Today’s post has been contributed by food storage expert DonCarlos Wells. Enjoy…
Brandon Scott is a prepper’s prepper. When he’s not being mistaken for a member of the Duck Dynasty crew, he can be found buying, selling, bartering, trading, and generally preparing for the inevitable collapse of the US economy. For Brandon, it’s simple math. By varying estimates, the US taxpayer is in debt to the tune of several trillion dollars. That can’t go on. And like many of us, Brandon has seen the warning signs and prepared his family accordingly. A successful businessman in his own right, Brandon owns his own home, is a husband to a beauty queen, and father to three intelligent children. He takes their well-being very seriously. Additionally, Brandon sees the moral imperative to warn his neighbor. So if you get him talking about the Constitution and the proper role of government, be ready to spend an afternoon learning.
Four years ago, having already prepared his suburban Utah home with food and water stores, he was shocked by what he found one morning in his basement. Like any good prepper, Brandon knows that you have to rotate your food supplies. Nothing lasts forever. But what he found stunned and angered him. He pulled out a number 10 can of pancake mix to make breakfast for his children. This particular can, from a reputable food storage company, was sealed in 2007, and had an advertised shelf life of ten years. This was 2010, only three years into the supposed shelf life, and this can was bulging at both ends. Curious and somewhat infuriated, Brandon took the can, and several more like it that he found after digging through his stores, to the School of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science, in the College of Life Sciences, at Brigham Young University. He had just one question on his mind: How could this have happened?
His meetings with graduate researchers, tenured professors, and food scientists led him on a six-month journey of scientific research and discovery that opened his eyes and gave him an insider’s perspective of an industry rife with shady business practices, exorbitant margins, and downright deceit and corruption.
Armed with his newfound knowledge, Brandon set out to fix what he found in order to ensure his family’s survival when the shit hits the fan. Thus was born Eden Valley Farms.
I left my position as a US Army Officer in November of 2013. I had met Brandon just before I joined the Army in 2010 and we became fast friends. Back then he didn’t have the beard that distinguishes him in a crowd, but he was not any less enthusiastic about anything he touched. Working with him upon leaving the Army, I got a crash course in what makes for good food storage, what to avoid if you can, and what to never touch at all.
I’ve compiled a short list of the do’s and don’ts of buying and preparing your long-term food storage. This information comes from university food scientists, farmers, and industry insiders who spoke candidly with me on several occasions over the past year.
Shelf Life is a Myth
First of all, anyone who tells you without blinking that their food has a 30-year shelf life is selling you snake oil. Here’s the fact: The only group, entity, firm, company, or otherwise that has ever done a shelf-life study on long-term food storage is the Mormon Church, and their study only covered staple items like wheat, rice, and beans.
Not a single company, including the one I represent has done the study and for two reasons. One, it’s freaking expensive. Two, in order to determine if food is really good after 25 years, you would have to set it aside for 25 years and test it and taste it after 25 years and nobody wants to do that.
I have noticed that the only people who seem to really read the labels on the food that they buy are either those who suffer from allergies, be it a gluten intolerance or a reaction to nuts, or those who are very health conscious. You must- it is imperative that you do- read the labels. And here’s why:
Your Food Will Only Last as Long as Its Weakest Link (Ingredient)
What Brandon found in his research was that a lot of companies, including the most reputable firms, are filling their food with cheap ingredients in order to pad their bottom line. For example, if you go to the store and buy a bottle of canola, vegetable, or soybean oil, it will last about 18-24 months in your kitchen cabinet. The cans that Brandon had in his basement were loaded with canola, vegetable, and soybean oil as well as hydrogenated syrups. After asking around, Brandon found that his friends had the same problems and that they too had discovered rotten food storage in their basements.
How can a company claim that their canned food will last for 25 or even ten years if one of the ingredients goes rancid after no more than two years? It’s impossible but that’s exactly what happens all over the industry.
Cheap oils like canola, vegetable, sunflower, and soy bean oil (and many many others) are used in large quantities simply because they are cheap. But that means your worry-free food storage probably won’t be there when you need it.
Look for tropical oils. Tropical Oils have a shelf-life of no more than 15 years. 15 isn’t 25, but it’s better than two, and it’s much better than being lulled into a false sense of security.
A similar problem is found with foods that contain meat. No matter what you do to it- dehydrate it, freeze-dry it, etc- animal protein (including eggs) will break down and spoil in five years. Seven if you’re lucky. (Eggs go bad after two to three years.) For that reason, we don’t put any meat in our products. We use the highest possible quality grade-A extracts, bases, and stocks. I regularly show customers at our factory store a small sample bottle of dehydrated grade-A Andouille Sausage Extract. I could live in that bottle. It is heaven in a bottle.
If the product you’re looking at is a vegetable-based dish, such as sweet and sour rice (it seams every company has a sweet and sour rice dish) or some sort of beans and rice, make sure it doesn’t contain any kind of sweetener like high-fructose corn syrup. Avoid hydrolyzed or hydrogenated syrups, sweeteners, or oils. They simply will not last. If the dish you’re inspecting is full of rice or vegetables or legumes or pasta with some salt and spices, and doesn’t contain any hydrolyzed or hydrogenated or otherwise artificial ingredients, you can probably safely assume that you’ll get 20-25 years of shelf life, under the right conditions. That means store it in the dark, off the floor, in the coolest part of the house. I once helped a lady who told me she had put all of her number 10 cans in storage in a shed in the backyard in Virginia. She said she was shocked to find that over the summer they had all rusted. I wasn’t shocked at all.
