes up of that nature. I go by your place frequently to keep abreast of developments. Stay Strong.

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  9. Thanks Harry, you are a part of a small group of bloggers I depend on for advice.

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    1. I'm actually a government stooge helping to ferret out people who show independence and the capacity for original thought !

      Just kidding, Rob. ;-)

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  10. Thanks Harry for sharing this information. Some of my family members think I am a little crazy because I will eat expired canned food-even if the expiration date is just a few months old. I ask them if they think the expiration date is a magical number-if the food is good a day before the expiration date, what would make one think that the food would automatically go bad a few days later? Just imagine how much good food is thrown away because people go by the expiration date. Jana

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    1. Jana, you are exactly right. People are conditioned to accept at face value whatever they are told, regardless of how inane it might be when you think about it. It's part and parcel of the hivist mentality.

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  11. I've been telling people around me for years... just because it's expired doesn't mean that it's not good to eat. Some people are petrified of these expiry dates and throw out still good stuff because they think it's bad. I look and smell first.. If I don't see mold or change in colour, I dig in.

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    1. It's hard to understand the unreasoning acceptance of things that on reflection make no sense at all. There's more than enough evidence to demonstrate the fact that food stays good far beyond the arbitrary expiration date. But people often like to be told what to do since that relieves them of the responsibility for making their own decisions.

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  12. We had fried Spam for dinner last night! I love that stuff. I also am involved in Reverse Logistics and attended a vendor/retailer collaborative event a few years ago where the "big guys" meet to talk unsalables and damages (rates, how to manage, etc). I had conversations with major manufacturers on spoilage and they admitted the canned food will last 10 years or better it just is Best By a certain date. The one thing you should not use past expiration is baby formula, ever, at least if you plan on feeding a baby as their systems are not as formed as older children or adults. We use cans that are years and years old. Some boxed food is OK too except for Kraft Macaroni (no the recalled dates). The cheese really changes taste and this was just from 2011. We'll use the noodles but add something else for sauce. I looked into a freeze drier but they are super expensive, something a community kitchen could look in to and rent out to anyone who wanted to freeze dry.

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    1. I had heard of the problem with baby formula. Fortunately, for my wife and I we are long past that stage of life. I keep cheese powder in number ten cans, but what I really like is the excellent canned cheese you can get from Australia or New Zealand. That cheese is so good that when my kids were home I could hardly keep it on hand. They loved it.

      If I have boxed food, I wrap it in cellophane and then store it in a pail. It seems to stay fresh longer that way and insects can't get to it. Like you, I haven't invested in a freeze drier. Maybe one day but right now I have higher priority items I need.

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  13. Be careful. If the ham HAD been bad, it could have been botulism, which would have killed or weakened your dogs.

    Anaerobic bacteria can kill more easily than aerobic.

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    1. I have often wondered why the dogs and chickens seem to be able to feast on the most ghastly, rotten things they find in the woods with no apparent ill effects. I had an aunt who was a microbiologist at the CDC. Her team spend three years trying to learn why buzzards can eat carrion and not get sick. I don't think they ever arrived at a plausible conclusion.

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  14. Quick question, and I was recently reminded of this watching one of the myriad Alaska-themed shows on cable TV-do you store any "pilot bread" or long-term storage crackers in the manner of this Sailor Boy Pilot Bread so popular in Alaska and parts of backwoods Canada? I've never seen the stuff, but it looks like it'd be more appetizing than the hardtack I've made, and should last a very long time, like twenty years sealed up, or something like that. KB

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    1. I actually do have a case of 12huge cans, minus one can I got out and opened to sample. The crackers came in huge, thick walled cans with resealable lids. The crackers themselves were not salted, were much larger, heavier, and thicker than saltines. They were outstanding for long term storage. I roared back to the grocery outlet the next day for more, but it was all gone. In retrospect it was poor judgment on my part not to have bought much more when I had the chance. The crackers were extremely cheap, and I should have shown more initiative.



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  15. Harry,

    Everything we buy from a grocery store or big box store is marked with a permanent marker with the month and year. When we pull the cans or boxes of food out to use the dates are long expired. You're very correct, canned food can last a long time beyond the dates stamped or written on each can. Another great post!

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    1. That's exactly what I do. I put the date of purchase on everything that goes into storage, and use the older items first. I have had practically no loss of food over the years, and in those rare cases where something did spoil, I had animals who enjoyed eating the food.

