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HEALTHY Long-Term Food Storage Options

Storing food for emergencies is an important job. What is the best method to preserve food? I’ve already covered how to store grains, long-term storage of meat, protein, and oils, and the longest-lasting vegetables. Today, we’ll cover preserving food naturally. 

I’m not ready to spend hours per month checking my food stores, rotating supplies, and making sure I’m ready for anything.

I just want to feel a little more ready for something.

My goal in the preparedness series is to explore the basic idea, give you some baby steps to getting started with some stored food, and maybe see if I can get a few simple actions on my own to-do list.

I want to marry storing food for emergencies with healthy, real food eating. So we’ll discuss the pros and cons of various sorts of food preservation through that lens. 

What are the Best Methods to Store Food? 

The best real food preparedness planning, in my opinion, happens naturally in your week and doesn’t take a bunch of extra time, energy, or too much information. The philosophy should be:

Store what you eat, eat what you store.

Therefore, it’s important to figure out how to store foods you naturally embrace eating anyway.

RELATED: Preserving Apples

So what is the best method to preserve food? It really depends on what your family regularly eats. We’ll explore each of the following for storing food for emergencies: 

  • Canned foods
  • Canning at home
  • Dehydrating
  • Freezing
  • Lacto-fermentation
  • Dry bulk storage

Let’s briefly walk through the pros and cons for each method of storing food for emergencies.

Best Canned Foods for Long-Term Storage

One of our earliest Monday Missions around here was to make a simple switch from eating canned vegetables to fresh or frozen because of the plastic lining that leaches into the food. (BPA free has just been replaced with BPS it’s uglier stepsister!)

However, canned foods may have their place in disaster/emergency preparedness. Just don’t forget to make sure you have a manual can opener in case the power goes out.

Advantages of canned foods for long term storage:

  • Long-term storage without electricity
  • Can eat without needing water or a heat source
  • Generally inexpensive
  • Simple

Disadvantages of canned foods for long term storage:

  • Lots of nutrient loss (except in tomatoes, legumes)
  • BPA (and other nasty endocrine-disrupting plastics like BPS) in can linings (except in the rare brand or glass jars, but pricey)
  • Added salt
  • Can have other preservatives, MSG, sugar, or chemical additives, especially if you try something beyond the basics like soup or meals
  • Waste generated by the cans themselves

Nevertheless, it may be wise to keep some canned beans and canned vegetables other than tomatoes around. Still, it’s not the best method to store food. 

Storing Home Canned Food

I haven’t done a lot of canning myself, but I’ve dabbled a bit with canning tomatoes.

Many people swear by home canning for everything, others prioritize those things that won’t result in a lot of nutrient loss.

Instead of fruits and vegetables, they can beans, tomatoes, and homemade stock. Beans and stock require a pressure canner!

Advantages of storing home-canned food:

  • Saves money
  • Can preserve garden produce
  • Can eat without water or a heat source
  • No electricity needed to store
  • Avoid BPA of store-canned foods
  • You know exactly what’s in there – no weird additives

Disadvantages of storing home-canned food:

  • Takes time and know-how
  • Loss of nutrients in fruits and vegetables (except tomatoes)

If you’re interested in storing home-canned foods, here are some resources:

Storing Dehydrated Food Long-Term

I’ve used my Excalibur dehydrator for over a decade. It’s a staple in the Kimball household.

Storing dehydrated food long-term is one of the older methods of preservation, and one worth learning if you can.

Consider borrowing from a friend or learning to dehydrate with your oven if you don’t have the funds (or storage space) for a dehydrator.

Advantages of storing dehydrated food long-term:

  • Little to no nutrient loss
  • Takes very little space to store
  • No electricity needed for storage
  • Can preserve garden produce
  • Can eat without water or heat (fruits and meats)
  • Can purchase dehydrated foods, but pricey
  • Portable food
dehydrated greens

Disadvantages of storing dehydrated food long-term:

  • Special equipment and know-how required
  • Some things can’t be dehydrated
  • Taste loss with some items
  • Needs water and heat to cook (vegetables)

How to dehydrate:

What am I missing? Do you have any unique real food dehydration “recipes?”

