Some foods are more easily stored for the long term than others. Examples would be dried beans, canned goods, and home canned fruits, vegetables and meats. I haven’t yet acquired my pressure canner in order to try home canning. I have, however, acquired 5 gallon plastic buckets, Mylar pouches and oxygen absorbers. The list of foods that can be stored in this manner is not exactly short.
So far, I have three kinds of beans (Great Northern, Pinto and Red Kidney), Rice, and Cornmeal. I had read up on the process of putting products into Mylar bags, adding an oxygen absorber (appropriately sized) and sealing the Mylar. I purchased both the 5 gallon size, to fit the whole bucket, and the 1 gallon size. The smaller seemed more efficient to me, as I could store a smaller amount within and not worry about resealing the bag too many times. As of right now, I’m sticking with that decision.
What are the parts?
The quantity of these items depends entirely on how much you’re ready to store. However, the parts are always the same:
5 gallon bucket
Product to store
Bucket Lid Wrench or Gamma Lids
The 5 Gallon Bucket
Many sources will recommend, even insist upon, getting “food grade” buckets. That makes perfect sense if you’re storing your food products directly into the bucket. Food grade buckets can be found in a number of different places. Many suggest you local bakery or supermarket. In some cases, you can get them for free from these sources, or at a substantially reduced price. I’ve never been too good at putting myself in the position of feeling like a beggar. Although, I do have a connection at one nearby source. I may have to try that one of these days. Another source for purchasing food grade buckets is Tractor Supply Company. The only problem I have with my local TSC is they rarely have lids in stock.
On the other hand, if you’re using Mylar bags, I see no reason to insist on food grade buckets. Sure, I make certain the bucket is clean inside before dropping my Mylar bags into it. Clean bucket, sealed Mylar bag, food safe. As far as I’m concerned.
The Bucket Lid
This is why there’s an “or” entry in the parts list. You can buy the regular lids that normally go with a 5 gallon bucket, or you can buy (for a considerably higher price) a Gamma Seal lid. With the regular lid, if you expect to be in and out of your bucket more than once, you’ll need a wrench. It’s a kind of goofy looking device to lever up the edges of the lid. When you get enough of the lid lifted, you can actually use your fingers to pry the rest of the way.
A Gamma Lid has two parts. The first snaps onto the top of the bucket just like the regular lid. The difference is the center portion. Instead of a solid piece of plastic, there is a threaded lid. This lid seals quite nicely and is more easily removed and replaced. They are available in a variety of colors, if you want to develop a color-coding system for your storage. There is a part of me that really likes that idea, but I can just as easily use masking tape and a Sharpie to make labels.
Do a search on the internet for “Mylar bags”. You’ll find plenty of vendors. The one I chose has the best price I’ve found along with free shipping. They sell the bags in sets. They sell large and small bags. They are quick about processing and shipping an order. (They also sell Gamma Seal lids.) Yes, I’m very happy.
Why Mylar? Well, the stuff is tough. It’s airtight. It’s available in the right sizes. There are different thicknesses available, too. The thicker the bag, the more durable and more secure (from environmental dangers). Thicker bags also come with a higher price, so you’ll need to decide the cost-benefit ratio that suits your needs.
You can do the same internet search for “oxygen absorbers” and get a listing very similar to your Mylar bag search. They kinda go hand in hand, so to speak. Once again, the vendor I chose for my bags is the same place I get my OAs. Why? Primarily because they package the bags and OAs together in a bundle. The right size OA for the bag. Convenient. Good price, too.
What is it? As the name implies, it’s a way of sucking the oxygen out of the bag. Oxygen is detrimental to prolonged food storage. Oxygen is a medium in which microbes and bacteria and bugs thrive. Take out the oxygen and you starve the nasties! One interesting side effect is that the volume in your Mylar bag may not reduce to that of just the product. Our atmosphere is not just oxygen. In fact, oxygen makes up only a small percentage of the air we breathe. The bulk is nitrogen. If you look at the packaging of many dehydrated / freeze-dried foods, you’ll them to be “nitrogen flushed”. The OAs you add to your Mylar bags can leave the nitrogen from the atmosphere in the bag. Is this bad? Not in the least! Remember those nasties that can live in your bag and ruin your food? They don’t like a pure nitrogen environment! So, if your food somehow carries some nasties into the Mylar bag, they’ll be dead by the time you’re ready cook.
