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Food Storage Made Easy

user profile picture Adam Taggart Mar 27, 2011
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The events in Japan – stripping grocery shelves and leaving thousands of families without food, water, electricity, or sanitation – provide us with grim motivation to assess our own levels of personal resilience. How prepared are you if a similar disaster (natural or man-made) were to suddently strike where you live?

I, for one, still have more gaps than I would like. Like many folks, I've been genuinely intending to get around to filling them soon, but noble plans have little value the moment after the unexpected occurs. As Chris often says, it's immeasurably better to be a year early with your preps than a day late.

As a tool for prioritizing my next steps, I've been reviewing this site's What Should I Do? guide, which Chris, I and the staff put together last summer. I think it's one of the best resources on the Web for guiding folks through the beginner and intermediate levels of personal preparation (our forums being where more advanced planning is addressed).

Reviewing the guide reminded me that I have less food stored than I should. My wife and I had already followed the entry-level advice of deepening our pantry by buying more of our usual staples on each trip to the store, and I had bought some bulk supplies at Costco – but, all in all, we probably had less than two months' worth of food for our family of four, versus the year's supply I wanted.

If you're like me, you've been inspired by the local food storage days organized by several groups here at I had fully intended to organize one in my area. I'd be like Dogs or Sager, using the day to build community in my area and my role as a "go-to" guy within it – strengthening relationships along with my neighborhood's resiliency in one fell swoop.

The problem was in the logistics: recruiting enough people, finding a day that worked for everyone, and determining and ordering all the components provided enough of a hurdle that the planning for the event kept getting pushed back to "next week." But once Japan reminded me of the costly downside to procrastinating on such an important need, I switched strategies, focusing on finding a faster way to meet my family's goal.

I ended up making a trip to a food cannery operated by the Mormon Church. The facilities are available to anyone (my wife and I are not Mormons) and, I must say, they offer the easiest and most affordable way to procure high-quality stored food.

So I'm documenting the experience here for anyone who may have interest in doing the same.

First, a little background – and let's make it clear, this post is not a commentary (positive or negative) on Mormonism as a religion; it's strictly a desciption of my research and experience with the food storage services they offer. The Mormon Chruch advises its members to develop self-reliance against a number of hardships, including food/water, financial, health, and emotional challenges. The rationale is that it's more difficult to attend to spirtual needs if the basic human needs have yet to be met. To help in this, the LDS ("Latter-Day Saints," as the Mormons refer to themselves) offer resources and services both online and in local communities.

The Church advises its members to have three months' worth of food storage on hand, and, if possible over time, to increase that to a year's worth. So, they've built a network of LDS food storage facilities across the US and Canada (and a few other countries) where people can come in and purchase bulk supplies at a discount. Being a charitable organization in mission, they make this opportunity available to anyone, regardless of faith or lack thereof.

Most of these are "dry pack" canneries, which deal with staples that can last for long periods if water and/or oils aren't present. These include rice, beans, wheat (red & white), oats, flour (white), sugar, pastas, and dehydrated milk and vegetables. There are also "wet pack" facilities that help store foods that require moisture (fruits, vegetables, soups, sauces, etc), though they are fewer in number. "Wet" provisions will eventually go rancid and don't store as long as "dry" foods. I went to a dry-pack facility, so the observations here are limited to that experience.

Purchased food is stored in one of three ways: in #10 cans, in pouches, and in bulk size. #10 cans are by far the most easy to deal with. They hold between 2 to 5 lbs. of food, depending on what's inside them, can be easily handled, are extremely durable, and lock out air, allowing for storage lifetimes of up to 30 years. Pouches hold up to about 20% more than the cans and may be easier to draw from and reseal, but I was discouraged from using them as they are much more vulnerable to rodents. Bulk sacks contain 25 lbs. and are not "sealed" for long-term storage.

