As we strive to reduce the environmental footprint of our food system, more of us are learning how to garden and to produce at least some of our own food. However, with producing our own food comes the challenge of what to do when we have an overabundance that we aren’t able to use right away. Generations before us were very skilled at preserving this abundance and living off of that extra food when other food supplies became scarce. Today, many of us are spoiled in the sense that we have abundant food resources available to us for purchase at grocery stores. In ages past, there were no grocery stores that people could visit to buy the food that they needed, and there was no refrigeration. Fortunately, in today’s world, we have what those from ages past did not have: modern technologies that can help facilitate the task of long-term food preservation.
The best ways to preserve food for long-term storage
- Dehydrating. Dehydrating food can be done by using an oven, an electric dehydrator, or by the sun using a solar dehydrator. Many different types of foods can be dehydrated, including fruits, vegetables, and even cooked meats and jerky.
Storing your dehydrated food in a dry, moisture-proof container in a cool location with an oxygen absorber will ensure the best long-term storage.
- Canning. Home canning is a great way to preserve food for long-term storage. Canned foods can be safely eaten for as long as the seal holds. However, with each passing year, the nutritional value and overall quality of such canned foods will deteriorate, so it is best to rotate these foods and replenish them with each new gardening season.
Always be sure to follow the most up-to-date canning recommendations to ensure the safest and healthiest home canned goods, such as through the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Center for Home Food Preservation.
- Vacuum sealing. Vacuum sealing using special vacuum sealing appliances is a way to dramatically reduce the oxygen in a food storage container that allows for the prolonging of the viability of stored food. However, there can be risks that arise from improperly stored vacuum sealed foods, so be sure to do your research from reputable sources, such as this one from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
- Dry storage. Many different dried foods can be stored for many years, including wheat, white rice, corn, sugar, dried beans, rolled oats, pasta, potato flakes, and non-fat powdered milk. Store such foods in a dark, dry, and cool (below 75 ℉ (24℃)) condition, and be sure to protect them from insects and rodents through the use of PETE bottles, foil pouches, and #10 cans.
For safe and effective long-term storage, dried goods must be thoroughly dry to avoid botulism bacterial growth. Also avoid the long-term storage of dried foods with a high fat or oil content, such as dried eggs, nuts, and brown rice, as such foods can become rancid over time. Adding an oxygen absorber can aid in the long-term viability of dried goods.
- Seed Saving. While seed saving is not a long-term food storage method that you might typically think of, it truly is an excellent way of storing food for the long-term, because you are saving the potential for producing food for years to come. By saving some seeds from the best and most resilient plants from your garden each year, you will have the opportunity to grow your favorite varieties year after year. You can even pass on favorite varieties of seeds to your children and grandchildren as many generations of heirloom gardeners and farmers have done before you!
Tips for long-term optimal seed storage:
- Keep your seeds in cool, dark, and dry conditions.
- Keep your seeds in moisture-proof containers, such as a mylar bag or a mason jar, or repurposed medicine bottles. Ziploc bags can also work in a pinch. Store with a desiccant or an oxygen absorber to help prolong seed storage.
- Be sore to rotate seeds every few years to ensure the highest level of seed vitality.
- Your own saved seeds should be thoroughly dried and then placed in their storage containers. Be sure to label your container with the seed’s variety and the date that you harvested the seeds.
- To be sure that your saved seeds are still viable prior to planting them, you should perform a seed germination test.