Preparing for a long-term survival situation, or just a massive downturn in society, means accumulating the right gear, supplies, and provisions.
The one provision that most of us are predominantly preoccupied with is food, and with good reason.
You might be able to go without food for weeks and still survive, but slow starvation will degrade the body and mind in equal measure.
No matter what kind of food you are considering, it must be stored properly if you want to rely on it for any length of time. This is where proper food storage procedures and techniques must be enacted.
When most people talk about methods of preservation they are really talking about food storage, a practice or set of practices that decreases food loss and improves food security.
Good food storage practices will decrease loss, improve your overall diet, reduce waste and help you stay prepared for emergencies, major SHTF events, or just intermittent instances of scarcity. In this article we are bringing you 17 food storage techniques to cover any situation.
There is a Food Storage Technique for Every Item and Every Situation
When it comes to food storage and all of the attendant methods of preservation, most folks reading this article will probably already be familiar with a few of them particularly the most common or the ones most suited to use in austere environments or survival situations.
However, I will bet my last dime that there will be just as many if not more you have never heard of or never considered.
It is easy to think of food storage techniques in a modern context, all chemical preservatives, and modern packaging in factory processing to render food perfectly sterile, basically.
But there is so much more to food storage than that, and societies around the world since the dawn of time have employed food storage techniques of one form or another to preserve their hard won harvest of vegetables, fruits, and even meats.
Some of these techniques are undoubtedly clever and definitely ones you’ll happily add to your repertoire of survival skills. Others, frankly, seem quite radical, even disgusting to our modern sensibilities.
You might think that you will never have cause to employ a food storage technique that makes your skin crawl, but you might feel differently about it when the choice is either doing it or wasting food that might well save your life later.
The reason that food storage techniques work is that they impair, reduce or even completely eliminate bacteria and other microorganisms that take up residence and live in our food, leading to decomposition and spoilage.
Eliminate the bacteria, and the food doesn’t break down, generally, or at least break down as quickly.
What is important to remember, though, is that every technique on this list is a skill unto itself, one that must be practiced and implemented with strict adherence to proper food handling standards and the best possible hygiene under the circumstances.
Failure to do so could lead to your food becoming host to dangerous pathogens that could give you a lethal case of food poisoning.
Before we get to the list, it might be helpful to discuss the two broad types of food storage techniques and procedures.
The two types are traditional and modern, though they might more accurately be described as austere or primitive techniques, low-tech stuff, and the other as high-tech techniques, procedures more dependent upon having either more tools for the process or a higher technological base overall for implementation.
None of these techniques are created equal, though all of them are more or less viable depending upon the item in question and absolutely all of them will work to extend the life and usefulness of the food in question. That’s why they were developed, deliberately or accidentally, in the first place.
Though generally modern techniques are far more thorough and effective overall at killing or disrupting the bacteria that leads to food spoilage some traditional and even downright primitive techniques can be shockingly effective in their own right, so don’t count them out, especially if you are in a long-term survival situation.
The takeaway from all this is that there is a technique that is suitable for any environment, any level of technology, and any food stuff in particular. Make it a point to add several to your personal skill set!
“Traditional” Food Storage Methods
Chilling, or cooling, food drastically decreases the rate of decomposition by significantly slowing down the reproduction, growth, and action of a variety of microorganisms and the enzymes they produce that cause our food to break down, spoil and rot.
It is no stretch to say that modern refrigeration is the keystone of the food industry and most developed nations, particularly Western ones, and is solely responsible for the ongoing proliferation and inclusion of a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products in the daily diets of hundreds of millions of people.
But modern refrigeration is not the only way to effectively chill food. In cold climates, cooling can be had by simply setting food outside in boxes to protect it from animals, or elsewhere by utilizing a root cellar or icebox.
Anywhere that ice can be harvested or delivered in a timely fashion an icebox is a viable method for preservation in the total absence of electricity.
For preppers, learning to design, cite and construct a root cellar will go a long way towards improving independence and self-sufficiency no matter the situation and is a great “no-tech” option for cooling food.
The freezing of food is basically chilling taken to its logical zenith. At least since early and near prehistory, mankind has relied on freezing to preserve grains, vegetables and meats in cold regions and the winter months.