Freezing

I have often admitted on KS that I dearly love my freezer. It helps me save lots of money so I can Eat Well, Spend Less, but there are some issues to consider when thinking about an emergency.

Advantages of freezing:

  • Easy to use
  • Can freeze entire meals
  • Meat tastes as kids and husband expect
  • Little to no nutrient loss
  • No loss of flavor
  • Can preserve garden produce
  • Can eat some items without heat or electricity

Disadvantages of freezing:

  • Requires electricity, therefore cost, every second of the day
  • May lose food if power is out more than a day or so
  • Limited storage space
  • May need heat to cook some items
  • Cannot take food with you
  • Breaking glassware that you overfill….

How to freeze for long-term storage:

Great comparison of the cost-effectiveness of preservation by canning, dehydrating or freezing from Whole New Mom.

Lacto-Fermentation

There are numerous health benefits of eating fermented foods. I’ve made lacto-fermented pickles, and fermented apple salsa (neither of which my family liked very much.)

Here’s a throwback to my first recipe video where I made lacto-fermented homemade mayonnaise. 

fermented sauerkraut

I regularly ferment vegetables like making our own kimchi

If you can’t do dairy (the lacto part of the ferment), you can typically double the salt. 

Advantages of fermentation:

  • Increases nutrition of whatever you’re preserving
  • Can preserve garden bounty
  • Doesn’t require electricity or much cost to accomplish

Disadvantages of fermentation:

  • May need to get used to the flavor
  • Doesn’t last very long
  • Requires some cold storage, either refrigeration or a really good root cellar (therefore electricity) after 14 days

Dry Food Storage

Buying foods in bulk not only saves money but ensures that you’re not running to the store before a snowstorm, right? Here’s the unique ways I store pantry items.

dry food storage in glass jars

Advantages of dry storage:

  • Simple
  • Requires no electricity
  • Long-term
  • Food is ready to use
  • Some foods (nuts, dried fruits) can be eaten without heat
  • Portable

Disadvantages of dry storage:

  • Space limitations
  • Vermin issues
  • Grains and legumes require water and heat source to cook

How to store dry goods:

Storing Food for Emergencies

The best method for storing food for emergencies is getting ahead on a variety of foods your family regularly eats! Each way of preserving food naturally has its pros and cons so I recommend doing some of each. 

What foods will you stock ahead on?
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

30 thoughts on “HEALTHY Long-Term Food Storage Options”

  1. i was looking into canning spaghetti sauce and learned that even though it’s tomato based, it must be pressure canned since it has other vegetables in it. Apparently only if it’s just tomatoes can it be water bathed

  2. I wonder how you would go about canning homemade enchilada sauce? Would it need to be pressure canned?

    1. It would depend on the acidity level as to wether it could be water bathed or need a pressure can. I know some university extensions will take submitted recipes and test hem for acitity and ingredients so you know how to safely an a home made recipe. I would do some seahing online, that is where i have found my info. I just freeze mine.

    2. Julie,
      If it’s tomato based, chances are you can water bath can. BUT. Don’t ever try to can anything without a tried and true canning recipe, in my opinion. Here’s one for a sauce that you can learn from: http://heartlandrenaissance.com/2010/08/creole-sauce/

      Good luck! 🙂 Katie

      1. I want to sound a note of caution here. I have plenty of recipes that are tomato based but need pressure canning.

        The problem is that tomatoes are right on the borderline of “acidic” and “not acidic”. Home canning of plain tomatoes involves adding an acid – lemon juice – to make sure they are below pH4.6.

