Pretty much all but the greenest peppers know that having supplies and equipment on hand is an important part of being ready for all the many disasters and crisis situations they can get thrown your way in this great, big game we call life. Certainly among the most crucial goods that one can stockpile is food.
Calories are fuel, fuel for our bodies, and having plenty of fuel on hand to keep yourself alive and sustaining energy levels required for all of the many survival tasks you’ll need to complete is a critical endeavor unto itself.
Canned, dried, dehydrated or otherwise, there is hardly anything a prepper adores more than a packed pantry or a well-stocked storeroom full to bursting with heavy shelves full of food.
But what new preppers might not know is how much work goes into maintaining, securing and properly rotating this stockpile of food. For a multi-month or even years-long supply of food, this can really be a job unto itself!
Every minute or hour that you spend rotating your stockpile of food, however important this task is, is time you cannot spend doing something else, so in an effort to maximize your efficiency when rotating your own stockpile we are bringing you eight handy tips to help the task go quicker.
1. Forget About Using the “Sell By” Dates on the Package
Every single item of food you buy in the United States, at least one that comes from a grocery store, will be marked with a date. This date, usually called the expiration date, is often anything but.
Trust me, most things that you buy that are already in a good state of preservation will not be anywhere close to spoiling by this date so long as you store them properly, and keep them unaffected by pests.
This date is actually, much of the time, the sell-by or “freshness” date, a completely arbitrary standard set by the manufacturer or sometimes the seller of the food that is a guideline for how long the food can keep and taste best.
It might surprise you to learn that many things are entirely edible and will even taste perfect far, far after these printed label or package dates.
If you go by these freshness dates as an indicator for when you should rotate your stockpile you’ll be throwing money away hand over fist and also be playing a shell game with an awful lot of moving cups.
You can get more mileage out of your food and have to interact with it less by taking the time to learn but the actual, typical shelf lives are of all the things you buy. That is an entire article by itself, but you’ll be happy to know we have covered it before.
2. Mark and Date Everything
You need to make it a habit to mark and the date every, single, last container of food that you buy and put into storage, whether or not you put it into its container or kept it in its original packaging. This is so you know, at a glance, exactly when you purchased or preserved the food.
We just learned that you can’t trust the printed date on the package as any kind of expiration date, so to better inform our decisions and keep better track of our goods we need to mark them ourselves.
The format is less important than just doing it. I recommend you market with the month and the year purchased, at the minimum, but some people prefer a month, day, year format for maximum accuracy and accountability.
Some folks go a step further and a fix a colored dot or some other coded indicator to the item so they can see at a glance in what quarter the food was purchased or when the anticipated rotation date is.
Everyone has an opinion on these value added indicators, and they might not be necessary for you at all but if they are, by all means do it.
Another thing, make sure you make your mark using some indelible pen or sticker and try to locate it on the package so that it cannot come off or be destroyed.
The flimsy label on canned fruits, vegetables, soups, and the like are notorious for weakening and falling off over time, so I would recommend marking them directly on the medal of the can and also making a note of the contents so you won’t wind up playing “mystery meal!”
3. Chart Your Usage Rates against Your Stock on Hand
Constantly stalking and stashing food is one thing, and if you did nothing else but accumulate more and more over time that would be okay, but you can be far more efficient, save more time, and waste less by charting your food or calorie consumption against the stocks you have on hand, and then calculating what the yield your food supply is in days or calories.
For instance, a single person or a couple living alone will need far less calories than a large family or mutual assistance group.
Their purchases can then be adjusted accordingly, and calculating the calories yielded by the food supply on hand can easily show them how long they can expect to survive on full rations, half rations and so forth adjusting for the anticipated caloric consumption of two adults.
This information could then be leveraged against other factors like space in their home for storage, anticipated trouble on the horizon or anything else. If they needed to quickly purchase a week, months or half years supply of food they would have the information needed.
4. Make it Stackable
Acquiring your food is only one part of provisioning yourself and your home for hard times. The other part is actually storing it! Not as easy as it sounds if you are doing anything beyond filling your pantry up to bursting, and even that can have challenges all its own.
To maximize your available shelf space, or whatever space you are using to store your goods, try to make your food stackable.
It might already come in a stackable container such as a plastic box, metal can or something else, but even if it is a lumpy, misshaping container that is totally unsuitable for stacking beyond one or two items you can place it in another container that you provide to cram more food into the same space while minimizing wasted space.
It might come as a surprise to you, but this is another one of those things that could actually be an article unto itself.
Preppers that are serious about accumulating a massive stockpile of food constantly fret over the best options, be it large Tupperware containers, heavy duty buckets or plastic cylinders or just banks and banks of strong shelving.
Any or all of them can work for you; it all depends on your home and your context. Also, keep an eye on weight limitations because food can get heavy quick!
5. Meal Planning Should Use What is On Hand
This is a subtle tip that can help you make the best possible use of your stored food. Most of us already know that the food you purchase as part of your SHTF stash should be consumed well before it could possibly go bad.