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  16. I can see how pomegranate juice would get funky quickly. Probably better off trying to freeze it if you want to store some. I have a lot of dried drink packets too. I don't like drinking water much, and prefer some sort of flavoring if it is available. I really like blue raspberry.

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    1. I thought pomegranate juice would last forever because of the high acidity, but it went bad fairly quickly. Lots of this food storage business is trial and error, since I have never seen a source that says what will keep well and what won't other than in general terms. I have tried different drink flavors, and I suppose that in times of scarcity, it wouldn't be so bad that your drink had lots of sugar in it. After all, a person would be losing weight from doing more physical labor and eating less, so maybe the sugar content would even be a good thing.

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  17. Harry - another excellent post as noted in the comments. there are lots of people out there just starting out and i would definitely recommend that they start with a few cans of pre-made food and some freeze dried. but jam and i are finally moving away from storing pre-made food (such as pork and beans), and making our own from scratch and then canning it. in most instances, stocking up on bags of kidney beans (fore example), or growing your own is cheaper in the long run, more sustainable and much better nutrition. so that is the way that we are heading. we have tons of processed canned food, of course, but we will slowly eat through that and slowly replenish it with our own canned food (buying roasts to cook and can ourselves, canning fish, canning our own hunted venison, all our fruits and veg., etc.).

    it gives me quite a bit of joy to go up to our pantry and get our own canned tomatoes from last year to make up some good eats.

    as for pomegranate juice - get a bunch of pomegranates when they are on sale and then seed them and freeze them. each day, you can make your own juice by defrosting a handfull and tossing them in the blender/food processor with some lemon, honey, water and/or apple juice, blueberry juice or any kind of juice. then you can strain the juice to get out the pulp if you don't like pulpy juice and you'll be able to have fresh juice everyday.

    much love! your friend,
    kymber

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    1. Kymber, one of the big weaknesses of my plans up here is that when the food runs out that I've stored, I'm done. The canning idea attracted me a couple of years ago, and I got all fired up, then I found out that a can of my own vegetables would cost way more than a can from the store, because I had to buy the vegetables in the first place at the farmers market. Canning makes good sense, but you have to grow some of your own food. I am going to try that, and if it works out I am going to buy a high pressure cooker. There's one thing about canning I don't follow, though. There appear to be two kinds of lids. One lid is good but can only be used once then has to be discarded. The other lid is designed to be used multiple times, but everybody, and I mean everybody, I talked with said they were unreliable and didn't always hold a seal and not to buy them. So does that mean a person would have to buy cases and cases of lids, and when they were eventually used up you would not be able to preserve food anymore. If cans can be reused multiple times, that would be much better for sustainability than use it and lose it one time cans.

      Vicki cans lots of meat and vegetables. I know you are working on it, and everybody seems to be very happy wit h the results. The American Pressure Cooker that was generally recommended cost a small fortune, but I guess it's like a grain mill, you just have to bite your lip and pay the money for the best, buying cheap is a false economy on equipment.

      Why would you have to seed the pomegranates, Kymber? Couldn't you just freeze the whole fruit and then just take one out of the freezer, thaw it, and eat it? Or would it come out like an orange, all shrunk up and no good?

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    2. Harry - we have A LOT the one-use canning lids. and we also have a ton of the re-usable (Tattler) ones. i like both and find that if you follow instructions, both work just fine - there is the odd jar that doesn't seal but that is normal. now don't tell anyone that i said this but i know people who re-use the one-use canning lids. several times even. not gonna name any names tho.

      we have been canning our odd extra produce here and there at harvest time. i make all of our broth and soups and can them. we have the ALL American and swear by it - it is very easy to use and those things will survive a nuclear war, i swear!

      i would seed the pomegranates because if they were seeded they would take up less space in the freezer. i have frozen pomegranate seeds, i snatch up the pomegranates when they go on sale, and once the seeds are defrosted they are just like new - you can just eat handful, throw them in a salad or make juice. i've never frozen a whole pomegranate so not sure if it would turn out okay. one of us will have to give it a try!

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    3. Kymber, that makes perfect sense about just freezing the seeds to save storage space. That never crossed my mind. I can give that a try, since I really love pomegranates and they are only in our grocery store a very small percentage of the time.

      The canning lids thing gets confusing. I did not know you could use "one time" lids more than once, and it's good to know that the multi-use Tattler lids do work. Last go around everybody was really down on them, but I expect that people are really enthusiastic about whatever type they use. Kind of like what make of reloading dies you use.