Freezing blocks decomposition by turning the moisture present in food into ice, halting the growth of virtually every species of microorganism responsible for the degradation of food. If you get plenty of use out of frozen food you can thank your freezer for it.
Probably the single biggest advantage to freezing is that no additional work or preservatives are required as long as the food remains frozen.
Reaching a stable temperature of 15° F or lower will completely prevent typical bacteria from growing, and dramatically extend the usable, safe life of the food.
For extreme long-term storage, you can freeze the food at an even lower temperature although this may not be practical in the absence of refrigeration technology.
Every food will freeze but not every food will survive the freezing process more or less intact.
Foods with a modest to low moisture content seem to freeze best and then thaw for preparation with minimal loss of taste, texture, and other desirable qualities.
Foods with a high moisture content or delicate consistency may be rendered unpalatable by freezing, though they’re inherent quality and safety remains intact.
The heating of food is probably the most essential and most elemental form of food storage.
We call it cooking, but cooking really just describes all of the manifold ways that food can be heated, even if we are heating it to make it taste better or prepare it in a new and interesting way along with other ingredients!
Heating food works pretty much the same as every other method of food storage, namely by killing microorganisms responsible for decay by warming them to a temperature where they cannot survive.
No germs, no decay! It should be noted, however, that once the food has cooled down or heat is no longer applied bacteria can once again take up residence and flourish in the food, obviously.
There are as many ways to heat food thoroughly enough to kill germs as there are methods of food storage on this list, and more besides.
All that matters, from a food safety and preservation perspective, is that the food is heated through to a temperature sufficient to get rid of those germs, though obviously choosing the right method for the right food stuff will greatly improve palatability.
Not all sources of nutrition are solids, and if you are dealing with a liquid that requires storage boiling is one of the surest ways to kill any lurking microorganisms.
Most of us preppers are already entirely acquainted with boiling as a method of food storage, though we likely have not ever referred to it as such, and the admonishment that we boil any water taken from a natural source like a river, pond, or lake.
Boiling works the same as any other heating method, pushing the temperature of various microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and others past the point they can survive at which point they die and cease posing a risk to the integrity and safety of the liquid and anyone who might drink it.
Using a campfire, stove or any other typical heat source achieving the sustained temperature necessary to boil a quantity of water, milk or any other liquid requires a considerable amount of fuel but the results are worth it.
Boiling is also a component technique and more complex methods of food storage such as pasteurization. We will be talking more about that in the section after this one.
Canning is a method of food storage that you are probably already well acquainted with, even if you have never employed it yourself.
I will guarantee that your grandparents and great-grandparents did, and you probably have a friend or relative who is into it hardcore, even if you don’t know.
Canning has been in more or less widespread use for a couple of hundred years now, and has long been used to preserve fruits, vegetables, meats, and even dairy products.
Canning food involves placing cooked or otherwise processed food in a sterilized jar that is then sealed and subsequently boiled to kill off any bacteria already present in the food itself.
When done properly, the food then exists in an environment where there are no bacteria and no bacteria can get in, thus radically extending its shelf life with no further refrigeration required.
There are a couple of different ways to implement canning, and the method will vary depending on the item being canned and the resources at hand.
Like every method on this list, canning is an entire skill set unto itself, and one that requires exacting care and quality control processes, particularly in an at home setting.
If you screw up, the food inside your jars will still spoil and the buildup of gas may bust the lid off or even shatter the jar itself.
More unnervingly, certain bacteria can take up residence without any obvious degradation of the food, taste, texture or even appearance but still make you definitely ill or even kill you.
But don’t let that scare you, and as long as you make sure the food going into your cans is properly and thoroughly cooked and you handle it and heat it with the strictest attention paid to requirements canning is one of the single, best methods of food storage available to the common man.
Pickling is probably one of the most delicious methods of food storage on this list, and is the process of preserving food in any liquid which inhibits or kills the tiny microbes that we are always trying to get rid of.
Pickling produces many tasty dishes and foodstuffs, like the quintessential pickle cucumber or pickle that most of us know and love all the way up to such deli counter favorites as corned beef and pickled eggs.
One of the best attributes of pickling is its suitability for home implementation. There are two broad categories of pickling, chemical pickling, and fermentation pickling.
