We always have to start with the base ingredients of what the food is actually made up with. The one thing I always tell people when they ask me questions about where they should start is read your labels. Look for things like hydrogenated oils, soy or any other ingredients that go bad with in a few years. The little secret in food storage is that the product can only be as good as its weakest ingredient. If you find something in your food that only has a shelf life of 2-3 years, then no matter how shelf stable the rest of the ingredients are, it is still only good for those 2-3 years.
Food Storage: Freeze Dried or Dehydrated?
The next element to understand is that while the terms dehydrated and freeze dried are often used synonymously, they are not exactly the same process. In dehydration, moisture is removed in order to give ingredients a longer shelf life, but this can be accomplished through the use of slow heating, among other methods.
While slow heating is a traditional way of removing the moisture, it can compromise nutrient value depending on the foods involved. Important vitamins such as C and some of the Bs will begin to break down, even when low amounts of heat are applied. For some foods, dehydration can be highly applicable, but even when this process will not affect the nutritional value of the long term food storage, the overall process does need to be carefully monitored.
Uneven batches, automated dehydration systems, and inconsistent moisture values in the foods themselves can lead to variable quality of the long term stored food. That is also magnified when you are selling food for long term food storage, the process needs to be completely on point.
In order to overcome some of the variable that can come up with dehydration, some food storage companies will add chemicals in with the food packaging, in order to wick up any remaining moisture. This can also have a nutritional impact on the quality of the food and affect flavor.
Freeze drying foods is another form of dehydration, but it utilizes nitrogen gas to essentially “flash” the ingredients for a quick and immediate removal of moisture. This process is preferable with ready to eat meals, which can have a variety of ingredients with different moisture retention rates, but it is also used with single, bulk ingredients. One of the benefits to freeze drying is that it does not impact the nutrition of the food in the same way that slow heating can, and it also does not require any chemicals to be left in the packaging.
Tin cans seem to be the most common type of packaging but recent studies have shown that can lead to high BPA levels and the metal on the container can and will eventually rust through and let the elements into your food. Can corrosion can also effect your food storage. Food reacts chemically with the metal container, especially high-acid food like canned tomatoes and fruit juices. Over several years, this causes taste and texture changes. It eventually lowers the nutritional value of the food.
Other things to look for is packaging, this isn’t always the easiest thing to see because many products now come in the large white buckets. While the buckets look good they are not what actually is protecting the food from the elements. When you open up the bucket you will notice that the food is individually packaged in plastic or Mylar type bags. This is crucial to long term food storage because if your packaging fails your food will spoil long before its shelf date. A few things I like to look for is the quality of the bag itself. Is it flimsy and folds easily? That’s a bad sign, look for solid, quality bags at least 5.4 mm think so it will stand the test of time. I also really like the re sealable option so you can one use a little at a time and still seal off your food.
Just like everything seems to be in the world, food storage may take a little more time then we first thought. Now that you know what to look for you can be better prepared and educated to help you and your family be ready for whatever this world throws at us.
James Tolboe is a lover of the outdoors, a believer that we should all be ready for any situation. As an owner at Valley Food Storage he believes that people should be informed about their food storage. Visit his site at Valleyfoodstorage.com and see how his company can help you today!