      The All American (the one I have been calling "American" because I couldn't remember the full name) really got rave reviews. I think every single person that gave me a recommendation for a pressure cooker named those, although many said that the price was too high for them and they had compromised for something half the price that still works. I feel like when it comes to equipment of any kind, it's better to save up and get a good piece of gear. That holds for everything from guns to chain saws, to pressure cookers.

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    4. Kymber, I also am getting away from buying canned foods from stores. I started canning my own beans (kidney, black, lima) and making my own pork-n-beans from dried beans. I also can anything I can grow. I also watch sales at stores like Aldies and can whatever they throw on special. I know what is in my canned food! It scares me how many things they put in canned goods!

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  18. Another great post, although we have a bit of food stored its not enough. I'm going to build a shed this year with its main purpose to store food, either ehat I grow or canned goods and basocs like sugar and salt. In fact I'm going to order some salt in bulk next week I think. When it's built I might also upgrade my dehydrator so I can have more dried food stored up. I feel pretty far behind when it comes to food storage but I get lots growing so there'd only be a few months we'd be short, although I need to improve our protein stocks!

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    1. I feel behind too, and it's because I either can't or won't grow my own food. Part of the problem is that unlike just about everybody else, I hate working in a garden. There is also the issue of deer, bears, and worst of all the wild hogs who are the main reason my wife quit gardening. I put up a six strand, heavy gauge electric fence around the compound, which includes the meadow where we had our garden. Bears just tore it down with one swipe of their paws, and the hogs went through it like a Royal Tiger Tank through concertina wire. But I could have overcome all that if I had tried.

      Be sure to lay in salt with and without iodine added. If you have farmers depot type stores over there, big salt lick blocks for animals are a good way to store salt, you just shave off what you need and use a mortar and pestle to crunch it up.

      There's a free program on the internet that the Mormons put out. You plug in the ages and genders of the people you are preparing for, and it gives you a long list of what you need to store, by weight or measure. There's lots of things on it that the normal mortal would overlook.

      I have chickens I could eat (though I don't want to), I get eggs from my chickens, and there are deer in profusion here although they go back into the national forest during hunting season, and I'm not naive enough to think people would comply with hunting laws in a crunch so deer would disappear in the immediate vicinity.

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  19. Yesterday I hit the Mother Lode, Walmart had basket after basket of dented cans, boxed products that were either crunched in or open just a bit, plastic bags of pasta, rice, dried beans, etc. that had been taped because they had a tear or hole, for......(drum roll)..... some 10 cents and a whole lot more @ 25 cents I came away with enough rice and assorted pasta for a small 3rd world to survive for years, + 80 dented assorted cans.all for just over $20.00. What I was told by Walmart staff was it was cheaper for them to sell the stuff cheap then to pay Associates to pack it up and send it back. Yea!!!!! I win the good news is this is going to be a every 6 month event in that Walmart; bad news now where do I store it?

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    1. That's excellent. I wonder why my Walmart persists in throwing everything like that away? They even put a big sign on the dumpsters forbidding anyone from getting the food out of it, as if what happens to good food after they throw it in the dumpsters should concern them. I know it doesn't stop some of the people in the area who are having rough times.

      As for storage, I guess there's always somewhere. I often feel like I am living in the submarine from the movie "Das Boot" where they have sausages hanging in the bathroom and cases of food stuffed in every nook and cranny.

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  20. I enjoyed this post Harry. Due to a house fire I have to start all over with my food storage. ( No fun at 60yrs). A lot of soups and such are coming out in boxes. Do you have any experience in how well they store?

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    1. I hate to hear that. Two years ago Christmas I nearly burned my main house down when the wood stove chimney caught on fire in the middle of the night. Fortunately I had some of those "smoke bomb" things, and the smoke detectors got me up in time to slow it down some, but the fire department had to drive way the hell out here, cut the lock on the gate, and then hump their equipment half way up the trail when they couldn't get the trucks any further. Fortunately they had these bags of chemicals they threw down the chimney and put it out before there was any real damage. But I can sure sympathize with you, your home is your castle and any damage to it is mentally and emotionally devastating.

      Well, here's what I do. I take the boxed food and if it's in a case, I just leave it in the case. Seems to store well enough if you put that case in a climate controlled room. If the food is loose boxes, I just stack them in a plastic storage chest, like you get at Walmart for $5.00, and that seems to solve any issues. I am not sure that would work if you didn't keep the storage room at a constant mid range temp and relatively low humidity though.

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  21. Thanks Harry, we bought boxed soups before the fire but used them up quickly.

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