There are only two things food needs to spoil—oxygen and moisture. Oxygen and moisture allow the growth of microorganisms that make you sick, this is why we eliminate moisture and oxygen when preparing foods for long-term storage. Doing this yourself, dehydrating, canning and storing, is a long process, requiring expensive equipment and a lot of time. Alternatively, you can buy prepackaged freeze-dried or dehydrated food supplied in #10 cans. A #10 can is the exact same as a soup can, just bigger. Freeze-dried foods packed in #10 cans will stay viable stored away for 25 years or more. Even though #10 cans are sealed and impermeable to air and moisture, there is a proper way to store your long-term survival foods.
Experts recommend storing long-term foods on shelves in a cool, dry place away from sunshine. The ideal storage temperature is between 72 and 65 degrees with no humidity. For those living in dry, cooler climates—storage isn’t a problem, but not all of us live in areas where houses have basements. Some preppers, like those of us in Texas, store our preps in detached garages, attics or an outside storage building subject to extreme temperatures.
#10 cans left in cardboard cases in a humid climate are subject to rust. Varmints such as mice, squirrels and bugs will eat through the cardboard and make nests in between your cans. Their excrement creates a corrosive environment, quickly causing the steel cans and their paper labels to degrade. If you are planning to store long-term foods in an area where you cannot control the temperature, pack your #10 cans in 55-gallon, food grade poly drums.
Here is how:
1. Before beginning, think through your process.
Organize your #10 cans into meals. In each 55-gallon drum, you will want breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. The 55-gallon drum will hold 39 cans—four layers of eight cans and one layer of seven cans—each standing on top of the other. Considering caloric needs, individuals’ tastes, nutritional value, special dietary requirements, and variety, mix menus per layer. For example, on the first layer—or bottom layer of your drum, place one can each of beef stew, corn, crackers, raspberry crumble, macaroni and cheese, ground beef, pears and green beans. These eight cans will provide a family with two meals, dessert and a snack. Build complete, balanced meals per layer so you can remove and prepare the food you need layer by layer without having to open a second drum. For more on survival meal planning, read Survival Meal Planning.
2. Organize and prep your storage and work space.
Our 55-gallon drums went into a wooden garden shed, four barrels wide, with some drums stacked on top of one another. Depending on the size of your storage area, you have quite a few things to consider:
- How much weight will the floor of your storage area bear? Inspect the joists underneath your outbuilding or look for screw heads in the floor. Store the drums along this line for more strength.
- Will the lid of each drum hold up to being stacked on top of each other? If not, do not stack your drums.
- Are you able to move the drum around by yourself or do you need a partner? The drums themselves are not very heavy and #10 cans are lightweight. However, once packed full, moving the drum will most likely require either a dolly or a team lift. In a pinch, you can roll a drum along the ground turned on its side.
- Will you have room to get the drums out once put into the storage area? Do not pack your shed so tightly that it will be difficult to remove the drums. Further, leave space between the drums to allow air to circulate.
3. Pick the correct 55-gallon drum.
Use only food-grade, open top poly 55-gallon drums. Unused drums are preferred, but used ones will work as well, as long as you clean them thoroughly before using. Start with a clean and spotless drum. If you found previously used drums, clean them out with soap and hot water. Make sure the drums are completely dry before packing them with your #10 cans. Any moisture inside the drum will stay there once you seal it and over time will rust your cans.
4. Pack your drum.
Using your menus from step one, start packing your drum with #10 cans. Write down each can’s contents, expiration date and calorie count as you go. Take the first eight cans and one by one, place them in the bottom of the drum in a circle. The eighth can goes in the center of the circle. Continue with this pattern for four layers. The fifth layer will consist of only seven cans due to the slight taper in the top of the drum.
5. Create a gasket seal with industrial grade plastic wrap.
Using industrial-grade shrink wrap available at packing and shipping stores—plastic kitchen wrap will work in a pinch—circle the top of the loaded drum’s lip with three rotations of the plastic wrap, allowing for half of the wrap to be inside the drum, and half of the wrap on the outside of the drum.
6. Seal the top of the drum.
Put the lid on top of the drum. You might have to press the lid down in order to fit the plastic wrap gasket. Plastic wrap the drum’s lid and the drum like you did in step five. Letting half the wrap cover the outside rim of the lid and half the wrap covering the top of the drum, wrap the plastic wrap at least three times around. Place the steel ring of the drum’s lid onto the drum and lid forming the seal that holds the lid on. Shrink-wrap this steel ring the same way you did the gasket and sealed lid in steps five and six.
7. Label your drum.
With a permanent marker, list the contents of the drum on the outside of the drum and then number the drum. You should have written down inventory while you packed each drum. Once finished packing all your drums and storing them, create an inventory list. Keep a master copy of the inventory in your important documents with the contents and calories per layer in each drum. During a disaster or emergency the combination of stress, hunger, exhaustion, and anxiety will be high causing unclear thinking. Not to mention, time and exertion will be at a premium. Doing all the labeling and inventory list making now cuts down on stress, confusion and potential fighting.
Drums may swell during hot months and contract during colder months. This is a normal occurrence and since the drums are so durable, should not cause any issues. However, all the drums should react to the extreme temperatures the same way. If drums labeled one and three are swelling, but number four or two is not, it is a good indication that the drum’s seal is not airtight. Inspect the drum, seal and lid for problems. You might have to reseal the drum.
Storage of survival supplies is always a topic of conversation for preppers—especially for those of us who are urban dwellers where space goes for a premium. Here I have supplied one safe way to store long-term food supplies. In our wood garden shed, we packed enough food for two people to last six months. Of course, you can pack any number of 55-gallon drums as your storage space will allow—even one drum in the pantry or closet contains enough food to last for a month.
For more on stockpiling food and survival caches, read the following blog posts:
- Caching Food
- Introduction to Stockpiling Non-Perishable Food for Novice Preppers
- Building a Year’s Supply of Food Storage
- Long-Term Gun Storage
How do you store your long-term food supplies? Share your tips with others in the comment section.