Food Preservation Techniques For SHTF

By: Lora Duarte

What would happen if you had no electricity due to a natural disaster or EMP? That reassuring hum of the refrigerator running in the background just gone?

What would happen if you could no longer purchase food from the store because of an interruption in the supply chain?

How would you feed yourself? Your family?

Wouldn’t it be better if you had shelf stable food items stocked up already? Food you had been able to preserve yourself…

As summer starts to wind down and fall crops are planted, I find myself in the kitchen, consulting various guides to help me preserve the bounty from my garden.

My freezers are packed, so I must find other ways to keep my food from spoiling. I am alright with this, as I otherwise worry that the electricity may fail with the next thunderstorm that rolls through. After all, this is a fairly common occurrence where I live, so my fear is not unfounded.

As convenient as it would be to have one of those freeze drying machines- I can’t help but to think of how expensive they tend to be. I mean, come on now, a lower end model still costs about $2,000. I feel my money is best spent elsewhere. Plus, I’ve never found the texture of freeze dried foods all that appealing. Reminds me of chewing on a sponge. Yuck.

Although there are many methods to preserving foods, other than freezing, I currently use dehydrating and canning to help keep my food from going bad.

Dehydrating is nice because it removes moisture from foods, allowing them to be lighter and take up less room when stored. I like to dehydrate vegetables, herbs, and spices to use in soups or help flavor meals. I also like to make fruit leathers and dried fruit slices for healthy snacks. You can make jerky in a dehydrator, though I personally haven’t taken that step yet. I have a dehydrator that runs off electricity, as well as an oven with a dehydrating setting. Yay me!

Well, at least ‘yay me’ while I have propane and electricity. I am experimenting with air drying peppers. They are currently hanging from my cupboards on twine like non-functional, pepper-shaped Christmas lights. My fear is that it is too humid an environment where I live to be able to successfully air dry produce without it getting moldy or rotting. If I still lived in a high desert climate, I’d have no worries about air drying as a method to preserve foods.

Canning allows you a multitude of options on what you are able to can, and how to can it.

Dry goods, such as flour, pasta, rice, and dry beans can be oven canned. This process is done by placing the dried goods into jars. The jars are put into the oven on a cookie sheet to prevent them from falling over, and heated up at a lower temperature for a certain amount of time. Then the jars were taken out of the oven and a lid and ring are put on and quickly screwed into place. As it cools, the lids will seal.

Oven canning is used to help kill any bug eggs or larva that may be in your dried goods, and seals it to prevent anything from getting into them afterwards.

Another way to can dry goods is by vacuum selling them. This can be done using a food saver machine or a manual automotive break bleeder, and those food saver jar sealer attachments for wide mouth and regular jars, if you have no power. This process works for items you can oven can, as well as for sugars, chocolate chips, and other heat sensitive goodies you want to protect from the elements or pests.

Water bath canning is probably the best known method since making jams or pickles is popular for homemade gifts to give out during the holidays. Here in the United States, it is recommended to water bath can only high acid items such as fruits, pickles, and tomatoes. In other countries, water bath canning is the only method available, so they also process low acid foods that way, but that can take hours to do.

I must admit, I am nervous about pressure canners and very new to using one. Pressure canning is used for meats, vegetables, beans and legumes, as well as other low acid foods. Pressure canning is recommended for low acid foods due to the fact it heats them up to around 240°F which helps kill the bacteria responsible for causing botulism poisoning. Botulism poisoning can be fatal. You cannot see, smell, or taste the botulism. If you are worried and really want to make sure your items are safe to eat, then it’s recommended to boil it for 10 minutes before you consume it.

I pressure canned green beans for the first time just a couple weeks ago. I swear they taste better than store bought. It amazes me at the variety of foods that can be pressure canned, and I look forward to doing ready to eat soups and meat in my canner. What better way to preserve food so you don’t have to worry about spoilage if the power grid goes down for a week or two?

Storing food in jars helps extend their shelf life as well as give you a way to easily check what you have in your inventory. Jars are also reusable, unlike vacuum sealer bags. However, vacuum sealer bags are a great way to store snacks or food you plan on taking in your bug out bag in an emergency. (Photo credit: Lora Duarte 10/2018)

Canning can even be done over a grill or fire if need be. I believe steam canning is similar to water bath canning, but you don’t need to use as much water. Steam canning may be the route to go if you have a limited amount of water to use.

I should point out that there are a few downsides to canning though. The first downside can be the initial cost in regards to purchasing the canner(s), jars, and other various canning supplies can be pretty high, especially if purchasing brand new. It’s best to start building your stash slowly while learning so you don’t get in over your head, emotionally or financially.

The second downside can be space. Jars and canning equipment can take up quite a bit of room, which may be a problem if you are limited on the amount of space you have to store them, such as for those who live in an apartment or tiny house. Also, since the jars contain some liquid, they may bow your shelves off they are not sturdy enough. Just think, a quart jar can hold approximately 4 cups, about 32 fl oz, on top of what the jar itself weighs.

The third downside I can think of is that your canned goods wouldn’t be practical to take with you if the need to bug out arises (like fleeing from a fast approaching wild fire for example). The reasons they wouldn’t be good for bugging out is that they are made of glass. Breaking one would potentially result in you receiving a laceration that may require immediate medical attention. Also, as previously mentioned, they contain a fair amount of liquid/weight, which makes them heavy to carry for any extended length of time.

Other methods of preserving are salting and smoking. I’ve heard of people salt curing foods such as meat and eggs. The food is put in a container (like a wooden barrel) and completely surrounding it with salt. The salt helps draw the moisture from the item(s) and kill the bacteria that would otherwise cause to food to spoil. This method was a popular way to preserve meats before the refrigerator was invented.

Smoking meats helps to preserve them since the smoke creates an acidic coating on the meat. This coating inhibits the growth of bacteria. Smoking meats helps to remove excess moisture (basically dehydrating it some) which can also prevents bacterial growth. Let me just mention that an outdoor smokehouse is on my future to-do list, because I would love to expand my food preserving abilities.

As you can see, there are many different ways to preserve food so that you can be prepared for even a temporary power loss. Also, several of the methods I mentioned can be done long term even if you don’t have electricity.

I do highly suggest you research and practice the various food preservation methods you intend to use. You don’t want to be trying to preserve food last minute as the lights go out, especially when you can no longer Google things like “at what temperature, and how long, do I smoke a pig to keep the meat from spoiling, ” or “at what weight, and how long, to pressure can pints of green beans.” Having physical books on your preferred preservation techniques would be ideal as well. However, nothing beats actual experience.

Thank you for reading my article here on The Patriot Institute. This article is based on my opinion. If you feel I’ve missed a way to preserve food, or you want to discuss the methods I covered in this article, please feel free to open a dialogue in the comments section. Good luck with preserving your food.