I am going to go through everything you would need to know to set up a food storage supply that would provide enough for one person for 1 year and could last up to 25 years if properly stored. I’ll cover the specific food and storage items you should buy, where I bought these items, how to properly store them, and where to store them all. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you’ll need…all the guesswork will be removed. I worked with a consultant on this article that has been prepping since the 1970s and she’s shared a lot of lessons she’s learned over the years while storing food that we’ll cover.
I realize it can feel a bit overwhelming when you start. There’s a lot to do and to buy. But just remember, you can move at your own pace and don’t have to buy everything at one time, but rather over time if you so choose. So let’s jump in.
So here’s what we’ll cover:
Before we jump in, let me point out that there are 2 types of long-term food storage pantries: a working pantry and a long-term pantry. A working pantry is rotated on a constant basis following the old prepper adage of “Eat what you store and store what you eat”. Our family tends to eat fresh food we prepare each week but I wanted a food backup supply if there were a major, prolonged disaster. So I went with a long-term pantry approach, which I’ll detail in this article, which mostly contains food items that can be stored for 5 to 25 years. Some of these items we don’t eat on a daily basis, some we will and we’ll rotate these items, so really what I’ll outline here is a hybrid approach with a focus on long-term food storage. But how you rotate or use your food is completely up to you. Regardless of which type of pantry you ultimately build, the principles we’ll layout will still apply.
How many calories does a person need to survive each day? The general rule of thumb is around 2200 calories per day, but many factors have to be considered such as gender, age, weight, and activity (this is the important one). If you were to multiply 2200 by 365 (the days in a year), you would get 803,000. This is the target we’re aiming to hit for calories.
If you divide the amount of food we’ll cover by 12 (the months in a year), you will have the following each month to eat: 66 lbs of grain, 20 lbs of beans, .83 quarts (about 24 oz.) oil, 10 lbs sweetener, 2/3 lbs salt (less than 1 salt container), and 4 lbs milk.
What I’ll cover next is based on ONE adult person. If you have more than 1 person in your household, don’t get dismayed but scale this up accordingly. All the information I’m about to list is in this spreadsheet, so don’t feel like you have to copy all this information as I go through it. If after reading the items I selected you decide you have different tastes or prefer different choices, again, by all means, change to what you want.
800 pounds of grains. I went with 300 lbs of white rice, 20 pounds of corn, 400 pounds of wheat (and you’ll need a wheat grinder), 50 lbs of oats, 15 pounds of barley, and 150 pounds of pasta. I went a little over 800 pounds, but again, adjust the numbers as you see fit.
240 pounds of beans. I went with 120 pounds of pinto beans, 30 pounds of red kidney beans, 100 pounds of black beans, and 15 pounds of split peas.
10 quarts of oil. This would probably be enough for a family. Oil is one of those items you need to make sure you properly rotate on a regular basis as it can go rancid. I went with olive oil, shortening, coconut oil, and butter powder.
120 pounds of sweetener. This can include white sugar, brown sugar, Karo syrup, maple syrup, Jams and Jelly, and raw honey. Not only is honey a sweetener, but it also has medicinal value.
8 pounds of salt. This seems like a lot and could probably be used for your family. But remember salt can be used for preserving food.
50 pounds of milk. Milk is so versatile. You can use your powdered milk to make sour cream, cream cheese, bread, cereal, or faux cheese.
25 pounds of juice or beverage sweetener. You can store large cans of powdered punch, lemonade, or Tang. Your taste buds will thank you.
20 pounds of meat. If one serving is about a quarter pound, this will be 80 servings. At 20 pounds, you’ll be eating meat about once every 4-5 days. I plan on freeze-drying a lot of meat this year to boost this number up. For now, I have a lot of canned chicken and SPAM.
90 pounds of dry fruit/vegetables. This is a quarter pound of fruit or vegetables a day for a year. Most cans at the store contain 15 oz. Not quite a pound, but close enough. 90 lbs of fruit equal approximately 90 cans.