Losing food because it has gone stale, petrified or otherwise spoil is wasteful, and every good prepper abhors waste. There is nothing worse than throwing away good money after bad just to keep food on hand and then never eating it at all.
To prevent this, you should be drawing your everyday food from your stores, and furthermore keep an eye on large quantities of basic staples so you can utilize them in various recipes. This is an easy, painless way to prevent waste.
Before you jot down an item on your get list for your next grocery trip, take the time to consult your spreadsheet for your stored goods, or go take a look to see if you have the item needed or an equivalent on hand.
Other good options are using fruits, vegetables and even things like canned meats or pickled goods in great quantity around the holidays to feed the family and friends, or to take to the church potluck, or even donating your older stock to food kitchens, outreach programs and so forth.
By making use of your food on hand regularly well before it goes bad you’ll avoid the sometimes unpleasant “cram” session that sees you eating can after can of green beans at every meal for a couple of weeks.
6. Regularly Pull Everyday Items from Your Stores
Some folks keep their pantry supplies, or everyday ingredients, separate from their SHTF survival stash.
Maybe they have their food supplies stored well away from the kitchen, perhaps in a basement, out building, bunker or something else. Maybe for a lack of space they have been forced to stash or mousehole their goods and various containers throughout the house.
Whatever the case, they aren’t necessarily convenient to access or even within eyesight.
You know what they say about things that are out; they are out of mind, and that means it is entirely too easy to forgo regular rotation of your stores or drawing from them entirely.
If you have your food stashed in this way, one of your weekly, biweekly or monthly chores needs to be pulling out and accessing your stashed goods to replenish your everyday food supply in your pantry.
This will help make sure rotation is being done at any rate without having to constantly perform a laborious, annoying inventory of food that you have stashed high and low throughout your house.
Also, if you keep track of your food or calorie levels on hand on a spreadsheet or in some other way, make sure you update it after you draw from your stash.
7. Always Use the Oldest Stock First
This is a basic tip that every prepper should know. When buying multiples of anything, or adding an item of like kind to your existing stock, you always use the oldest item first, ensuring that your stockpile stays as new and fresh as possible.
You’ll usually see preppers discussing the topic drop the mnemonic “first in, first out” to reinforce the point.
Put another way, the first item that you acquired should be the first one that you use when it is time to pull something out of storage and eat it.
Assuming you are marking your goods according to the tips I’ve already provided for you- and you are marking your food with a date stamp, right? – this shouldn’t require any calculation or powers of deduction on your part.
Definitely don’t make the rookie mistake of simply pulling out and eating the last item you purchased. Sure, that means you’ll be enjoying the freshest fare for your meal, but the other items you are keeping on hand for a rainy day will be getting older and older!
8. Keep an Eye out for Degradation, Pests and Spoilage
This is a big one, but one that I see time and time again being neglected, even by preppers who should know better.
No matter how much food you have, no matter how you have it stored and no matter what kind of containers you are protecting it with you must regularly inspect and check your food, every item, for any signs of compromise or spoilage.
Failing to do this can have dire consequences when you can least afford it.
There are all kinds of things that can go wrong with your stored food.
Certainly the most common is spoilage, but compromise or attacks by pests, mammals and insects alike, is also a problem and you’ll also need to keep an eye out for degradation caused by blown or damaged seals or adverse storage conditions.
Starting with spoilage, when you are inspecting your food look for any changes or alterations in the container. Any obviously leaking residue or odd greasiness or dustiness is an obvious red flag.
Mold is another big one. For fully sealed and completely opaque containers, such as cans, check carefully to see if the can feels over-full or swollen, potentially indicating a buildup of gases from harmful bacteria inside.
Pests are an obvious and disgusting problem and your best bet is always prevention, but if you figure out that your food has been compromised you should likely throw it out.
Dry goods such as grains, beans, flour and the like will be constantly targeted by a variety of beetles, weevils, mites and other critters and they can usually be discerned by their movement or by the presence of discolored patches or small, black specks that are there leavings.
Rodents are a much bigger problem but thankfully much easier to detect. If you hear any scratching, squeaking, tapping or scuttling coming from inside or near your food storage areas, assume at once that rodents are trying to gain access if they haven’t already.
Look closely in all nearby walls and ceilings for any nibbled holes that would indicate their ingress point. Check along baseboards, shelves and other typical paths used by these creatures for greasy smear marks, droppings or areas worn clean of dust and dirt.
If you suspect rodents you must inspect all containers carefully, as any rodent, even the smallest mouse, can get through plastic and rats are capable of getting through thin metal. Obviously compromised containers or scattered bits of food are proof that it is too late.
Storing large quantities of food is an investment, both in time and in money, and then staying on top of rotating your food to ensure you don’t waste that investment of time or money and keep your stash as fresh as possible can start to feel like a full-time job. It doesn’t have to though.
Using the tips above you can boost efficiency and minimize the time you’ll need to spend inventorying your SHTF food supply.