On September 26th, I learned that the month of September is designated National
Preparedness Month. Did you know that? The month is done; but any month or day is a good time to prepare for emergencies – floods, earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes, and nasty human behavior. As we’ve seen over the past two months, these things can strike suddenly and there’s no time to run down to BJ’s or even 7-11.
What will you eat if the power is out and store shelves bare? A good place to start is with what your garden grew this past summer and what it will produce into winter. Preserving food has made a come-back; there is a lot of ‘global village’ advice available on how it’s done.
Mother Earth News, long-time guru of homesteading and simple living, provides a lengthy chart of storage time for produce. It’s in a comprehensive article on three standard food preservation methods:
- STORAGE A cool, dry underground space – whether a root cellar or other construct – can protect foods for months. Traditionally these are built away from the house which would be pointless in the event of a flood or … something. If you can find a way to have your cellar in the basement, you’d be on to something.
- DRYING Dehydrating produce and herbs for use beyond the growing season has become more accessible as the cost of these appliances has come down while features have increased.
- CANNING. The way to preserve food before the advent of refrigerators has made a comeback in recent years. Food is placed in airtight, vacuum-sealed containers and heat processed at 250 °F to destroy microorganisms and deactivate enzymes. As the food cools, a vacuum seal is formed that prevents any new
bacteria from getting in. [SOURCE: USDA]
Clean, clean, clean is the first and most important rule when preserving foods. Clean hands, containers, and foods. The food you store can be the whole or a substantial supplement to other long-term storage foods. Which leads to another concern.
Food Safety Considerations
Food that is not under refrigeration must be prepared and stored in a way that prevents dangerous bacteria from building up. I was disappointed to learn that vacuum-sealing food is not the solution I thought it would be. After all, commercially-produced foods come in vacuum-sealed packages. Why can’t I do the same at home? The process involves sucking oxygen out of a bag of food, which extends its shelf life. Foods should then be frozen or refrigerated, so this isn’t a viable method for safe storage if the electricity goes out.
Who knew the minimal oxygen environment actually encourages some types of bacteria to grow? Botulism and Listeria monocytogenes are two, notes Tess Pennington, author of The Prepper Handbook. Food can look perfectly fine but be filled with bacteria. Strike two for vacuum-sealed foods in an emergency setting.
More Caveats and Solutions
- Many pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals are high-sodium or high-glycemic and can be light on needed nutrients.
- Buying MREs can be expensive.
- Commonly sold MREs contain food allergens such as wheat, nuts, or dairy. For those of us with uncommon allergens like corn and olives, the few gluten-free friendly MREs are also out of the question. An emergency situation is not the time to weaken your body by eating foods it cannot tolerate. Even more tragic would be to die from the lack of allergy-safe food.
Reduce costs by making your meals. This would go beyond simply drying what your garden has grown or is growing. It’s combining what you’ve grown with other dried foods and putting them into a packet or jar. Besides cost, you’ll feel better knowing exactly what you’re eating.
Can what your garden grew this summer, along with other sourced-foods, be turned into an MRE? Maaybe. I’m still looking for the secret of safely sealing up food for long-term on-the-shelf storage.
Dehydrators have become popular enough to be affordable. They cut the processing time
from days to hours. Some ovens can do the same. Needed:
- Dehydration trays
- Parchment paper
- Produce & herbs
- Meats, fish, poultry
Soup is one of the original on-the-go meals. I love the sound of the broth chips PattyLA of LovingOurGuts sets aside for her girls when making powdered broth.
Pemmican uses dried berries and other fruits mixed into a lean meat and a fat. It can safely be eaten for years after its made if properly stored. The Alderleaf Wilderness College offers four recipes. Ingredients for two of them:
Sure, there are a few vegetarian versions like this one from FamilyOven:
- ½ cup dried dates
- ½ cup cashews
- ½ cup wheat bran
- 1 T flax seeds
- ½ cup dried figs
- ½ cup pecan pieces
- ½ cup whole-wheat flour
- ½ cup toasted wheat germ
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup whole almonds
- ½ cup nonfat dry milk powder
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup walnut pieces
Augmenting the Garden with Shelf-Stable Foods
Perhaps the simplest solution I’ve found so far is to make packets of shelf-stable foods that are free of whatever your collection of allergens may be. If you have a chronic health condition like diabetes or kidney disease, consult with the respective association for guidance on calories and nutrients.
In making these DIY prepper snack kits, it might help to keep in mind the Recommended Daily Allowances from the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. If you’re the truly detailed-oriented type, a customized nutrient profile can be developed for your age and gender.
Assemble a snack-fest of foods like:
- Nut butter packets
- Tuna/salmon/sardines packets or tins
- Hummus packets
- Homemade crackers or flatbread
- Cereal/protein/granola bars
- Mini cereal boxes
These don’t need to be heated or rehydrated. Portion sizes are small enough that there shouldn’t be a problem with storing open packages. Choose brands carefully to avoid unwanted allergens or excessive salt or sugar. The last thing you’ll want to do is max out your day’s water ration because of a dry or salty food (sugar can make you as thirsty as salt).
Sites like Minimus provide a variety of foods and other things that could go into an emergency pack. Big box stores, camping/outdoor stores, and regular grocery or department stores are also sources of RTE foods. It wouldn’t hurt to compare costs before buying up a bagful of supplies. Once you’ve made up your snack packets, consider storing them in thick water-proof containers.
If you have the liquid to spare, consider packets of a whole food protein powder.
There was a time I would’ve included baby food on such a list but, realistically, there aren’t enough nutrients in those cute packets to carry an adult very far. And some do have corn or other starches in them.
Sheltering in Place with Garden Goods
Are you prepared to shelter in place for at least three days? Meals in jars would be ideal. But if they have to be reconstituted, you’ll have to factor that into your water storage planning.
I came across a few sites promoting dry canning, which is sealing dehydrated foods into sterile glass jars with an oxygen absorber. While those few sites wax poetic about the process and claim a 5 to 8-year shelf life, standard sources like the federal sites U.S. Department of Agriculture and FoodSafety.gov and even Mother Earth News are silent on the subject. I would strongly suggest you do your own research on this before undertaking a project. As appealing as the sight of rows of pretty food jars lining a pantry shelf may be, Safety First. Always.
This has nothing to do with growing or using homegrown goods. But, since the subject of this post is disaster preparedness, it’s appropriate. Besides having garden grown foods squared away, remember these necessities, from Ready.gov:
Basic Emergency Supply Kit Checklist
- Water, one per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help·
- Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Can opener
- Local maps
- Prescription medications and glasses
- Infant formula and diapers
- Pet food and extra water for your pet
- Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
- Cash or traveler’s checks and change
- Emergency reference material such as a first aid book or information from www.ready.gov
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person.
- Complete change of clothing including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing for cold climates.
- Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
Emergency Supply Kit Add-ons
- Fire Extinguisher
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
- Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
- Paper and pencil
- Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
Whether a natural or a human-made disaster, there is a lot to take into consideration. Food is one element. Others are covered by entities like Ready.gov (U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which have tons of information. Are you prepared?
Back to Farming
Ironically, one of the last references that I looked at for survival foods took me back to indoor gardening. I was supposed to be writing about the feasibility of a basement garden but, after recent events here in the States and abroad, this topic seemed more pertinent. This article may be updated as I get more info on food prep and storage. And I’d better get to my indoor garden series since that too is a part of disaster preparedness.
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