        I would recommend being extremely careful, and only using tried and true recipes that add an acid to the sauce. Botulism is not your friend 🙁

  3. We keep canned goods on hand and buy them when there is a good sale. (Right now we have a mountain of canned beans and peas that were given to us. We’re working on storing, giving, and eating them.)
    I also can whatever grows well or is available for a good price. I focus on making those things that are most expensive to buy and that we use regularly. We love home-canned salsa, jams, applesauce, blackberry vinegar, tabasco sauce, and syrups. It’s so nice to have a ready supply of these. However, I do need to keep using them so I’ll have space (and jars) for the new harvest each year.

  4. this is great! i really want to delve into canning and using my dehydrator more because i have been realizing that we aren’t really prepared for even a minor disaster that would involve loss of electricity. i do buy dried goods in bulk, but most of that would still need water and electricity to cook. we make our own peanut butter… i am wondering if someone knows a good way to can it for preservation without having to use a fridge. ideas? also, what are the best veggies to dehydrate? i have dehydrated some fruits and herbs, even granola and nuts/seeds, but haven’t really delved into the veggies yet. i would love feedback!
    my recent post: another bold step forward

    1. Charis,
      I’ve no clue on the peanut butter, but it’s a great question. We’ll talk veggies on Friday, so watch for that post! 🙂 Katie

  5. Katie,
    This has been a great post of information. I’m about to do a stock up of one weeks worth of food and water. Just to get us started. I’m excited to start canning and having that as a part of my stock.

    I also wanted to say Thank You so much for your Family Camping Handbook. My family is going on it’s first camping trip and this has eased a lot of my fears by having your ebook to reference. Our first trip is fairly close Algonac State Park. Pray for me!

    1. Rana,
      What fun! I’m so glad the camping book was helpful – it’s time for a re-release 2nd edition of that baby! 😉 Katie

  6. In addition to legumes and grains, there are many crops that store “as is” in the ground, in a root cellar, or in an unheated dry storage room. Since I’m in WI, I deal with plenty of winter, too, but I still manage to eat from the garden much of the year. Oh, nuts in the shell store quite a while, too. (I scored a bunch of walnuts from a neighbor last fall.)

  7. Lisa @ Stop and Smell the Chocolates

    Wow – lots of great info! I do need to have more food stored than I currently do and really need to try out more of these methods myself.

  8. when canning veggies and fruit, if one uses the juice/water for gravy or sauce, the nutrients will not be wasted.

    great post! very informative!

  9. Amy @ Homestead Revival

    Katie, great overview! I’m really hoping to work on building a root cellar specifically for the purpose of storing food long term and for keeping lacto-fermented foods and cultured dairy products in the event of an electrical outage. I’m hoping that I can achieve the right temp in there – I already have a friend who is a mason researching it!

    Like you said, food storage should be a part of your every day life so it isn’t something you feel is a big burden, but a part of how you live. Having a garden at least 3 seasons of the year would really curb how much “storage” has to take place. That’s my ultimate goal!

    1. Aw, we have 3 seasons of “winter” here in Michigan. 😉 My grandmother’s house has a real root cellar; wishing I lived closer and could take advantage of it!

  10. Canning, esp pressure canning, is a great way to stockpile foods for later use. I spend most of the summer running a canner full every night or two. Fruit, veggies, tomatoes, meat, it all gets canned. Esp with game meats like venison, you just lightly fill a jar with meat, no added water and can it in the pressure canner. The meat is very tender, but not overly so, and is much less “gamey” in flavor. I hate canned veggies from the store, but home canned veggies are so much better. You can store lots of food in the freezer, but I often run out of room quickly when I have several chickens and whole turkeys in there plus some items like squash and zucchini just don’t can well at home so I freeze them. Home canned items are shelf stable for 18 months at least. We do stock up on dried beans and rice, and canned tuna and some chicken. We also have some milk powder. No, it is not the ideal way to eat long term if you don’t have to, but that’s the point, you may have to some time in the near future. Fresh is best, but if we start having panics in the grocery stores because of food shortages and rising prices, I know I have the food my family will need at home for the most part.

    Traditional Ball and Kerr canning lids do contain BPA which contacts the food during canning. If you want to get away from that and still can, Tattler lids are a two part lid that is reusable and although it is plastic, contains no BPA. On the high end you can purchase Weck jars, the standard in Germany and Europe, which have glass lids and a rubber seal. If only I understood metric measurements, sigh.

