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How To Store Food In Hot & Humid Climates

Editor’s Note: This article is included in the newly released offering from Off the Grid News, The Big Book of Off the Grid Secrets. Featuring over 50 of the best articles from 2011, this is one reference book you will definitely want to keep handy! You can find this latest book at www………………

Food storage, food storage, food storage. It can begin to sound like a broken record. But it is one of the single best things you can do to protect your family no matter what comes down the proverbial pipe. But if you live in a hot and humid climate, such as the Gulf Coast regions and southeastern United States, you have special challenges to deal with.

The Good News
In some respects, the challenges you will face are nothing compared to the benefits. Unlike the northern United States, you will be able to grow fresh food most of the year without much trouble. Once you find that perfect schedule of what to plant and when, you could get a steady stream of goodies with several harvest times. If you really want to be creative, you can even implement winter gardening to ensure that you have harvest times throughout the whole year.

To maximize this benefit, keep your food as fresh as possible for as long as possible. You can do this, even in the heat, by creating a “cooler” made from two basic terra cotta pots, one larger than the other. Put the smaller pot in the larger one, fill the gap with sand, and saturate the sand with water. Then cover it with a cloth. To add additional insulation from the heat, bury the pot up to its rim. The evaporation of moisture from the wet sand will cool the air around the food and help keep it fresh.

Only use this type of cooler for fresh fruits and veggies though, as grain, beans, and long-term food storage is damaged by moisture, as we will discuss next.

The Bad News
Now for the downside of your chosen domicile. There are four enemies of food storage: light, heat, oxygen, and moisture. The southeastern parts of the United States have lots of all four. So your job, as a food storage aficionado, is to reduce these things as much as possible, wherever possible.

The easiest one to deal with is light. Since you will also have to contend with heat and moisture, do yourself a favor and eliminate the light issue all together. Make sure your food stores are not out in the open, but instead neatly packed away in your root cellar, basement, or pantry cupboards. If none of these options are available, at a minimum, avoid putting your food near a lamp or window, and throw a blanket over it.

Seal It
You can eliminate two threats in one by dehydrating your food, and then vacuum sealing it. The dehydration obviously takes care of most of the moisture, and the vacuum sucks all the air out of it. Invest in a good food grade system to process your food this way. Saving a little to buy a cheap vacuum sealer will hurt you in the long run if the quality is poor, since your food will be more likely to spoil and you would have lost your investment in the food.

This works best for fruits and vegetables. You can vacuum seal beans, rice, and just about any other food too, though there may be better solutions for those types of foods. The downside of this method is that food does lose some of its nutritional value from dehydration, so you will not want to use this method exclusively.

Store your food no matter what type of climate you live in — this widely popular DVD series will show you how!

Can It
Traditional canning in mason jars is probably one of the best known food preservation techniques, and one that has been used successfully for a very long time. Pressure canners allow you to can a wider variety of food than traditional water bath canning, since it seals the food at a higher temperature. Of course, this has the same problem as dehydration, since some of the vitamins are destroyed through the process.

There is another option for canning goods that does not have this problem, though it takes a little more forethought and planning. This method works especially well for grains and beans which you don’t want to cook ahead of time, and can preserve food for up to 30 years. You may want to use glass jars that you have saved from foods you eat every day. You can also visit your local restaurant to see if they have leftover food-grade plastic buckets, or purchase large food-grade barrels. Once you have your containers, you will also need O2 absorbers, and ideally, Mylar bags.

Put the food in the jar, bucket, or barrel, add O2 absorbers, and seal airtight. This is one reason Mylar bags are helpful as you can use them to line the container, and then seal completely shut with a clam shell heat sealer. In a pinch, an iron (without steam) or flat iron like you use on your hair will work too for sealing the Mylar.

Mylar bags, O2 absorbers, and a good food grade bucket or glass jar, you will eliminate the light, moisture, and oxygen all in one. Then you only have to contend with heat.

Freeze It
The most obvious way to get rid of heat is to freeze your food stores. You will not need to remove the air, though it may still be helpful to vacuum seal food in order to prevent freezer burn. Light and moisture are non-issues as well.

Despite all its benefits, freezing foods has several major drawbacks. First and foremost, freezers are not the cheapest form of square feet. Freezers are expensive to buy, and could break and need to be replaced. You also run the risk of the freezer accidentally being unplugged or turned off and the food spoiling. Finally, freezers require electricity, so a back-up power source would be needed, and you would not want to rely solely on anything electric for your food stores, even if you do have an off-grid power source. There are just too many things that could go wrong.
Of all the elements that damage food, heat tends to be the least of the evils. So as long as you are able to minimize oxygen, moisture, and light affecting your food storage, even in higher heat, you should be able to successfully store food for 3-5 years at least.

That being said, there are lots of things that you can do to keep your food cool even in a hot climate.

• Find the coolest room in your house – a shaded northeast corner is probably the first place you should look if you do not have a basement or root cellar.
• Ensure good air circulation and put in fans to cool the air of the space.
• Keep any lights off in the area unless they are absolutely needed.
• Use air conditioning in your home
• Install a geothermal system to optimize both your heating and your cooling

No matter where you live, it is important to store food, and to store it in a way that you won’t lose your investment through mold, rot, botulism, or oxidation. Even if you start small with one glass jar and a few oxygen absorbers, or by purchasing a few extra canned goods, start somewhere so you will be that much closer to being ready no matter what the future holds!