More options than I’ve had a chance to explore yet! Sugar, flour, rice, pasta, beans, cornmeal. Those are on my list to start with. The last five are pretty straightforward and go in along the lines discussed above. Controversy, in my mind, surrounds the storage of sugar. Many posts I’ve read say don’t use OAs with sugar because you can end up with a brick of sugar. I’m thinking, “That’s a problem why?” Ok, it’s not so easy to scoop sugar out of a block. Have you heard of this nifty invention called a knife? You could quite easily scrape the block of sugar to get your granulated goodness. Oh, but it’s in a Mylar bag? Hmm, how about using a sturdy metal spoon to scrape the block of sweetness? If I sound a bit condescending, maybe I am. After all, we’re not attempting these things because we know it’s going to be easy. We have minds. We should use them. If (when) the collapse comes, from whatever source, we’re going to need to be flexible, adaptable survivors.
There are a number of special purpose heating elements for sealing your Mylar bags. I’ve seen costs ranging from $20 to $70. The more I looked at the bags I had received, the less it seemed to me a cost like that was justified. My biggest challenge, at least in my mind, was the distance across the top of the bag. I had seen reference to a hair iron. You know, one of those long, flat ones that some women use to straighten their hair. I went searching. I had no idea how many different models of this thing I would find! Really, ladies?!? Not wanting to spend more than necessary on an experiment that could fail, I found the lowest priced one in the store. It was made by Revlon, a name that is respected (I think), and it was $10. Had to be worth a try.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a heat sealing device that is specifically designed for Mylar bags. I’m not saying you shouldn’t exercise your own free will and decide for yourself. Not at all. However, I will say that if you’re on a budget, why not start low-end. Once you decide whether or not you can make it work, then upgrade if you’re so inclined. For me, if it works, I’ll buy a couple spare ones, just in case!
The other consideration will be how to re-seal a bag. I don’t mean tomorrow. I mean after the collapse. If electricity is no longer available, how will you continue to use your Mylar bags? I admit, I haven’t addressed this problem yet. My first thought though is get a fire going, heat up the face of my clothes iron and give that a try. I really need to give this a try before the collapse, I know.
I had already processed some of my Great Northern beans and it worked out pretty easily. I did learn that Mylar really is a plastic. How? The hair iron, set on high, melted straight through in a matter of seconds. Luckily, there was plenty of room above the beans, so I could simply do it again. There really isn’t a lot of mystery to the process.
Drop oxygen absorbers in all bags to process.
Use a vacuum to remove as much air as possible. I keep forgetting to take the vacuum down to the basement.
Come back in a few days to check the Mylar bags. If the bag is properly sealed, with the oxygen absorber inside, the bag will look a little like a deflated balloon. It will “mold” itself to the product. For instance, the Great Northern beans I had done in the first round now look like they’re compressed inside the bag.
A note on the oxygen absorbers. They begin to work immediately. This means that you don’t want them exposed to atmosphere for very long. Otherwise you won’t have any for the next processing session. I chose to store mine in an old jelly jar. I take out the ones I need, drop them in the bags, then close up the remainder in the jar. When I opened the jar to process this batch of bags, the oxygen absorbers were still powdery and flexible inside. If they’ve been exposed too long, they get hard, because the contents turn solid when doing their job.
After going back to check the bags, to make sure they’ve sealed and your product is safe, the last step in the process would be to make the buckets ready for storage. For this, I use a plastic camping mallet. It beats trying to mash down those lids by hand.
One of my favorite sayings, picked up many years ago:
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance!
The only aspect of this project I couldn’t plan for was the heat sealing process. Luckily, it wasn’t a complete disaster to learn how to use the hair iron to seal Mylar bags. The rest is pretty simple, step by step, assembly line work.
Tractor Supply Company – 5 gallon buckets
Discount Mylar Bags – Mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, Gamma Seal lids. They also carry paracord and the Lifestraw.
Walmart – Bucket lid wrench, bucket lids. The lids you can find in your local store in the paint department, sometimes. I’ve never seen a bucket wrench there, but it’s listed online.