Spices. Spices help add variety to your food so you don’t experience food fatigue. You’ll probably want to consider adding the following:
For the food I purchased, I would say about 75% of what I bought was purchased at Costco. The rest I picked up at Sam’s club, Winco, a few items at Honeyville.com and Amazon.com. If you don’t have these stores in your area, many of these items can be picked up at large chain stores like Walmart or Target. In the spreadsheet, I list out where I got each of the items so you can prepare your shopping list before heading out.
For the shelves, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers, I purchased all of these on Amazon. Some of the items like the buckets, storage bins, and shelves can also be purchased at your local stores. Pro tip: if you contact your local bakeries, they may have food-grade buckets that they’ll give to you as they often discard these.
Where should you store the food in your home?
Food lasts longer when stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Heat reduces the lifespan, so don’t store your food in a garage or attic. I am using a downstairs closet that stays relatively cool throughout the year and is dark. Ideally, you need to store this somewhere that is under 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also store buckets under a bed or in other, out-of-the-way locations. Get creative, but try to avoid anywhere with a lot of heat, sunlight, and moisture. You can read more here about temperature and the impact on your food. Just remember, the cooler, the better.
Mylar bags, buckets, and storage totes
There are a few ways to do this, but you have to factor in a setup that allows you to remove the oxygen and at the same time protect your food from rodents. You can store food directly in food-grade buckets as long as you have an airtight lid with oxygen absorbers. For me, since I’m storing this long term and many of the items probably won’t be consumed unless there’s an emergency, I am adding the food to mylar bags, placing them in food grade buckets, and then adding oxygen absorbers directly in the mylar bags before sealing them up. While you can buy bucket lids with seals, I would hate to open a bucket only to find out the seal deteriorated. Some of my smaller food mylar bags will be placed inside of totes. These are items that I will likely use in the near future and are easier to access using the items in the small bags. Again, make sure that you’re putting the mylar bags inside of a hard storage container to prevent rodents or pets from gaining access to the bags. Our cat chewed through a few of the mylar bags in the past sitting on a shelf, so you have to watch out for this. Can you use mason jars with oxygen absorbers? Yes. But plan on the lifespan being shorter as they will have exposure periodically to light depending on how you store them and canning jar lids typically have a lifespan of 5 years.
Before adding food to your mylar bags, be sure to label them. Nothing is worse than adding food to a bag and then sealing it and forgetting what you put inside. I typically write on the mylar bag and then on the bucket including the food item, the date it was added, and the weight. Defining the weight isn’t necessary, but I measure the weight of each bag on a scale just so I can inventory this information.
How to add food to mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and sealing the bag
Let’s start with 5-gallon mylar bags. Now that we’re ready to add the food to the mylar bag, typically what I do is the following. First, I try to do a batch depending on how many oxygen absorbers I will be using. For example, if I am going to be opening a bag containing 10, 2000 CC oxygen absorbers, I try to line up the mylar bags with the food already in them based on how many 2000 CC oxygen absorbers I’ll be using. Let’s say I have 5, 5-gallon buckets that have beans in each of the mylar bags. In this case, I’ll be using all 10 of the 2000 CC oxygen absorbers in these 5 buckets, 2 for each bucket. Some food items require more oxygen absorbers, such as pasta and beans which have more space in between each item while items that are more tightly packed like rice require fewer oxygen absorbers. Here is a link detailing how many oxygen absorbers you’ll need for each food item…it’s really easy. Just look up the food item and it will show how many oxygen absorbers you’ll need based on the size of the mylar bag you’re using. Once you’ve determined this, move to the next step.
Now that you have the items ready to go, fill up the bags with the food, then to make things easier, seal off the mylar bags about ¾ of the way with a regular iron at around 350 degrees for 4 seconds. I use a level from home depot which has a hard edge allowing me to iron on top of them. Just hold the iron in place for 4 seconds. No need to move back and forth like you’re ironing clothes. I seal off ¾ of the way so that before I add in the oxygen absorbers, I’ve already sealed off most of the bag and I can simply push out the air and seal off the rest with something like a hair flat iron at around 350 degrees. Be sure to look at the indicator that comes with them which will indicate whether they’re still good or not. The pink color on these specific oxygen absorbers indicates whether they’re still good. Your color may be different, but just look at the indicator to make sure they haven’t gone bad, otherwise, it defeats the purpose of what we’re doing here.
