We are all becoming more aware and interested in exploring the different ways we can be more self-sufficient. The topic of preserving food and long term food storage in particular. Why is it important and how to do it.
Being prepared for emergencies, times when there might be a lack of food, or access to it really highlights the importance of Food Preservation and Long Term Food Storage. The knowledge of how we can master both of these methods at home is great way to avoid being in a position of panic when it comes to feeding ourselves and our families. It is after all better to be safe/prepared than sorry and there’s never been a better time to learn how.
Food waste is a huge topic and talking point and a subject that touches every single person across the world. We are more conscious than ever of the impact we have on the environment through what we use and consume.
We are all looking for new and innovative ways not just to save money but reduce our waste and make what we buy and produce last longer, go that extra mile.
Buy what you need, grow what you can and be aware and keep track of what you have in stock, be it in the fridge, the freezer or kitchen cupboards so you can be sure that you’re using what needs to be used up first, to avoid it spoiling and ending up being inedible. And, if something is about to ‘go-off’ there is always the chance it can be saved or preserved through any number of methods such as drying or freezing.
What is Food Preservation and its History?
Food preservation is in essence the method of making food last longer.
There are a number of different ways you can preserve food, such as fermenting, pickling, freezing, curing and drying. In any of these processes, salt and sugar are the key elements which will act to reduce the water content within a food item, which, when paired with a lack of oxygen inhibits the growth of microorganisms that would otherwise cause the foods to rot and prove inedible.
The natural cycle of anything we consume means that once harvested or killed, the spoiling process will begin and therein lies the trigger for the art of food preservation.
The history of preserving food goes back thousands of years. It’s a process that’s permeated every culture across the world in one way or another be it through basic freezing in blocks of ice or drying in the heat of the sun. Sun drying for instance can be traced back to 12,000 BC whilst we have the Romans and Ancient Greeks in 500 BC to thank for our much loved jam preserves after they discovered that storing fruit in honey made it last longer.
Modern methods of food preservation such as jarring or canning stem from the advances in food packaging materials and its processes which have equipped us with the ability to further extend the shelflife and potential use of our favourite foodstuffs.
Why Is Food Preservation and Food Storage Important?
The importance of educating yourself with the knowledge of how best to build your food stores comes down to three main things:
- Cost Savings
- Health Benefits
Given recent worldwide events, it’s no wonder that the topics of homegrown, homemade foods and long term food preservation and storage have been on everyone’s lips more than ever. Food is one of the basic human needs and being sure we are able and have the knowledge of how we can feed ourselves is absolutely key to our survival, through the good times and the bad.
How much we store is of course a completely personal choice but there is no escaping the fact that having access to your own supply of healthy, delicious, personally prepared food at any time of the year or in any situation is a wise strategy.
What Are The Benefits of Preserving Food at Home?
Preserving your own food means you can enjoy your favourite foods throughout the year
The overriding answer here is cost. By educating yourself with the knowledge of how to preserve your own food, especially homegrown produce, you’re supplying yourself with the skills to become more self-sufficient, cut down on the money you spend in the supermarkets and ensure you always have something nutritious and delicious stored away in case of emergencies. Preserving your own food means you can enjoy your favourite foods throughout the year whilst cutting down on your food waste.
Alongside the savings you can make, adding foods to your diet that are preserved through the process of fermentation also offer huge health benefits. Fermentation preservation promotes the growth of the gut-friendly bacteria known as probiotics. These probiotics have been long praised for the beneficial effects they can have on the digestive system, heart health and immunity. There are lots of different types of fermented foods out there, all of which you can make from home eg. Kimchi, Kefir, Sauerkraut to name but a few. The list goes on but in essence, home made fermented foods are a great endorsement for food preservation and the self sufficiency movement.
What Foods Can I Preserve At Home?
The fantastic thing about food preservation is that it’s something we can all do, very easily at home and now’s a better time than ever to learn. Not only will you be rewarded with a year round bounty of delicious and wide variety of foods, it will undoubtedly prove to be a new hobby, something you can do alone or with your family or friends whilst also proving to be a great way to save money.
Sweet or savoury, the list is endless. If you think of your favourite food item, the chances are it can be preserved. There are an abundance of recipes and methods but here’s a quick summary to give you an idea of some of the options:
- Fruit: Jams, Jelly, Dried, Jarred or Canned, Frozen
- Vegetables & Herbs: Dried, Pickled, Jarred in Oil, Frozen
- Meats & Fish: Salted, Curred, Frozen, Smoked, Jarred in Oil
Different Types of Food Preservation and How to do them at Home?
