Monday, October 11, 2010

Long-term food storage solutions *

A big part of managing our food budget has been minimizing waste. This family wastes an appalling amount of food. We are doing better than we used to, but still it's not good. Buying in bulk is a waste of time, money and space if you don't even use all the food you buy, and if it isn't stored properly, by the time you DO eat it, it will have lost a lot of its flavor and food value.

We have a medium-sized chest freezer, about 15 cubic feet if I remember right, and if I am careful, it can hold a lot of good stuff. But that means dumping everything out every so often and sorting it and repacking. I should do this about once a month but don't. I usually wait till the lid won't close right and it's getting everything frosty and by that point it's not just  a simple matter of sorting, it means a full-blown defrosting, and that's no fun.

Anyway I was already interested in finding a better way to store bulk flours and grains. Judy Laquidara mentioned offhand "gamma seal" lids numerous times on her blog and I was too embarrassed to ask what they are. I finally checked into them and they are just one of the wonders of the modern world! They are a 2-piece lid that fits nearly any standard 12-inch-diameter plastic pail. You know, the ubiquitous 5-gallon buckets that you can get from bakeries and delis and such? With the horrible lids that rip your fingernails off when you open them? No longer. You put the gamma seal lid on these and you have an airtight seal that is EASY TO OPEN. Amazing. There's a ring that you hammer onto the rim of the lid, and then the other half of the lid is a screw-on seal that is very easy to manage. Airtight storage. No critters are gettin' in there, no sirree. And they stack neatly.

Here's a nifty video that explains it very clearly:

I ordered mine from Baytec Containers, which had the best price I could find for smallish quantities when I figured in shipping (they use 3 carriers and ship the cheapest, which for me was FedEx Ground).

I found when I put mine on my buckets that it worked best to push one part of the seal ring down really hard till it snapped into place, then use a rubber mallet to pound it down from there all the way around, moving a couple of inches at a time. I first tried using the mallet on opposite sides of the ring, but the ring kept popping off the opposite side from where I was hammering. I thought, "Oh no, they say it fits virtually any 12-inch bucket, I must have found the mutant bucket it won't fit!" No, it was just user error.

By the way, I got mine in red. Are you surprised?

And the other thing I wanted to tell you about was that I found an eBay seller who sells 4-1/2-gallon square buckets with lids and handles, food grade plastic (though he doesn't call them that, but they are, I know from the manufacturer's website), that he sells 5 for $19.99 postpaid. Four bucks each. Now the lids are good, though not gamma-seal good; they're decent for sealing packaged foods. What I'm doing with these is I'm sorting the deep freeze into them. So one bucket is vegetables, one is fruits, one is poultry, one's fish, one's red meat, et cetera. They sit down in the bottom of the freezer providing nice vertical dividers to keep everything sorted out. Plus, if I want to search through one, I just grab the bale handle and yank it out of the freezer to look through it without upending myself into the deep-freeze. I am really happy with this idea. And with my particular freezer, I can stack them two high and they fit just right. No more losing stuff in the deeps.

Note that the buckets had glass beads in them originally. The seller cleans them nicely before shipping them, and I washed them again when I got them, but if you have any concerns about them not being food safe, just use them for packaged foods, like I do, rather than, say, filling one up with flour or grain, though honestly they would be such a handy way to store stuff like that in a deep freeze. But that's what the gamma seals are for.

By the way, if you want great tips on food storage, make friends with a Mormon. :o) It's an act of faith for an LDS family to put away food against coming catastrophe, and they have made an art of it, collecting practical ideas for storage and food economy even if you don't have much storage space. I have been offered excellent tips by a friend of mine who is LDS.

Buying in bulk and making it work requires that you find a system that meshes with  your daily life. The gamma seal lids are a good example of this. If it is a huge ordeal to store your flour in a 5-gallon bucket, are you gonna do it? I'm not. Losing fingernails is strong negative reinforcement. But if it's easy? And it even comes in my favorite color?! You betcha I will.

* By the way, when I say "long term storage," I mean, like, a year or two. I googled something related to that and found out that to a good number of people, "long term sotrage" means 20-30 years and/or after the Zombie Apocalypse. So don't take this blog post too seriously if you are really into long, Long, LONG term storage. You'd need to have oxygen absorption packs and Mylar bags and that sort of thing in your packaging if that's what you are doing.

We eat too much around here to store it up for that period of time. I would make a terrible survivalist. I'd eat up 5 years' worth of supplies in about 2 weeks.


Catherine said...

Maria this is a great post. Thanks for the tip on the buckets and the lids. I HATE those other lids.

We closed in the space under our stairs and turned it into a pantry. The extra bedroom has shelves and another closet that we use for storage too. Under the bed is a good place too except that bending and I don`t get along!

Maria Stahl said...

Yeah, thinking outside the box on storage space really pays off! Who says all the pantry type stuff has to go in an actual room that is only a pantry and nothing else? Under the stairs is an excellent space. I have also seen people put their household safe beneath the bottom step, with the access being from the front of the riser. Pretty clever. Who would think to look THERE?

I do better with under-bed storage if 1) I raise the beds up a few inches on those plastic bed riser things, 2) have all the underbed storage containers on wheels and 3) attach leashes so I can just yank on the leash and have it roll out so I can get to it easier.

SusieQT said...

Great post. I struggle with losing stuff in our freezer also. I keep frozen foods in clean milk crates, sorted by color, like a blue crate for fish, yellow for poultry, etc. but I still lose stuff down in the depths!