Once I’ve lined up my buckets, I fill them up most of the way leaving a little space at the top to push the bucket lid down and then sealed off ¾ of the mylar bag. Now we’ll open the bag that holds our 2000 CC oxygen absorbers, then drop them into each bag based on how many oxygen absorbers that bag needs which we discussed a moment ago, and then seal them off one by one, and then you’re done. There’s no need to vacuum these bags before sealing them off. Any bacteria or larvae inside the food buckets will need oxygen to survive. The oxygen absorbers take care of that problem. What’s left behind is mostly nitrogen which will not support life. If you feel like vacuuming all the air out, go for it, but it’s not necessary at all. If you aren’t going to use all the oxygen absorbers, you can put them in a small mason jar with a sealable lid. Just fill the jar up with rice leaving space at the top for the oxygen absorbers. The rice will displace most of the air so the oxygen absorbers won’t take in much.
For the smaller bags, I follow the same approach but I have an impulse sealer. Again, I just line the bags up, drop the oxygen absorber in, push the air out, and then seal them off. If you don’t have one of these devices, follow the same exact approach we referenced above with a regular or flat iron and seal them off. I typically store these in a storage tub you can buy at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, etc. I like to put the smaller food items in this that I can quickly grab and use.
Inspecting the bags after sealing them
Come back a week later to make sure that the oxygen absorbers did their job and these bags have shrunk in as the oxygen absorber has absorbed the oxygen. If after you come back a week later and the bags are not shrunken in, simply cut a small slit, drop in a new oxygen absorber, push the air out, and then iron it to reseal it. Repeat the cycle until you confirm the bag is sealed.
Remember, some food items such as beans and pasta have more space in between them and the oxygen will more easily be removed whereas items that are more tightly packed like wheat and rice will take time to get all the oxygen out so give them a little more time.
A note about rodents and insects
Some people put their food in a freezer for a few days to kill the larvae in their food. Yes, the food you buy at the store has larvae in it. Others use diatomaceous earth. If you find moths in your closet where you store your food, pick up moth traps and try to figure out where they’re coming from. Regarding rodents, again, be sure to store these mylar bags inside of hard containers to prevent rodents or pets from chewing on these bags plus the plastic containers makes it easier to move these and for stacking.
On my storage racks, I have added labels on each level. Also, on the side of the storage bins, I’ve added labels as well. I do this so that if there is an item we need to find, we can simply type the food item in the spreadsheet search and look at the corresponding column to find out where that item is stored. Obviously, if you have a small storage amount, you may not need this, but as you grow your inventory, it would be a smart idea to think ahead to have some system of organization. I’ve got a QR code on the wall to load the spreadsheet even faster.
I also add a label outside of the side of the buckets and on the top so I know what’s inside.
You also need to consider what recipes you’ll have on hand if there’s no internet and you need to cook based on the items you’ve stored. A few books you may want to consider are:
Of course, the question will come up: how will you cook all of this and where will you get all this water for cooking? I’ve done a number of videos covering different ways to cook after a disaster and water storage.
Again, I worked with a prepper that has been doing this since the 1970s and we’ve tried to boil this down to a firm foundation that if properly followed, you can easily build on top of this and make modifications where you want. I tend to be the type of person that likes to line things up and knock them out at once so that I’m not having to think about it anymore. I spent a few days shopping to get all the food and storage items and spent another few days putting up the shelves and storing away the food. But if you want to work on this over time, then, by all means, go that route. Move at your own pace. The key is to not procrastinate and instead get it done. There is a sense of security that comes with knowing you’ve got the food items properly stored away. You and your family have the security of knowing you’ll be fine.
If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comment section below.
As always, be safe out there.