At the center, you can purchase food already packaged for long-term storage (usually six #10 cans to a box), or you can can it yourself. Prices are very inexpensive (as Nacci says, they're practically giving it away). As an example, a #10 can of white rice from industry leader Mountain House costs $17.79. The cannery charged me $3.30. By the way, did I mention that is out of stock on all its #10 cans with no re-stocking date in sight? 

Canning the food yourself is cheaper. Though to be honest, the additional cost to buy the prepackaged cans is so small (typically around 5 cents extra for a few tenths of a pound less) that if you prize convenience, you can just drive up, buy the prepacked boxes, and be done with everything in a matter of minutes.

For those thinking of taking this route, here's how to get started:

  1. Find the nearest cannery in your has an interactive map that will help you find the nearest LDS canneries in your area, along with contact information.
  2. Calculate how much food you want to purchaseNote: it's going to be more than you think. There are calculators to help you given the size of your family. You'll then need to download and submit an order form noting the quantities of each type of food you want.
  3. Determine if you want to can your own food – more on the pros/cons below.
  4. Book your date

I decided to can as much as they'd let me (60 cans per visit), more to get an understanding of how the process works and to have a better sense of what I'd be getting when I opened the cans later on. It's also a social experience – I found it a good way to get tips and recipes from the more experienced folks joining me at the center that day.

When you arrive at the center, the process is explained (it's a typical assembly line) and everyone is assigned a task. It's efficient and remarkably quick: A can makes it through the sytem and into a box in less than a minute.

First, the bulk sacks and stacks of cans are brought in on pallets. The "lifter" (my terminology) then picks them up one at a time, opens them and brings them to the pouring station. The "pourer" then takes the bag and fills up 5-6 cans at a time. Then the "tamper" bangs the cans to settle their contents down, and hands them back to the pourer until they are fully topped off. When they are, the tamper places an oxygen-absorber packet in the center of the open can (on top of its contents) and hands it off to the "canner".


The canner places a lid atop the open can and places it on the canning machine. A lever is pulled, the machine chugs to life, and 5 seconds later the can is sealed. It's then given to the "labeler", who places an identifying sticker on the can. Finally, the "stocker" places the can in a box according to the specific orders of the customers at the center that day.


That's it. At the end of the session (usually two hours in length), folks collect their boxes, pay and fill up their cars. A warning: Your food will likely take up a LOT of space. I canned the maximum of 60 cans, plus bought a similar amount of prepacked food. This filled just about all of the available space in my Toyota Highlander (including the passenger seat). Some folks rent a U-Haul trailer for this and I can totally understand why. Here's a picture of (a little more than half of) what I ended up with:

Note that if you're building food storage for more than one person, it will likely take multiple trips to the cannery. A year's supply of food is a LOT of food. For my family of four, I made a significant dent in my storage gap; but I'll need to go back – probably a few times – before I have a full year's worth. I'm looking forward to visiting a wet pack center, too, to add some variety.

A question several folks have asked me: Did the "religion factor" play a role in the experience at all? (i.e., was there any sell job on Mormonism in the process?) There wasn't. The staff at the center couldn't have been nicer, and no one brought up religion (of any kind) while I was there. I left feeling grateful for their conscientious service and for keeping things strictly on a business level.

In my opinion, nothing beats participating in a food storage program with the members of your local community. The relationships and goodwill built are worth the extra cost and complexity. But if that's not in the cards for you anytime soon, the LDS canneries are a great alternative. Even more options are discussed in our WSID Guide to Storing Food. The important thing is to use the time we have now wisely. Work on those gaps in your plan. And consider sending some extra to those in Japan without that luxury.



This What Should I Do? blog series is intended to surface knowledge and perspective useful to preparing for a future defined by Peak Oil.  The content is written by readers and is based in their own experiences in putting into practice many of the ideas exchanged on this site.  If there are topics you'd like to see featured here, or if you have interest in contributing a post in a relevant area of your expertise, please indicate so in our What Should I Do? series feedback forum.

If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series, you can find them here:

This series is a companion to this site's free What Should I Do? Guide, which provides guidance from Chris and the staff on specific strategies, products, and services that individuals should consider in their preparations.