Don’t let those descriptors throw you off. Fermentation pickling works by actually hosting bacteria in the liquid used to preserve the food.
Don’t worry, this is a good bacteria that is going to do us a solid and help us out by producing an organic acid that functions as a preservation agent. Common and popular foods produced by fermentation pickling include sauerkraut and kimchi.
Chemical pickling depends upon a liquid agent of some kind, one that is edible. Salty brine, alcohol, vinegar, and vegetable oils are typical and popular chemical pickling agents.
Compared to fermentation pickling, chemical pickling also relies on heating, typically as a mechanism to ensure that the food in the liquid agent becomes completely saturated with it, eliminating any place that bacteria could hide.
Popular foods produced by chemical pickling include peppers, cucumbers, okra and the aforementioned corned beef.
Pickling at home only requires a little bit of know-how, the right ingredients, and a tiny bit of practice so don’t hesitate to adopt this method today.
Jellying is exactly what it suggests, the preserving of food by cooking it in any material that solidifies into a gel form.
Most folks think of gelatin when they hear the word jellying, and with good reason, as it is one of the most common and popular substances used for the procedure.
Other workable jellying ingredients include maize flour, agar and arrowroot flower although there are various animal flesh-derived proteins that can do the job also, such as those derived from eels and certain worms.
Jellying is most commonly employed in North America for the making of fruit preserves, jams, and traditional jellies although savory jellying preparations exist, including traditional tomato aspic.
It should be noted that aspic is itself a type of preservation, and consists of both solidified gelatin and clarified meat broth.
It has historically been used to preserve cuts of meat or to form a protein meal option for those who struggle to eat any solid food.
It should be noted that jellying meat or vegetables can still yield advantageous preservation even at room temperature, though they are often cooled via refrigeration or other chilling techniques for best effect.
Curing, more commonly known as salting, is the process of preserving and simultaneously flavoring meat, fish or vegetables by adding copious amounts of salt, as you do.
Salt draws moisture out of the food via osmosis, increasing the amount of salt in the food and simultaneously reducing the potential moisture that it can contain.
In essence, this makes food a hostile environment for a variety of microscopic organisms, including those little rascals we have been trying to kill off for the entirety of this article.
Curing is an ancient technique, going all the way back to the early history and remaining entirely common in mass food production all the way through the late 1800’s.
It remains entirely viable today, and several important regional or cultural foodstuffs feature curing as a central method of preparation.
Variations on curing can be done through the addition of dehydration, smoking, sugaring, the addition of nitrates, and other processes.
Although curing has been largely supplanted in our modern world by modern refrigeration and other food storage techniques, it still has advantages all its own, particularly through the use of added nitrates and nitrites.
These chemicals, working together with salt, bond to myoglobin in meats and inhibit the growth of one of the deadliest and sneakiest bacteria, the one responsible for producing botulism toxin.
Curing is a process that is likewise entirely within reach and within the average skill set of most preppers, and it is highly recommended you learn what you can about curing so that you may better preserve meats and vegetables for your supply.
Believe it or not, burying is one of the oldest and most effective forms of primitive food storage known to man.
How? How can that be? How can digging a hole in the soil, filthy, dirty, well, dirt, possibly preserve our food from harm?
The answer is more intriguing than you might think, but as expected it is suitable only for certain foods and use in certain kinds of soil.
Burying functions as a method of preservation through a variety of mechanisms, namely depriving the bacteria that would feast on our food of oxygen, typically lowering the ambient temperature, eliminating light that could reach the food, and sometimes lowering the pH level of the environment around the food and also working to draw moisture out of it.
Basically, the drier and saltier the soil is the more effective that it will be, as will frozen soil.
There are many varieties of burying techniques for food preservation depending on the kind of food being buried.
Root vegetables, as you might imagine, are entirely suitable for burying as they are naturally quite resistant to spoilage under such conditions.
Any food that could similarly do well in a root cellar can likely be buried for similar results. Burying in soil is sometimes used as a step during a fermentation process as discussed above.
As hard as it is to believe even meat can be buried if you know what you are doing. Various cultures throughout history buried meat through a combination cooking process, first cooking the meat atop hot coals that would burn down slowly to ashes.