 

 

©2011 Off the Grid News

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15 comments

  1. Great information…we have some freeze-dried packets and have been discussing where to keep it…this really helps!!!!!

    • I live in Southern Utah and have been in Arizona where it is really hot…The pioneers here used this idea… they would build a cabinet, cover it in chicken wire and then potato sacks. They would have a large container of water on tip and drape potato sacks into the water and hang down over the outside. The wind will blow threw the wet sacks and cool the temperature down.

      I have used this on my ranch for the past 10 years… It works great and we have jello set during the day. I have pictures of what we have… can’t ad them here.

  2. I hope I don’t sound foolish or really underinformed about such things, but here goes. I don’t like to store drinking water in plastic containers for long periods of time. I thought of using mason jars, but does the water need to be “canned” – or in some way preserved to stay somewhat fresh? Thanks for the information

    • Yes, the water you store will need to be sterilized first or it will grow interesting vegetation.
      You can do this by boiling the water, then pouring into clean jars and sealing immediately (invert the jar to sterilize the lid) or by chlorinating to 10ppm; use an eyedropper and put in 2 drops of household bleach per quart of water.

  3. One thing that really helps against the heat is to attach foam insulation panels over the walls and ceiling in the room you are using to keep your food storage. I went one step farther. I added a 5 1/2 foot wide room on the north side of my garage which ran the whole length of the garage and opening into the garage. I super insulated this room including the side next to the garage. I have shelves down both sides with room enough to walk down the middle. Works great.

  4. Food storage is on top of my list this year. All the signs are there, we know the storm is coming…the question is just how long we have before it hits, what we’ve done to prepare ourselves for it and how bad it will be.

    I recommend that you go to http://www.shelfreliancesanantonio.com to get your long term food storage. The food is great, the prices are low and they ship it right to your door. They even have a food planner to help you get started.

  5. As far as storing water, PEET plastic works well, but if you prefer glass (an obvious drawback is that it is breakable), you could certainly use it. There is no heat process needed to store water, but a drop or two of bleach is a good idea. It will keep things from growing in your water since all water has some living organisms in it. Water that you’ll use for washing, etc can be stored for a long time. Drinking water should be changed out every year or so. For short-term storage (like hurricanes which we see in my neck of the woods) or black-outs, etc. you can fill your bathtub up before the “storm hits” and use that water for things like flushing toilets and washing dishes or your hair, etc. Again, drinking water is another beast and your best bet is probably to BUY drinking water and store it on a rotation basis (use the older, buy and store newer). or you can go here: http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/programs/extension/publicat/wqwm/emergwatersuppl.html
    Lots of great info on storing water and even on purifying outdoor sources, should it ever come to that.

  6. I think (true) root cellars should be discussed at greater length. They will keep food safe from both cold and heat and can be dug with just a shovel, sweat, and scrounged materials.

    Barring digging a separate cellar, segregating an area in an existing basement and insulating it with foam, sawdust or shredded newspapers between double walls will go a long way toward creating a stable cool room. While not as good as a refrigerator, a cool room will keep fresh produce, dairy and meat a surprisingly long time.

    • Basement and root cellars are impossible where I live (Houston, TX), due to the high water table, soil composition, and the fact that our rain tends to come in big flooding spurts. Even the best built underground structures flood.
      Living in a rental with a few window AC units, room temperature of 80- 85 degrees much of the year, my biggest challenge is tomatoes. They go mealy in the fridge and can go bad, while attracting gnats, within a day in the pantry,
      Any suggestions?

  7. I want to get a food saver machine and would like to know which one to buy. Do any of you have a suggestion?

  8. Howdy,
    I wanted to share with you and your readers how I built an underground root cellar in my backyard.
    First I marked out a rectangle on the ground measureing 8’x12′. Then I set to work with my posthole digger and dug a 6″ wide trench 6 and a half feet deep all the way around. Next I tied rebar mats and slid them down in on all four sides. I used 8′ chainlink posts as digger handles after about 4′ of depth. Then I lined the inside of the trench with 1/8 inch masonite paneling and poured the trench full of concrete.
    A couple of weeks later I had a friend come over with his backhoe and dig out the center. That produced about 25 cubic yards of dirt, (which I used my father-in-laws Bobcat to scatter over the back half of my large lot.)
    When I poured the concrete walls I embedded redwood 2×4 “sleepers” and leveled them on all four sides. Once the inside was dug out I peeled the masonite panels off exposing a very smooth interior wall. I dug a sump hole in the corner deep enough to put a 5 gal. bucket in which has 1 inch holes drilled around the sides near the bottom and a float operated sump pump place in it. I poured half the floor in concrete and put a layer of gravel on the other half.
    When that was done I placed floor joist across the 8′ way and built a garden shed on top of it. The ceiling of the cellar is paneled with 1-1/2 inch styrofoam sheets and there is R-19 insulation between the floor joists. A trap door in the floor provides access to the cellar. I installed two 3 inch diameter ceiling vents and two 3 inch diameter cold-air inlets at floor level to help with air exchange.

    I live in the Sacramento Valley where summers can be very hot, and the cellar temperature is usually around 50-55 degrees and colder in the winter.

  9. If I am sealing bags in Mylar with a heat sealer and oxygen tabs, can’t I use non-food grade buckets such as the ones from WalMart or Home Depot?

  10. We have a good source of organic flour and a possible one for wheat. We need to know the best way to store each one. We know you can store wheat for 20-30 years. How long can you store whole wheat flour? How do you do it?
    We’re in our 70’s and have taught our children the things you teach. Now we’re working on our grandchildren to be prepared for their children.
    We love your newsletters and products. Keep them coming.
    Rod & Jean Mize from AR

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