Saturday, November 10, 2012

Prepping for Beginners Part I – An intro into the basics of food preservation items

NYC's Lower East Side 96 hours after Hurricane Sandy - dumpster diving for food. 

There is an abundance of information and products out there for people who are into preparedness.  For a beginner, all the information and all those different products can become overwhelming.  After witnessing people digging through a dumpster of spoiled food just 96 hours after Hurricane Sandy hit, I’m glad I stuck to it and continued prepping.  But for the novice prepper, those who are just dipping their toes into these waters, it can sometimes almost seem like a different language is being spoken.  In today’s post, we’re going to cover some of the most common items I ran across when researching food storage and demystify them for the absolute novice, as well as covering where to find some of these items without overpaying.

Food grade buckets
You know what they are, plastic buckets that are rated safe to store food in.  I wasn’t mystified as to what they were so much as where to get them.  The prices online seemed incredibly high for a 5 or 6 gallon bucket.  On a whim, we went to Lowes where we discovered 5 gallon food grade buckets MUCH cheaper than anywhere on the internet.  We got the buckets and matching lids for under $4 each.  Check the local hardware or big box stores near you for these items – just make sure they’re food grade. 

A 5 Gallon Food Grade Bucket - Stackable and essential for protecting your investment

Mylar bags 
The only time I’d heard of mylar was for balloons.  Mylar bags come in different thicknesses and sizes; their purpose is to help protect your dry goods such as rice, grains, sugar, etc. from degrading due to exposure to pantry pests, light and oxygen.  Typically, you place your mylar bags of food inside of your food grade buckets for long term storage.  The recommended thickness is 5 mil, thinner than that can let light into the bag and shorten the shelf life of your food.  I tend to use the 1 gallon sized bags over the 5 gallon bags as we live in the South, and I don’t want to expose more of my food to the elements than necessary.  So we package everything into 1 gallon bags and use a bag at a time while ensuring that the rest of the rice or beans or whatever remains fresh. 
You seal them by using heat – there are specially made sealers or you can use the PracticalPrepper2000 – also known as a clothes iron set on the nylon setting.  Works just as well, and it’s a lot cheaper.  I’ve also heard that a flat iron works very well, but I’m not willing to experiment with my Chi flat iron!  Before you seal your mylar bags, you will need to add in…

Oxygen Absorbers 
These a magical thing to me, as I cannot scientifically explain their chemical make up or what makes them work.  All I can tell you is they suck out all the oxygen from your mylar bags and makes for an airtight seal.  No oxygen means no bugs, and your food stays fresher for longer.  They come in different cc’s – I use 300 ccs in my 1 gallon mylar bags; after 24 hours you’ll notice that the bags look like they’ve been shrink wrapped – this is great, it means the oxygen absorbers are doing their thing!

The best prices on mylar bags and oxygen absorbers that we’ve found has been on Amazon, and I take advantage of the free shipping whenever possible.  Some sellers sell the bags and the absorbers together, which is a great thing as you will want to use ALL your oxygen absorbers once you open the bag they’re in, or they loose potency.  We generally build up a supply of dry goods that need to go into the bags and then I fill the bags assembly line style, once all the bags are filled I open the pack of oxy absorbers and then quickly seal them with the clothes iron. 

Mason jars
You all know what they are, but did you know you could store DRY goods in them?  I use pint sized canning jars when I’m storing dry foods, add in an oxygen absorber, put the lid and ring on and get the delightful sound of my jar “pinging” – ensuring that I have an airtight seal until they’re opened for use.  I use pint sized jars for storing bouillon, many preppers use quart sized jars and layer freeze dried or dehydrated foods (like peppers, onions, celery, spices, beans and rice) all into one jar for a quick and easy meal ready to be reconstituted.  We have a local restaurant supply store that has the lowest price on mason jars, but even our local Lowes runs specials on them during canning season (usually in the fall where we live). 
Of course, you can also use your mason jars to pressure can, which is what I use mine most often for.  Speaking of pressure canning…

The Pressure Canner
Pressure canners are really far less intimidating than you think.  I was scared to get one, then scared to use it, because I’d heard horror stories of mishaps with them.  But they are an essential part of prepping in my opinion, and you’re able to can just about everything with them – veggies, sauces, fruits, even meat.  Especially meat!  I won’t knock dehydrated or freeze dried meats, because a protein source is critical for survival, but I would much rather have canned meat any day of the week.  There are guidelines to follow, and methods to canning meat, and they must be followed to the letter if you want to ensure it’ll be safe for consumption later on.  The Canning Granny is a wealth of information on all things canning, and a google search will also bring up the recommended process of canning your items at the correct time and pressure for your altitude.  Most canners come with an instruction book that will also provide you with this information.  For those of you with pets, you can also can your own pet food – remember that preparedness should also extend to our four legged family members, too!  My Mama sent me my Presto pressure canner (Megalodon) from Amazon, and I love it. 

There are a lot of things I’m deliberately not covering in this post, since the goal was to go over the bare bones of food preservation and explain the uses for the various things you will see on many prepper related sites without completely overwhelming you.  Remember – you can’t eat the whole cow in one sitting, but you can eat the whole cow if you have it preserved properly!

Till next time, y’all! 

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