The cooking, or heating, process killed microorganisms in the meat and the cooling ash served to desiccate it while the soil surrounding it prevented oxygen from reaching any surviving bacteria. Fascinating stuff!
Sugaring is similar to curing and it draws water from the food in question and subsequently dehydrates, then kills, microorganisms.
Sugaring is typically dependent on dehydrating food first and then packing it or surrounding it with pure sugar, either in crystal form or in a liquid or syrup form.
Sugaring is most commonly thought of for the preservation of fruit, which is inherently suitable for the process thanks to the typically high sugar content of most fruits but it also works well for vegetables. Root vegetables are excellent candidates for sugaring, among others.
The biggest shortcoming with sugaring is that sugar, particularly crystalline sugar, attracts moisture and when moisture levels are sufficient yeast blooms may occur, leading to fermentation.
Uncontrolled fermentation does not work nearly as well as the method described elsewhere in this article and will usually result in the ruination of the food you are trying to protect.
Nonetheless, considering the easy availability and low cost of sugar this may be a valuable tool in your tool belt for preserving fruits and veggies.
Confit is a method of preparation and preparation originating in France and consists of slowly cooking food fully immersed at a low temperature.
The food being preserved is immersed in syrup, oil, grease, or its own rendered fat in the case of meat and slowly heated to a relatively low temperature for a very long period of time.
Once the food is finished, if it is not to be immediately served it will be stored in its own cooled and congealed liquid.
Note that other steps may be required for success, such as in the case of meats that require substantial salting to ensure preservation.
Popular foods for confit preservation include fruits, which may be cooked whole or in pieces in the case of larger fruit, and meats, often poultry. Sturdy vegetables such as potatoes, tubers, and other roots are also excellent candidates.
As mentioned above meats are cooked in their own rendered fats at a very low temperature, never higher than 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
For convenience and additional preservative qualities, confit-preserved foods can be jugged, jarred or canned.
In Europe, particularly France where this technique continues to thrive, confit prepared dishes are common and freely sold pre-packaged.
12. Lye Preservation
One of the most bizarre methods of food storage is through the use of lye, and sodium hydroxide, to change the pH balance of a food.
Lye is extremely alkaline, and food that has been treated with lye and subsequently rendered far too alkaline for any bacteria to grow and flourish.
This technique is most infamously utilized in the preparation of Norwegian lutefisk (literally translated to “lye fish”) but less radical methods are employed for olives, to soften them, and even for breads such as bagels and pretzels to produce a glossy, crispy crust upon baking.
Lye can be used topically to wash fruits, vegetables, dry beans, and other foods but relying on it for food preservation is dodgy, even if it has cultural relevance the world over.
Everything from various Chinese noodles and dessert cakes to various Filipino desserts and such North American staples as hominy and grits is produced using lye in production.
The biggest shortcoming for preppers, aside from the risk of producing a food stuff that is positively revolting in taste and texture, is the fact that substantial quantities of food-grade sodium hydroxide are difficult to come by.
“Modern” Food Storage Techniques
Pasteurization is a famous process typically employed in the dairy industry to prevent the spoilage of milk, but it is also been used with great success on fruit juices and other liquids sold commercially for consumption.
Named for the French chemist who invented it, Louis Pasteur, it was actually developed to improve the taste and storage qualities of wine and then later beer and other alcohols, as it would be some years before it was employed and service of milk and other beverages.
Pasteurization works by first mildly heating the liquid in question to around 212° Fahrenheit, thereby eliminating any microorganisms present and deactivating enzymes that contribute to food spoilage, and then cooling it rapidly to around 50° F to prevent the further growth of bacteria.
Subsequently employing proper bottling, canning or jarring techniques increases efficacy and further extends shelf life.
Although it is easy to think of pasteurization as an industrial-scale process employed by massive industries among their many, high-tech factories the basic techniques of pasteurization are accessible and employable by any amateur, home scientist with a little bit of know-how.
If you are relying on goats, cows, and fresh fruit juices for sustenance, learning how to pasteurize them could be a critical first step in extending shelf life.
Cryodessication is nothing but a $25 word for freeze drying.
Compared to typical dehydration that relies on heat, cryodessication is a multi-step process that begins by first freezing the food in question and then lowering the atmospheric pressure around it. Once this is done the ice crystals will evaporate via sublimation. Pretty fancy stuff.