Keep in mind that shelf life also depends on the processing and packaging. But we’ll get to that.
Avoid Meat Substitutes
With my warning against meat comes one more caveat. If you are male, you should avoid Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP). TVP is a soy-based meat substitute found in many food storage recipes. Almost every company in the industry uses it. The problem is that soy messes with male chemistry. It elevates estrogen levels and in large quantities can lead to health problems in men. In documented extreme cases, high levels of soy consumption (from things like soy milk) can lead to breast cancer in men. You probably don’t want that.
If you want to eat meat with your food storage (and who doesn’t) you’re better off hunting, or, more realistically, bottling your own meat. You can do this at home. Youtube has plenty of how-to videos. You’ll just need mason jars and a pressure cooker. Or, call the Mormon Church. Most local congregations maintain some form of canning facilities that they allow the public to use. Call them. (Those Mormons are everywhere).
Look For Nitrogen Flushing
There are three major manufacturers in this business and there are a few smaller independent manufacturers like Eden Valley Farms. What that means is that most of the other companies you’ve heard of are repackaging and rebranding someone else’s food. Quality control suffers, and margins go up.
Few companies in this industry even claim to flush their products with nitrogen before sealing and packaging them. But we have found of those making such claims, only a couple actually do. With that knowledge comes one more caveat: The most well-known company in the industry does not nitrogen flush alI of their food. Only some of it. Many of their number 10 cans and backpacker’s pouches use some form of oxygen absorber.
Nitrogen flushing is essential to the long-term quality and “freshness” of your food for one simple logical reason. Nitrogen is denser than and therefore dispels oxygen. Bacteria needs oxygen to grow and survive. If there is no oxygen, there can be no bacteria. The industry standard for oxygen content is about 5%. (For reference, at sea-level, the atmosphere is about 21% oxygen.)
It’s not a 100% solution. In fact, it’s more like 3-4% solution. Nitrogen flushing is effective at eliminating all oxygen with allowance for a 3-4% margin of error or residual content. But why take a chance with oxygen absorbers? You know what else absorbs lots of oxygen? Bacteria. Brandon and his friends found that out the hard way. Make sure your food is nitrogen flushed.
Avoid Number 10 Cans.
They’re bulky, they’re very uncomfortable to carry in a backpack in an emergency, and they’re not truly resealable. Oh, and they rust. Let’s not forget that. Plus, what do you do when your can opener is lost or breaks? Yes, there still are ways to open a can without a real can opener, but scraping cans on concrete is a lot of work and you might sever a tendon opening a can with a knife. In a grid-down scenario, that’s a nightmare.
Avoid number 10 cans. Look for heavy-duty, poly-mylar, resealable (and nitrogen-flushed) pouches. I’m not talking about cheap gold foil like one particularly shady company uses (this particular company is so shady that the largest company in the industry threatened to sue them if they didn’t retract false claims about the quality of their products. Google it.) Lined, industrial-grade, poly-mylar pouches can be beaten up, thrown in a lake, resealed, and generally neglected but they’ll still protect your food. If the basement floods, they’ll even rise to the surface, making collection a game of sorts; bobbing for food, as it were.
With all of this, there are other common-sense things to look out for that are often over-looked. Stay away from MSG, trans-fats, and poly-unsaturated fats. Look for sea salt. It’s lower in sodium than regular table salt. You probably shouldn’t trust GMO foods either. These days it is virtually impossible to be 100% GMO free. Remember, because of conglomerate farming almost all corn and soy beans are GMO. So be skeptical when anyone claims to be GMO free if that’s a concern of yours.
Moisture content is an issue. When people find out I was in the Army they invariably ask me about MRE’s. Yeah, they’re great, but in Iraq-style heat, they only last for a month. There’s so much moisture and oil in them that they just don’t last like everyone expects. So if you live in Arizona or Texas, think about that. At the most, they have a shelf life of about seven years, and that’s at cool temperatures. Ideally, the ingredients in your food storage should have a moisture (or water) content of no more than 7%. We’ve been able to maintain ours at 5% by sourcing our ingredients directly from the most reputable certified grade-A sources we can find.
Avoid companies that sell you bulk kits with “1000 Hearty Servings” when 300 of those “servings” are sugar-filled “drink mix.” Oftentimes our customers inquire about bulk orders and we always tell them that we don’t do “set kits.” They may have allergies or picky kids. Why get stuck with case after case of stroganoff if their children won’t eat it?
It’s a common myth that if you’re starving you’ll eat anything. It’s simply not true. I lived in Brazil for two years before finishing college and after 18 months there I couldn’t eat another spoonful of beans and rice no matter how hungry I was. Anyone who has worked in a fast-food restaurant can probably share a similar experience. We’ve set out to create a variety of recipes that are flavorful, hearty, and most importantly, healthy. We’ve set out to make sure that our food will last as long as it’s supposed to. By all measures we’ve succeeded. I’m not saying you have to buy from us. Hopefully, at the very least you can use this information to help prepare your family for what’s coming. Hopefully you’ll be better armed with information and skepticism and will be able to avoid the pitfall that Brandon and his friends found themselves in. Fortunately, Brandon made that mistake before the SHTF.
What Brandon has done and what I have helped him do, is establish an honest, reputable food manufacturing company that we ourselves trust with our stomachs and lives. I can vouch for the fact that Brandon’s kids devour his Strawberry Creamy Wheat for breakfast.
At the risk of advertising, feel free to hit us up with any questions. [email protected]. We’ll hook you up with exactly what you need or set you straight one way or the other. Regardless, we’ll be honest with you because we really don’t feel like going to hell.