    I have a fairly significant “stockpile” and it really doesn’t require all that much time to maintain it. I stock up when prices are right, and can as much as possible in the summer and fall. I date everything with a big black marker with a month and year, and always put the oldest items in the front so they get eaten first. I have honestly never lost anything to mold, staleness or expiration (and most expiration dates on canned items like tuna really don’t mean much, they can be eaten way past that date as long as the can is still sealed.)

    I think the main part of preparedness is knowing what to do with your stock, ie can you cook from scratch, can you garden and preserve your produce, can you hunt or fish and know how to dress and preserve game?

    1. Rebecca,
      I’m a newbie when it comes to canning. I would like to buy a pressure canner. Do you have a preference?

      1. Rene @ Budget Saving Mom, a canning maestro, recommends the one I linked to in the post here, All American. There are some important safety features on it, for starters…
        Good luck! 🙂 katie

      2. I have a Presto 23 qt canner with a dial guage. I have heard good things about the All American, but it is more than twice the price of the Presto, so maybe when I need to move up. Presto has been made in the US for over 100 years and makes a solid product. I like this site for great reliable canning infohttp://www.simplycanning.com/index.html. She also teaches canning classes and has used regular jars, Weck all glass jars and tattler lids, so she is very well versed in canning know how.

        I was a little scared getting into pressure canning, one hears all sorts of horror stories! But our moms and grandmas have been pressure cooking and canning for decades safely. Even the most basic pressure canner comes with a manual, read it and know it before starting. As long as you follow the standard guidelines for canning veggies and meat, it is very safe and easy, once you do it a few times.

        Pressure canners can also be used to water bath can, so you don’t need a separate one for water bath canning. The process is different though so the times are not the same.

    2. Katie (PuraVida Homesteader)

      My Grandparents and Parents used to hunt for us. My parents I think have lost interest or stamina, not sure which.
      My Grandma used to can Salmon – so awesome! Never thought about canning other game. Just need to enlist a hunter…

  11. Stuart Carter

    I take issue with “nutrient loss” with canning.

    There should be no more nutrient loss than when you cook the food. Hot water bath or pressure canned foods are shelf stable for decades, albeit the nutritional value will start to decline… after a couple of years!

    1. Stuart, Canned foods compared to, say, lightly steamed vegetables or raw fruits, however, have far fewer nutrients, especially the heat sensitive vitamins like E.

      1. Katie (PuraVida Homesteader)

        Apparently tomatoes can “take the heat” and still be nutrient rich. I’m thinking I may just freeze or dehydrate the rest in order to maintain nutritional value.

      2. Most people don’t eat raw food. A lot of people have very little access to raw food. Plus, some foods are indigestible in their raw state (dried beans make good gravel substitutes O.O). Some nutrients only become available to our bodies after cooking (nixtamalised corn versus corn on the cob).

        So saying that canned foods lose nutrients is an incomplete picture. That was my main objection.

        1. Most people have access to fresh food, they simply choose not to eat it. There are community gardens free to anyone in almost all major cities. Growing produce in containers for apartment dwellers is done quite well and easy to reasearch. For the majority of foods that could be canned, they are more nurtient rich in their raw state. There are some exceptions, as there are with anything, but your objections to the information provided are petty.

          1. Stuart Carter

            Apparently the concept of “food deserts” has escaped you, Mrs S. No, there are not community gardens available free to “anyone in almost all major cities”. And I stand by my comments: raw foods are not necessarily good for you, due to nutrients not being bioavailable without cooking.

  12. Katie (PuraVida Homesteader)

    THIS is an AMAZING resource! All the things I’ve been trying to do and learn more about, or want to try to do and learn more about, complete with links!!! Thank you for taking the time… You’ll be able to write an e-book about this and sell it. You summarize things well and in an orderly fashion. Thank you! 🙂

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