Thursday, April 21, 2016

Food Storage: Buying in Bulk

It used to be that at our house buying in bulk and having a well-stocked pantry were just not things that happened. One day, though, something clicked and we began to realize that keeping the food items that we use most often on hand is much easier and cheaper than going to the store and back a million times. So, how does one keep the things they need on hand at all times, without going broke in the process? Buy as much as you can while items are on sale, while shopping with coupons, or while shopping at stores that provide bulk amounts at discounted prices (such as Costco or Sam's Club.) The questions you should ask yourself when selecting items to purchase are: Is this something my family will use on a regular basis? Do I have a means of storing this item long enough for my family to use it? Will my family go through enough of this item quickly enough that it doesn't spoil or go to waste? You should be able to answer "yes" to all three questions in order to select an item for purchase. Purchasing food that will not be eaten is wasteful, and we all know my opinion on wastefulness.

Let's talk about storage for a bit. Storing canned and prepackaged dry goods is fairly easy. Store in a cool dry place, rotate oldest product forward and newest to the back. In the restaurants I've worked at we remembered FIFO: first in, first out. I also like to face my canned and prepackaged dry goods, so that you can read the label and know what it is, and group like items together, such as all your veggies in one spot and another spot for broth and gravy.

Frozen goods should also be pretty easy. If your food is individually wrapped, fine. If you have things you need to portion, remember to label and date your container. This way to know what you have, and when it went in, so that you can determine when it will go bad. For help here, please see my Load Up Your Freezer post.

Often times staple items such as sugar and flour are sold in large bags. Buying these commonly used ingredients in bulk is a very smart way to go, so long as you have a way to store it. Five gallon buckets will usually fill this role rather nicely. You can typically purchase buckets and specially designed lids at hardware stores, feed stores, or super centers. The lids that we use are called gamma lids, and are snap on lids with a screw on inner lid. This makes it fairly easy to access your food without having to constantly pry off the lids. It also allows you to open the bucket without accidentally dumping in any dirt or debris that may have accumulated on the lid during storage.

If you don't have the money to invest in this bucket and lids system, just do what my mom did when I was growing up. Start purchasing your laundry detergent by the bucket. When the bucket is empty, thoroughly wash and dry it. Line it with a drawstring garbage bag and add your foodstuffs. Draw the top of the bag closed, fold it over and apply your lid. The garbage bag will prevent the aforementioned dirt and debris from being dumped into your food. No matter which method you use, remember to label your containers so you don't have to guess which bucket your bread flour might be in. At my house we have all-purpose flour, bread flour, corn meal, white rice, white sugar, and ramen noodles in buckets. Mom kept egg noodles, lasagna noodles, flour, sugar, powdered milk and pinto beans.

For those food items that you have a lot of, but not enough to justify a 5 gallon bucket, you can use half gallon canning jars. We use half gallon jars to store our salt, powdered milk, popcorn, coffee beans, brown sugar, lentils and chickpeas. (To name a few) You can purchase plastic storage caps for your jars, so that you don't have to mess with the ring and lid combo, and you can use a label maker to label all your products. For items you don't use often, you can buy a lid sealer what is compatible with a Food Saver vacuum storage system. It will vacuum seal a canning lid onto your jar to keep the food inside fresher longer.