Compared to traditional dehydration, the quality of freeze-dried fruits is notably higher.
Texture, shape, taste, and nutritional value are maintained and the process is so effective that it is found widespread use and acceptance beyond the commercial sale of food.
Though there is an awful lot to command cryodessication, employing this wondrous technique at home will prove to be challenging, owing mainly to the necessity of radically reducing the atmospheric pressure around the food being preserved.
It is far from out of the question, but you’ll need the right equipment to make this happen and the effort involved, to say nothing of the materials, might prove to be not worth the trouble compared to other methods.
15. Chemical Preservatives
Probably the most pervasive, and contentious, modern method of food storage methodology is the addition of chemical preservatives, particularly artificial ones. These preservatives come in two types, broadly.
Antioxidants, which absorb oxygen and prevent the degradation of the constituent components of a food, and antimicrobials, which delay or halt the growth of molds, bacteria, and fungi.
However they are added, whatever their effect on health, there are undeniably effective although the long-term and short-term effects of ingesting food treated with these additives is a hotly debated to this very day.
Each side of the argument seems to have a legion of scientists to back up their claims, and this humble author cannot even come close to beginning to unravel the tangled mess.
For your purposes, the massive uptick and proliferation of organic, natural food have been seen as something of a direct response to the tidal wave of chemical preservatives in our food supply.
But now as always, perception is reality, and though these artificial preservatives might not, in actuality, pose any real danger that is not even a factor for consideration among those who think otherwise.
Vacuum-packing is a process that, as the name suggests, stores food in a ready-made environment that is completely deprived of interior atmosphere and thusly oxygen.
Bacteria, as we have learned, depend on oxygen for survival just like we do and so vacuum-packing suffocate any lurking bacteria and prevents the overwhelming majority of other bacteria from growing.
Vacuum packing is typically employed for foods that are commonly housed in bags or bottles though it can be utilized with certain plastic sealed rigid trays.
Vacuum-packing is quick, efficient, and certain and just as importantly it is immediately obvious when the integrity of the vacuum-packed item has been compromised owing to the change in the state of its container.
Vacuum-packing is regularly employed for commercial food stuffs that are sharply degraded by exposure to oxygen.
Unfortunately, many foods suffer adversely when in vacuum, often deforming, losing flavor, or undergoing a change in texture.
Even so, vacuum packing is accessible on a DIY level for Preppers if you have the right machine, but as with any such modern gadget, it is completely dependent on electricity to operate.
Vacuum-sealing and packing machine will be a boon for supplementing your survival food stash but you likely won’t be able to rely on it in a long-term survival situation when the grid goes down.
The word irradiation conjures visions of nuclear fallout and sterile wastelands, but in our modern time radiation is more often than not a helpful source of energy, not a harmful one and so it goes when it is used for the preservation of food.
Various kinds of radiation bombardment are utilized for this purpose, including high-energy electrons and gamma rays with the result being the total obliteration of parasites, insects, bacteria, mold, and any other nasty gribblies lurking in food.
In fact, radiation is so effective as a method for improving the cleanliness of the food, that it can be used to make so-called “low-quality” foods safe to eat, and accordingly safe to market.
This raises all sorts of ethical and procedural problems since it does nothing to combat the underlying causes of that food being contaminated in the first place.
It is worth noting that some countries have banned the use of irradiation for food storage for precisely this reason.
If you live in a country where irradiation is used for food sterilization, which is currently more than 40 around the globe, take heart because not only is your food not radioactive itself (that’s not how ionizing radiation works) but it is likely to be among the safest and cleanest achievable via technology of any kind.
For obvious reasons, irradiation as a method of food storage will remain completely and utterly out of reach for the DIY prepper.
Don’t even think of acquiring radioactive materials or building a particle accelerator for the purpose!
Food storage is an essential process for maximizing returns on what food you have accumulated via any means.
Only by preventing spoilage, reducing waste, and extending the useful, edible life of the food you have acquired can you hope to withstand natural and societal forces that could disrupt or even completely eliminate the normal food supply.
Methods both primitive and advanced can be employed by a clever prepper no matter what environment you find yourself in, and making the most of what tools and techniques you have available are essential for developing a robust food storage plan.