* How to Repackage Foods for Longest Shelf Life
Just because the grocery store sells foods that are food storage friendly and have a long shelf life, doesn’t mean the food is packaged in a way that will protect it from elements that destroy nutrients, flavor, color, and texture. In many cases, it will be up to you to repackage that food so it lasts for many years.
The following foods will all need to be repackaged unless you’ve purchased them in metal cans:
- Raisins and other dried fruit
- Breakfast cereals
- Any type of cookie or cracker
- Pancake mix (Sometimes these are packaged directly inside the cardboard box without any type of inner plastic bag.)
- Pasta, rice, and potato convenience mixes, such as Rice-a-Roni, Pasta-Roni, instant potatoes, scalloped potato mixes, etc. (These may either have microscopic insect eggs inside the package already and/or be invaded by insects and rodents from the outside.)
- Tea bags (Repackage for best flavor and longest possible shelf life.)
- Dried, instant milk (If not already in a sealed can.)
- Spices and herbs packaged in plastic bags
- Shortening (Pack it into canning jars and then seal using a vacuum sealer.)
- Chocolate chips, baking chips of any flavor
- Sugar, brown sugar and powdered sugar
- Any type of mix to make bread, cornbread, pizza dough, etc.
- Most anything else that is packaged in flimsy plastic bags and/or cardboard. This type of packaging is not intended for long-term storage, but that doesn’t mean the food inside can’t have a longer shelf life if repackaged correctly.
Repackaging with a vacuum packing machine
A vacuum packing machine, such as the Food Saver is my own preferred method of repackaging small to moderate amounts of food. These machines can be found on eBay and Craigslist at very affordable prices. Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Cabela’s carry them as well.
Pour the food into one of the plastic bags suitable for your machine and follow the machine’s instructions for vacuum sealing the bag. Use a Sharpie to mark the date sealed on the outside as well as the name of the food. (“Golden raisins, June 21, 2013”)
If a food can be easily crushed, such as cookies or crackers, place them in a large canning jar and seal it with your machine and a jar lid attachment. This is very convenient and gives long-term results. If you want to store shortening, pack it into a canning jar, place the lid on top, cover with the jar sealer and seal it. Here is more information from the Food Saver company.
All the foods on my list can be packaged in canning jars, but I’ve had problems with using the vacuum sealer with very powdery foods, such as flour. Storing food in canning jars is especially handy if you are storing food for just 1 or 2 persons or cannot lift heavy buckets and large mylar bags.
Some foods with sharp edges, such as pasta, can wear through the plastic storage bag. To avoid this you can seal the food and then place it in a second sealing bag and seal a second time or place it first in a Zip-Loc bag (do not seal) and then into the food storage bag. The machine will suck the air out of both bags, sealing them shut at the same time.
Use food safe plastic buckets
Yes, the big plastic bucket — a staple in many a prepper/survivalist pantry. These buckets are popular because they can hold a very large amount of food, making many smaller containers unnecessary. The plastic protects food from light, and although rodents and some insects can chew their way through the bucket to the food, that takes some time, and hopefully, you’ve pest-proofed your pantry!
It’s easy to obtain 5-gallon buckets, but smaller sizes may be harder to come by. If you’re lucky enough to live near a food storage retail store, you can buy them in person. Grocery store bakeries buy things like frostings and fillings in food safe buckets and those are smaller. Often they will sell used buckets and may even give them away for free.
The biggest downside to the 5-gallon bucket is its weight. I cannot easily lift one of these when it’s filled with food. Dragging it along the ground is about all I can manage. And, once the bucket is opened, you’ll have to plan on using the food inside within a reasonable amount of time, say 6 months or so if storage conditions are optimal, or reseal the bucket.
One popular solution is to fill the bucket with many smaller, individual packets of things like rice, oatmeal, and so on.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to protect the food in an opened bucket from pests and deterioration caused by heat and humidity. I recommend using Gamma seal lids to make it easier to open and close buckets. They will also help to keep pests out of the food.
Add oxygen absorbers to extend shelf life
Pour your food into a canning jar, mylar bag or a food-safe bucket of an appropriate size. Just before sealing with the lid, drop in oxygen absorbers according to this chart:
100 cc absorber 32-ounce canning jar
300 cc #10 can
300 cc 1 gallon container
1500 cc 5 gallon container
For more detailed instructions, refer to our printable, “Your Guide to Oxygen Absorbers“. Oxygen absorbers are available on Amazon, from food storage retail stores, and I’ve even seen them in Winco grocery stores.
I also use empty and sanitized 2-liter soda bottles for things like rice and oats and add a 100 cc absorber just before capping the bottle.
Keep mind that as you open the package of absorbers, they start absorbing oxygen. You’ll know this is happening because they get hot. Quickly place the required number of absorbers in each container with the food and then store the remaining absorbers in a canning jar. (The lid of a canning jar gives a much tighter seal than other jars.)
The process of vacuum sealing using a Food Saver removes most of the oxygen that exists inside the bag. This will prolong the shelf life of those foods. However, over time I’ve found that air can and does leak into the sealed bags. When storing these vacuum sealed bags, do check on them at least once a year to see if any have refilled with air and if so, open the bag and reseal.
A word about dry pack canning for long-term storage food
Dry pack, or oven, canning is a process that involves pouring DRY food into canning jars, heating the jars, and then sealing them with lids and rings.
To be very clear, dry/oven canning is not the same as traditional canning, which uses a water bath or pressure canner. It’s simply heating up dry foods in canning jars and then closing them with seals and lids.
There are a number of questions about dry canning, sometimes called oven canning. At first, the method sounds like an inexpensive and very easy way to repackage dry foods but with quite a bit of research, I haven’t come up with any true advantages and there are a couple of reasons to avoid this method.
From my research, it seems like the only advantage to this process is possibly killing insect eggs with the heat and that it doesn’t require the expense of a Food Saver.
A much better way to ensure insect eggs are killed is by placing tightly sealed containers of food in the freezer for at least a week.
Heating these jars in the oven does not remove oxygen, which is a necessary step in prolonging shelf life. Storing any food in glass jars continues to allow the food to be affected by light, which also deteriorates food. (Store filled glass jars in boxes, under beds, and in any container that doesn’t allow in light for longest possible shelf life.)
The possibility of glass breakage exists since canning jars are designed to be heated in wet environments, such as a hot water bath, and not in a dry oven. Canning jars are made from tempered glass, which is designed to break into hundreds of fairly harmless little particles, not shards. However, to be on the safe side, it’s best to use canning jars for their original purpose only.
How dangerous is dry/oven canning? If only dry foods, such as flour or oats are involved, I’d say the risk of a glass jar exploding in the oven is very slight. Bacterial growth in such foods is negligible as long as no moisture is present. Some nutrients will be lost due to the application of heat, but dangerous? In my many hours of research, I’m not convinced, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to use this method, either! All it seems to do is heat up the food, maybe kill insect eggs, but little else.
The previous repackaging methods I’ve listed are far easier and more effective in lengthening the shelf life of food, which is the main point of this activity in the first place!