The basic goal of preserving, in any form, is to both slow down and inhibit the growth of microorganisms that might otherwise lead to spoiling. Like any living thing, microorganisms have certain conditions in which they can survive and thrive. High temperatures, dry, acidic, or alcoholic conditions and high concentrations of salt or sugar are the basic environments in which microorganisms cannot survive so it’s no wonder that these conditions form the basis of how we preserve our foods.
As I’ve already touched on, there are a host of different ways to preserve your own food at home. Some of the more popular methods include:
- Drying/Dehydrating - What: Herbs, Spices, Fruit, Vegetables. How: The drying process removes the presence of oxygen and moisture. See our Article - Food Dehydrator tips to Dry your Herbs, Vegetables, and More
- Pickling - What: Vegetables. How: The acid in the vinegar kills the microorganisms. See our Article - 7 ways to To Preserve Vegetables at Home
- Jarring or Canning - What: Fruit, Meat, Fish, Vegetables. How: Heating the foodstuff to kill the the microorganisms and storing in airtight containers to eliminate oxygen. See our Article - Canning and Jarring Food for Long Term Storage
- Salt Curing - What: Meat, Fish. How: The removal of water and addition of salt. See our Article - How to Cure Meat Safely with Himalayan Pink Salt & Curing Salt
- Freezing - What: Pretty much anything. How: Microorganisms cannot survive below -18 degrees C
- Fermenting - What: Vegetables, Bread, Fruit, Alcohol. How: Bacteria and yeasts convert carbohydrates into acids or alcohols to preserve the food. See our Article - Fermenting Food at Home
How Long Will Home Preserved Food Items Last?
Most home preserved products, if prepared and stored correctly, will last 2-5 years. Of course it will entirely depend on the specific food in question, it’s freshness, the method of preserving used and the environment you store them in.
Sterilization of the storage containers you use is also a vital consideration as well as the temperature of their surroundings both before opening and after opening. As we touch on within this article, your storage conditions are key to the longevity of your preserves. Cool and dark are your best friends when it comes to a preserved food's lifespan.
Long term food storage is explored further in this article.
How Do I Sterilise Jars At Home?
It is imperative, whatever container you’re going to use for your homemade preserves, that they are properly sterilized in order to eliminate any bacteria from the container and ensure your foods remain as fresh as possible when they’re vacuumed.
The good thing is that it’s incredibly quick and easy to sterilize your containers at home. It is literally a case of thoroughly washing and heating them in order to kill the bacteria.
Here’s a step by step guide:
- Preheat your oven to 140°C/285°F.
- Place your jars AND the lids in a basin of hot soapy water. Wash and rinse them thoroughly but DO NOT dry them.
- After washing and rinsing, put them straight onto a baking tray and then into the oven for 10-15mins.
To ensure your jars are as sterile as possible, wait until you need them before you begin the sterilization process. For instance, when I’m making homemade jam, I’ll sterilize my jars whilst the jam is bubbling away on the stove and then as soon as the jam has reached its setting point, I’ll pour the hot jam in the freshly sterilized jars ready for storing.
For more ways to Sterilize your Jars at Home See our Article - Sterilizing Jars for Jams, Pickles, Fermenting, and Canning
Do Preserved Foods contain Nutrients?
A lot of people might think that preserved foods have a lower nutritional value than fresh foods but in reality, preserved foods can often be just as, if not more nutritious.
Fresh foods, such as fruit and vegetables lose their vitamin and mineral content over time whilst preserving methods such as freezing, jarring or canning lock in and retain the nutrition.
Similarly, if you take fermented foods as another example, they are packed full of probiotics, the gut friendly bacteria, thanks to the fermentation process. Eating fermented foods such as Kimchi are not just full of prebiotic fibres but also probiotic bacteria which our guts love. Taking care of our gut health has a knock on effect on our overall health and wellbeing. If you’re looking to save money, cut down on your spending at the supermarkets and take care of your health (who isn’t!), then preserving your own food is a brilliant and easy answer.
Knowing how best to preserve foods is especially important if you’re growing your own fruit and vegetables at home. The chances are you’re going to have a bounty of crops at the same time and possibly not enough mouths and or time to eat everything when it’s ready to harvest and thus at its most fresh and nutritional. Learning the different ways you can preserve your crops means you can enjoy them and benefit from their nutrition all year round and in most cases in a much tastier way than you might have done if they’d been eaten straight from the garden.
Are Preserved Foods Safe To Eat?
