Food Storage Methods

I’ve talked about buying prepackaged long-term storage food, like Mountain House or Food 4 Patriots, but there’s another way. Buying foods that come in 20 lb. or larger bags. We’ve gotten sugar, rice, flour and dried beans in 20-50 lb. bags from Sam’s Club. We walked through a COSTCO to check it out and didn’t see anything like that. We didn’t join because it’s too far from our home and we’d have to drive past 2 Sam’s Clubs to get there! We used to be able to buy sugar, rice, flour, pasta, dried beans and dried fruits and vegetables from a place called “Bishop’s Pantry” and were also able to get Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers for breaking the larger bags down into. The pantry is run by the local Mormon Church, but they have stopped letting non-members use their facilities. At least in my area. You can check in your area, if there’s a Mormon Church there will be a pantry. Call them and see if you can buy long-term storage foods from them. Can’t hurt to ask. If not, you can find some items, like flour, rice and beans at Sam’s Club for sure. Mylar bags and the oxygen absorbers are available on the internet. Huh! I’ve even found everything on Amazon!  You can find anything on Amazon anymore.

We do have one of those Food Savers, but the bags they use are plastic. It’s heavy weight and double layer, but still transparent plastic. The Mylar bags are metallic and come in different thicknesses, but the thicker the better. It lessens the chances of something sharp puncturing the bag. You will need to use an oxygen absorber in each bag (except sugar) to remove the oxygen from the bags to prevent bugs or molds from ruining what’s in the bag. These are little flat packets that you just drop in before sealing the bag and work by replacing the oxygen in the bag with nitrogen. Don’t ask me how they work, I just know they do! The oxygen absorbers are a superior choice for flour over a vacuum sealer, they don’t suck the air out which then coats the area you’re trying to seal and that prevents it from sealing. Not to mention it can be really messy!

So, what’s the purpose for all this extra work and expense?? And how does it all work?? Let’s use a 50 lb. bag of dried navy beans for our storage item. To answer the first question: unless you’re cooking for 100 people, you won’t use all 50 lbs at once. And, you probably won’t be making navy beans everyday for the next couple months, either. Bulk beans are packed in bags that are usually just heavy paper and, as such, are susceptible to moisture, bugs and rodents. Even if that bulk bag were to be made of plastic, as soon as you open it you have made what’s inside vulnerable to the same harm. By breaking down the larger bag into several smaller ones, you are protecting the majority of what you aren’t using from degradation. Now, for the second question: it will sound pretty complicated, but it really isn’t once you get in there and do it. What you’ll need to have ready are: the bulk item you’re going to bag, enough Mylar bags to put it in (this depends on how much you’re bagging and how big the bags are. Anyone who sells them can help you figure that out), a sterile scoop to transfer the food from the bulk bag to the smaller bags, the unopened package of oxygen absorbers (keep them protected from the air as much as you can!) and a way to seal the bags once you’ve filled them. What we use for that last item is my iron (pre-heated) and a 3 foot long aluminium level from when we were hanging drywall and finishing our house. The iron has to be on the highest heat setting. Make sure your work space is as clean and sterile as you can get it. It doesn’t have to be as sterile as an operating room at a hospital, but it does have to be clean. You’ll also need a couple clean towels to keep the open end of the Mylar bag wiped off so it will seal. This is a two person job, too. After you open the 50 lb. bag make sure it’s propped up against something so it doesn’t fall over, I don’t think you’ll want to waste the product by having it end up all over the floor. Or have to spend the next hour cleaning it up, either! One person will have to hold the Mylar bag and keep it open at first, the other person responsible for the bulk bag uses the scoop to fill the Mylar bag to within about 3 or 4 inches from the top. Do NOT over fill the Mylar bag! You have to be able to lay it flat, have enough room left at the top to seal it and keep everything from falling out when you lay it down to seal it. That will just take practice, it did for us. After you get it “filled”, quickly open the pack of oxygen absorbers, take 1 (one) out, re-close the pack and throw the absorber in the Mylar bag. Either person now carefully lays the bag down with the open end laying on the metal object you’re using and using just the edge of the iron’s hot surface seals the bag. Don’t stay on one spot of the bag for too long or you will melt it! Keep the iron moving for about 20 or 30 seconds going all the way across the entire Mylar bag. Stop and check it it has sealed, if it hasn’t use the iron again. You only need about a 1/2 in. high sealed stripe on the bag. Any less and it may not hold. Any bigger and it’s a waste. Make sure you write on the bag before you fill it with what’s in the bag and the date you sealed it. At first, only do 2 or 3 Mylar bags, re-close the bulk bag, turn the iron off and lay the Mylar bags aside. Within an hour or two you should be able to see that all the oxygen has been removed from the bag. You’ll be able to tell because you will see the lumps of the beans and the bag will be as hard as a brick. If there’s still oxygen in the bag something didn’t work right. Check that the seal on the Mylar bag holding, if it’s too thin when the oxygen is removed it can break the seal. If that’s the case, you’ll have to cut the bag open, remove some of what’s in the bag so you have that 3-4 in. headroom, put a new oxygen absorber in it (the old one will be spent at this point) and re-seal it. If the seal hasn’t been broken, then your problem could be your oxygen absorbers are bad. Try putting one in just a regular zip top bad, flatten as much oxygen out of it you can and close the zipper. You should see the remaining air start getting sucked out immediately. If you don’t see that, then they are bad. They were either bad when you got them, in which case contact who you bought them from. Or, you left their package open too long and ruined them. In which case, you’ve had a Learning Experience. Buy new ones, be more careful and start over. After your 2 or 3 trial bags are sealed with all the oxygen removed, pat yourselves on the back. You’ve just made some long-term storage food! From here, you have several choices on what you can do with the bags. We still put a second layer between the food and the weather or pests. We keep our Mylar bags in 20 gallon storage totes and 5 gallon buckets with sealed lids. There’s another purpose behind this, they’re easier to carry, too. We have friends who have bought trashcans or even those big blue barrels for storing water and filled them with the Mylar bags. If you do want to use a Food Saver and their plastic bags, you will have to put the bags in something else. And don’t get all grossed out by a trashcan!! They are brand new and are still clean!! I’d still want to wipe down the inside with bleach!! 🙂

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