Just in time for spring cleaning!
Of all the spring-cleaning headaches ahead of you this year, few are probably as big and intimidating as rotating your food supply.
Dusting off those old labels, figuring out what’s good and what’s spoiled, replacing all that food…it can be a huge drain on your time and wallet.
To help, we’ve put together a list of pro tips that will save you money and time as you freshen up your food supply—and improve your preps while you’re at it!
Save Time: For Every Minute Organizing, an Hour Is Earned
Save hours of time by creating a system of organization for your food supply. Don't forget to bring the label maker!
Imagine making every decision about what to keep and what to throw away in your emergency food supply without digging through a single stack of cans. A job that would otherwise take hours could be finished in just a few minutes.
How is it done? By the power of organization!
FIND YOUR SYSTEM
Everyone’s got a system for organizing their food storage—even if it’s just tossing cans in a corner. The biggest thing you can do to save time is to find yours.
The exact details of your system matter less than having a purpose in what you do. Here are a few systems that we’ve seen work.
Organize by Packaging. Lots of people like to organize foods by packaging. That means boxed foods, cans, jars, etc. all go into their own respective piles. It’s a simple system and can be pretty useful when it comes to rotating items in and out, as foods in similar packaging also tend to have similar shelf lives.
Organize by Food Variety. Another way to organize is by food variety, with fruits and vegetables in one group, complete meals in another, baking goods in another, and so on. Because meals are grouped by variety, this system makes it easy to pull out items quickly for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners—all super helpful in emergencies.
Macro and micronutrients are the foundation of a healthy diet, and organizing your supply around them can help keep you energized and fit in emergencies.
Organize by Nutritional Profile. This is a system that you’ll see in the pantries of more serious preppers, and there’s no better method for keeping fit and energized in an emergency.
Instead of grouping by meal, you can group by nutritional profile, like so:
Macro nutrients stacked together:
Micronutrients stacked together (these might be supplements for the most part)
- Water-soluble vitamins
- Fat-soluble vitamins
- Trace minerals
You could also create a nutrition-based system using the traditional food groups with grains, fruits, veggies, proteins, and dairy, all organized in their own respective spaces.
However you cut it, this type of system makes covering your nutritional bases—the most important thing in an emergency—as simple and automatic as can be.
BECOME A "LABEL MAKER"
The humble label might be the biggest time saver of all—don’t overlook it…and don’t forget the great, profound question at the heart of all emergency preparations:
Label maker or Sharpie marker?
So, Which Is It? We laugh, but this question is worth putting at least a little thought into. Labels and Sharpies line up pretty evenly in most areas (versatility, ink durability, etc.) but for emergency food supplies, we recommend label makers, and here's why: penmanship.
Short of your home, your emergency food might just outlast everything you own. There’s no telling which child or descendent, decades from now, is going to have to make sense of the scrawl etched on your #10 cans. Have a little mercy on your posterity. Use a label maker, so your family can spend more time cooking and less time cracking your handwriting.
Get the Information Right. If you’ve purchased emergency food from a professional company, all the info you need will be right on the can. But if you’re doing it yourself, you’re going to want to record at least two vital pieces of information:
- Name of the food item, because of course.
- Expiration date or at least your best guess at it (more on that below).
With the must haves out of the way, here’s more useful information that might be worth including.
- Method of preparation, which can help you decide whether to hold on to food items past their expiration dates. Freeze-dried foods, for example, are known to keep their taste and nutrition well beyond their dates.
- Info for family members with special diets like gluten free foods, dairy free foods, etc.
- Nutritional info that might help you organize and manage your diet more easily.
KEEP A WRITTEN RECORD
Keeping a written record, spreadsheet style, of all your items will save you tons of work in the long run.
This may sound a little dorky, but again, as an organization that makes and warehouses food, trust us when we say it can save you tons of work.
Keeping a written record, spreadsheet style, of all your items, their expiration dates, and any other pertinent information, will prevent you from having to regularly dig into your supply and look at your labels by hand.
With a well-organized list, rotating your supply can be as easy as just opening up your binder, checking your expiration dates, and then pulling the items that have hit them.
One note: If you’re a spreadsheet junkie whose instinct is to get super complex, resist the urge. Your best bet for saving time is to keep things simple. A basic spread sheet with just a few columns all kept in a three-ring binder (with sheet protectors) will get the job done beautifully. Store your binder away right next to your food and you’re set!