Preserved foods are completely safe to eat so long as you prepare and store them correctly. As we touch on within this article, preserving methods such as fermentation will in fact boost a food's nutritional value and its health benefits.
The basic checklist includes:
- FRESH - Using fresh, quality ingredients, be it home grown or shop bought.
- CLEAN - Washing your produce thoroughly before it’s preserved.
- WATER - If the method of preserving you are using requires water, ensure it’s properly filtered.
- STERILIZE - Be sure to properly sterilize your utensils and containers.
- CONTAINERS - Use high quality containers and make sure they don’t have any cracks or splits.
- LIDS - Check the lids to your containers are in good condition i.e. air-tight and rust-free.
- LABELS - Label your containers with the product details and the date it was made so you know exactly what’s inside and when it was produced and added to your store cupboard, and keep a record in a notebook.
- STORAGE - Store them in date order, with the most recently prepared containers at the back and ensure they are fully visible and easily accessible. Ensure the conditions of wherever you are storing your products meets the necessary requirements in terms of light and temperature, e.g. cool and dark.
This article contains all the relevant topics to consider and the necessary steps to take to ensure your homemade preserves are as safe, nutritious and delicious as possible.
Best Foods for Long Term Storage
When it comes to long term storage, foods with a low moisture (less than 10%) and low fat content will have the longest shelf life. If stored correctly, these foods can last for up to 30 years or more whereas foods with high fat content like oils or nuts tend only to last and be at their best for around a year.
Long shelf life food items include:
- Beans (black, white, kidney)
- White Rice
- Dry Pasta
- Dehydrated vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions, celery
- Freeze-dried fruits, vegetables & meats
What Are The Best Conditions For Food Storage?
Be it short, medium or long term, there are three key rules to abide by when it comes to the conditions of your storage environment:
- Temperature - Heat has a dramatic effect on food and it’s shelf life. Freezers should be set at -18° C (0° F), refrigerators at 4° C (39° F) and shelved items kept between 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F).
- Light Levels - Dark locations and dark containers; light can react with the food and affect its nutrition. Glass jars or can can be covered with material sleeves to protect them from the light.
- Air & Moisture - Air-tight, moisture-tight, pest-tight to avoid contamination and spoilage.
Being aware of these three areas of concern, and specifically to each individual food item will stand you in good stead when it comes to optimising the shelf life of your foods and preserves.
What Is The Best Packaging To Use For Long Term Food Storage?
There are a host of different packaging options when it comes to preserving food for long term storage, each with its own pros and cons. It will depend on your personal preference and the specific item you’re preserving and storing, but whether it’s glass jars, cans, plastic containers or mylar bags the same rules apply to ensure your foodstuffs are safe to eat. Whatever packaging you use, they must be:
- Air Tight
- Moisture Tight
- Pest Tight
The safest bet is to invest in new containers as opposed to using old or pre-used ones, just to be sure they are in peak condition. It’s simply not worth the risk of spoiling your hard work and finding your preserved foods are inedible due to shoddy containers with slight cracks or faulty seals for instance.
4 Things to remember for Food Preserving and Storage Success
There is a lot of information within this article, all of which might seem a little overwhelming but the long and short of successful food preservation and food storage ultimately comes down to the following areas of concern which if followed, puts you in a solid position for success:
- Product - Use only the best quality ingredients and be sure they are fresh and thoroughly washed before you begin the preserving process.
- Method - Educated yourself fully on the preserving method you chose. Have a few test runs, try alternative methods and recipes to find out what works well and gives the best results.
- Container - Use the right container for your chosen method and be sure it’s in good working order and fully sterilized before you add your preserved foods. See our range of Kilner Preserve Jars, Clip Top Jars, and Accessories (opens in new tab).
- Check and Record - A final word and handy tip is to make detailed notes on the methods you use, what has or hasn’t worked and creating an inventory of all your produce, when it was made, where it is stored and making sure they are regularly checked for spoiling, damage, infestation and if they are in good condition, rotating them.
Ian Hunter - Father of three, based in Southern Sweden. Author and Co owner of Grow Zone and growing Food all winter. See my full About Page here.
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Co written with Hannah Bramley, a Private & Virtual PA and Lifestyle Management Consultant based in the UK. With a background in managing and ensuring the organisation and preparedness of others, Hannah is now a freelance Personal Lifestyle & Business Consultant, with the ability to turn her hand to any task. Self Sufficiency being just one of her new found interests since the events of early 2020. She is a fitness guru, an ardent foodie, a social media wizard and entrepreneur, with a passion and natural flare for organising, bringing people together and making things happen.