People have asked me many times about how my pantry works. It's fairly easy, it consists of two sets of heavy duty shelves in the garage (and the deep freeze), which at the moment are becoming less full on purpose.
Right now I'm in the midst of a major redo caused by two big mistakes which overlapped, causing chaos in the pantry. I thought I'd share a bit, perhaps helping someone else to avoid making the mistakes that I should have seen coming.
First, I let my husband take over the pantry a couple years ago. At the time, he was going to food pantries and it seemed logical that he be the one to keep our pantry organized. What happened was that he would go to a pantry and bring home what he was given, even if it was something we didn't use. His theory was that... should we need them... the extra food would be a good thing.
Now, if you have read my pantry postings long enough, you know that my number one rule for the pantry is to only have in it what your family eats.* Not someday. Not maybe. Now. For should you ever need to live from your pantry, as I have done during times of unemployment, you will want available what you are used to eating.
The pantry ended up looking full but in reality, it was full of items I didn't use. To make it worse, I couldn't keep track of what I did need. For instance, one day I needed pinto beans for making chili and when I went to the shelves that had beans, they were all garbanzo. He knew I liked hummus so he brought home garbanzo beans, not thinking that I rarely actually made hummus but I did make chili.
(I finally convinced him that, while food pantries were good for some people, they were not for us. Much of the food given out by the big pantries are high carb and/or processed and we both have special diets. The time spent waiting in line at pantries could be better used in other ways.)
The second mistake I made and that I'm still cleaning up from... letting the mouse situation get out of hand. We have always had a mouse or two get in the garage, it is something you live with when you are near fields and forests. However, I began to notice more mouse droppings than usual and then within about a month, they were EVERYWHERE!
We had never had mice on the top shelves before and one day I heard one when I was in the garage. Later, when I knew they were not there, I checked the top shelves and they had eaten through every package and boxed item we had stored there. I had to throw everything away, including those they hadn't eaten through because... they were obviously not in good condition.
What happened was, they had found a place to nest and there were baby mice growing up! Yeah, it gives me the willies, too. Even today when I go out into the garage, I pound on plastic to hear if there is rustling in the area. My husband says I remind him of the scene from The Parent Trap when Dad's new fiance is told to bang sticks to keep mountain lions away. Except these varmints are real. Tiny but real.
I'm beginning to get control of the situation with various store bought mouse killers. We cannot bring in a professional for 1) they are out of budget and 2) we cannot have any chemicals that go airborne in the house.
So it is all leaving me with putting on a mask and cleaning right now. Hubby will do the rest when he gets over a big project. I also have had to wash every can exposed to the mice. Lot of work when I already need to get everything accomplished a little at a time.
I am glad all of this happened when we weren't dependent on the pantry for all food. I ended up throwing away (sob) about a hundred dollars worth of food but it could have been far worse.
- Only the person doing the primary cooking and meal planning should be in charge of the pantry. Others can assist but only the cook knows what has to be stocked and what is the priority for the budget.
- Make certain every item in the pantry is protected from varmints, insects, etc. as much as possible. Our bottom shelves contain Rubbermaid style containers and everything on those shelves is stored in them, including bags of flour, sugar, pasta, dried beans, etc. Now I know the top shelves need the same consideration.
- I am going to cover the canned goods to keep them clean from not only varmints but dirt and dust. I do have a couple shelves closest to the door where I keep the items I use a lot and as long as I keep an eye for signs of varmints, they should be able to stay there without being covered.
- I only have a few buckets, mainly wheat purchased for bread making. They already were stored with oxygen absorbers to keep the bugs out. Also, every bag of flour goes into the deep freeze for a couple weeks before putting in the pantry. I know some people freeze and defrost them twice but so far (over lots of years), just freezing them that initial two weeks has kept them from getting buggy.
- Have on hand the items you need for keeping food safe (whether mouse traps or oxygen absorbers). I should have dealt with the mice immediately and I kept forgetting to put DEATH TO RODENTS on the grocery list.
Remember: It is far better to have a small pantry with items you use all the time than a large pantry with items you may end up not using at all!
If you do want to deepen your pantry for possible emergency situations and you don't want to have to keep a close watch on items, then you need to prepare your stored food for long term storage. For instance, just pouring converted rice in a bucket is fine for the short term but it needs an oxygen absorber if you want to keep it on a shelf unopened any length of time.
If you want an even easier way to store food for an emergency, then food prepared for long term storage is the way to go. I'd purchase from companies that have been around a long time and only make emergency food products. I can't recall what brand my can of eggs are (they were a much appreciated gift!) but I do know my dried milk brand (listed below).
Dried milk which has not been prepared for storage has a short shelf life, especially if it is kept somewhere it gets hot and damp, such as a garage. It is also very susceptible to varmints and bugs. I also had aseptic boxes of milk go bad before the use by date and I've heard of mold growing in boxes of aseptic juice if stored too long. So I no longer have them on the pantry shelves, only in the kitchen cabinets when I plan to use them soon.
So unless you rotate boxes and use it a lot, dried milk is one item that is best purchased for storage. The brand I use is from a country known for milk production that is almost as good as being certified organic. It makes great cream for one's coffee when less water is added and I have used it to make hot chocolate mix.
As I've written before, I have purchased Mountain House pouches for grab and go bags. For families and to feed multiple people, they do sell some of their items in #10 cans, which protect them and make for a longer shelf life. Some are only available in pouches, which are lightweight and have around a ten year shelf life but must be protected from rodents.
If you do decide to purchase a #10 can for emergency preparedness storage of any brand, I'd suggest trying the food in a pouch (if available) first to see if you like it. I loved a few Mountain House meals, didn't care for others. So by trying a few first, I now know the food I have in the grab and go bags is what we would actually eat.
We live in precarious times and a pantry is still the best insurance you can have... for everyone still needs to eat. My pantry now is much smaller than when I had more disposable income and lived in a large house with a small room in the basement acting as a pantry. But a little will be a whole lot better than nothing at all!
Sigh... live and learn. Over and over again.
Items mentioned in this post:
- Peak Instant Dry Whole Milk 900-grams... here.
- Peak Instant Dry Whole Milk 400-grams... here.
- Mountain House Homestyle Chicken Noodle Casserole... here. (This pouch is cost effective because it feeds two easily.)
- Mountain House Beef Stew in a #10 can... here. (The book I read about the dad and daughter in Alaska talked about this product as being a favorite.)
*Except what may be purchased for long term food storage and even then, it should be the kind of food the family already eats. If the kids don't like beans now, they may not eat them later.