If you’re more comfortable keeping a record online, apps like BestBefore will actually scan barcodes and notify you when due dates are coming up. For our money, though, nothing beats Google Sheets for accessibility and ease of use.
Save Money with These Savvy Prep Tips
Step one to saving money on food storage is to buy good, quality food up front—it will spare you from having to constantly rotate items in and out.
Step two is to get smart about the way you rotate your food. With just a little know-how, you can sidestep common expenses that will save you tons of cash over time.
OUT WITH THE SPOILED, IN WITH THE NEW
Understand Shelf Life. The first money-saving tip is to get educated on “best by” dates. Not every food item goes bad the moment it hits its date. As we said above, freeze-dried foods are known for overachieving in the shelf-life department, sometimes going years past their dates.
And it’s not just freeze-dried foods. Certain types of foods tend to last longer than advertised: beans and rice, for example. Some condiments and spices like maple syrup, soy sauce, and honey have famously long shelf lives. White and apple cider vinegars do too.
To really maximize shelf life, you’ll want to buy foods from professional emergency supply companies with manufacturing methods that extend it up to 30 years.
Signs of bad food? Watch out for bulging, hissing, spitting, bubbling, foul smelling, or discolored cans.
Sure Signs Your Food’s Gone Bad. To understand what’s still good, it’s helpful to identify when a food’s gone bad. There are some red-flag signs of spoiled food like bulging cans. Steer clear of those.
Some signs are less obvious, though. For example, canned foods will often let out a soft hissing when you open them—that’s the vacuum seal being released. If the hissing is louder than normal it could be a sign of toxic gas caused by bacteria.
Also watch out for bad smells, leaks, rust and corrosion, strange colors, bubbles, spurting liquids, and of course, mold.
How to Test Food without Opening Every Can. Of course, it’s not super cost effective to go opening every can and package nearing its date. If you purchase emergency foods in bulk, you can easily avoid this.
For example, if you have a pile of freeze-dried veggies that you purchased within a year or two of each other, just open one or two cans and check them out. If they’re good, chances are the other unopened veggie cans are good too—as long as they’ve all been stored in the same conditions.
Use This Trick to Preserve Items You‘ve Already Opened. For items you have to open, like our veggie cans in the example above, there’s a trick for extending their shelf life. Take the contents including the oxygen absorbers and place them in a thick, double-sealed Ziplock bag. Squeeze out the air, close it up, and put it back in the can.
This works for just about all freeze-dried and dehydrated foods and should preserve their taste and nutrients for up to a year. Check out this article to see the method in action.
A good trick for making space inside is to spread items around the house—in closets, cupboards, and under beds and couches.
STORAGE CONDITIONS CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE
Find the Best Storage Conditions. Other than getting them from a reliable manufacturer, the most important thing you can do extend the life of your emergency foods is to be super fastidious about storage conditions.
Are you keeping your supply in a cool, dry place between 55° F and 70° F? Is it away from sunlight? Is it clear of other food and debris that might attract pests? We can’t tell you how many countless pounds of emergency food have gone to waste because they were simply stored in the wrong place.
No room? Spread Your Food Around. If your food’s in a bad spot for long-term storage—an uninsulated garage, for example—you may want to move it indoors. A good trick for making space inside is to spread items around the house—in closets, cupboards, and under beds and couches. You’d be surprised at how much emergency food you can fit in even the smallest apartment.
This method has the added benefit of protecting your supply from disasters. If, heaven forbid, the roof of your pantry closet were to fall in, your food storage won’t be a total loss. You’ve still got plenty squirreled away throughout the house.
Fill in Your Gaps. Finally, as you spring clean your supply, don’t pass up the opportunity to fill in the gaps you find.
Your organization system can help you do this quickly. If you organize by packaging, you may notice you're light on #10 cans. If you organize by food variety, your baked goods pile might be a little short. If you organize by nutrition, you may see a hole in your protein or mineral stash. Fill these holes little by little and keep your food storage up to date!
Make this Chore Less of a…Chore
While the methods we suggest here might take a little extra time to set up, they’ll save you untold hours and days in the years to come and you’ll soon find your spring rotating is a quick, easy job. Heck, you may be able to skip a year here and there.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to make rotating your supply quicker and cheaper. Sound off in the comments below and let us know how you do it!